Saturday, December 11, 2010

Google says... you're an illiterate pillock

Many years ago, when I worked in politics and had to write the daily "lines to take" for MPs, there was a more senior chap who used to go through what we had written and alter our punctuation if he felt it necessary.

If a semi-colon was more appropriate than a comma, he would reach for the red pen. It was pedantic but precise and with hindsight I appreciate it. Accuracy matters. Bear that in mind when you read the rant below.

Occasionally I have to write advertorials for The Times. These are paid-for adverts masquerading as written pieces in the advertiser's hope that readers will pay closer attention to them than a standard ad.

You can understand why marketing companies ask journalists to write advertorials rather than get someone in their company to bash out a few paragraphs. We, after all, are supposed to have a certain talent for speling and gramar and fings like that.

Yet I get more suggestions for how my copy could be improved from bozos in promo companies than I ever do from my day-job editors. Generally they want more "core messages" inserted (as if that will make it more readable), very occasionally they spot a genuine error for which I am blushingly grateful (although we have sub-editors to do that too). But mainly they just want to cock it up through their own ignorance.

In one recent campaign, a slack-jawed gopher from a marketing company didn't like me writing "band of brothers" in a piece on the essence of sport. "Can you make it team of brothers?" I was told. Shakespeare did a pirouette in his tomb.

But an email yesterday really made me splutter with rage.

I had written a headline for one advertorial that read "The Gentlemen's Code". To which I received this reply from a promotions guru:
"Not being a grammar expert I think it might be Gentlemans' Code ie is singular and then the s with ' to indicate possession. We did a quick google check and this appears to be correct."
Why would someone who admits to not being a grammar expert assume that we might be wrong? Why does he think that s' is the construction for indicating possession in the singular? And why does he use Google to check his ropey grammar?
For that matter, how did Google back him up? I just typed gentlemans' into the search engine and nothing leapt up to suggest it is accurate. Lots of gentleman's or gentlemen's but no s' option.
So not only did he rely on Google to support his intellectually stunted assertion but he then failed to read the results correctly.
This man has the title "managing director". I dread to think how dim his staff must be.


Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks for the insight into the less interesting parts of your job, Patrick. I would spontaneously combust if I had to deal with people like that.

'I don't know what I'm talking about but I like telling people what to do, so I'm going to give you some advice based on what I think might be right and what I read on Google'.

What a twunt.

Rahul said...

Well, when I typed in "The gentlemen's code" in google, it asked me "Did you mean: The gentleman's code".

Just saying.

Paddy said...

Yes, but the question is not whether we should go for a singular or plural gentlem(a/e)n, Rahul. That is subjective and if he had argued for gentleman's, I would have been fine with it.

The issue is the placement of the apostrophe. Google doesn't suggest gentlemans' - mainly because it isn't good grammar. This bloke clearly thought that a singular possessive puts the apostrophe after the s.

Peter McGuinness said...

Ha Ha! Wonderful peace about us copy righters Paddy.

Very acurate to.

God I love the word pillock. One of the very few reasons to envy Poms.