The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Beautiful design, shame about the language

Inevitably, as someone who spends their working life poring over linguistic details, I automatically pick out language errors that I come across in the rest of my life. I try not to let myself become a “language fascist” à la Lynne Truss and, although I can’t help spotting the spelling errors on a pub menu at fifty yards, in the grand scheme of things, I really don’t think they matter. What does bug me though is when a business or organization has put a lot of time and effort (and money!) into having something designed and printed or put on a website, but hasn’t bothered to have their text proofread!

Anyway, I was recently looking for a photo album and, after having no luck in local shops, looked up the website of a swish Swedish stationery company, whose shop I used to love when I lived in Geneva a few years ago. While sadly they don’t have any shops in the UK, I was very pleased to discover an online shop. It was, as I’d expect, beautifully designed, but I soon realized, as I started to explore, that the English was absolutely shocking. As a Swedish company, I’d expect to make a few allowances for slightly awkward phrasing, but their website, aimed at countries across the EU and all in English, contained not just odd vocabulary choices but basic grammatical errors and some things that were so odd, they were just downright confusing.

I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to offer my professional services, so sent off a polite email to their Head of Marketing, attaching a short section of corrected text as an example. Within minutes, I received a very friendly reply from Erik, their very personable Marketing Director, expressing an interest in what I could do to help. After a few email exchanges, he finally let me know that they were going to get their current advertising agency to do the editing. As a token of his appreciation for my input though, he gave me a discount on products from their online store. As I hadn’t yet got round to ordering the photo albums I’d originally been looking for, I immediately put in my order. It did occur to me that I’d originally set out to make a bit of money and had ended up spending a small fortune instead, but hey, I do love nice stationery!

And today my delivery arrived, containing two gorgeous albums, beautifully wrapped and even with a spelling error on the invoice to make me smile …"order payd by:"

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fluff around the edges

In recent days, I’ve come across several media reports about a new Collins Guide to Rhyming Slang “Shame about the Boat Race”. And as with all such media stories about “new words”, I find my natural linguistic interest tinged with more than a hint of irritation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being snotty about language, I’m as fascinated as anyone by the wonderful capacity of English to evolve and grow and change. No, my annoyance is on a much pettier, more personal level. Because I know it’s only a matter of time before someone will ask me if I’ve heard about the latest book/coinage/debate and expect an opinion. It’s a bit akin to asking an accountant what they think about the latest stock market fluctuation, you know the person’s only trying to take an interest, but it’s just not your thing.

As someone whose main role is to present language as clearly and usefully as possible for people learning English as a foreign language, the fluff around the edges of language, which seems cute for a while but soon blows away, just isn’t really relevant. I’m much more interested in understanding the language we all use every day and, believe me, that’s quite enough of a challenge in itself. I spend my days trying to pin down the difference in meaning between “faithful” and “loyal” or trying to explain to a student why “money” is an uncountable noun (because of course, you can’t count money!). The fact that Wallace and Gromit has become rhyming slang for ‘vomit’ is just way off the radar for most of my punters!