It’s a beautiful day in the . . . whaaaaat?!?

A guy named Ben Akselrod is running for the assembly in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. His campaign sent out mailers that blamed an increase in crime on the policies of his opponent. But check out the highlighted phrase in the mailer:

If you can’t read it, the phrase says the opponent “has allowed crime to go up over 50% in our negrohood.” Yow.

Not to worry! Akselrod says it was just an unfortunate typo. He responded thusly:

“As the candidate, I take full responsibility for this inadvertent error and I am sorry to anyone who was offended by it.”

That’s some inadvertent error, all right. You really have to go out of your way to misspell “neighborhood” as “negrohood.” Most typos aren’t quite so . . . different from the original word.

But even if we give Akselrod’s campaign the benefit of the doubt and assume that the word truly was an unintentional typo rather than a Freudian slip, the mailer still makes him look pretty bad. It contains several other spelling and grammatical errors. For example, we learn of Akselrod’s desire to “Creat” jobs and the fact that he misspelled the very name of the district he wants to represent! Heck, even his name seems like a typo—I mean, is it just me, or do you want to mark up your monitor to change the spelling to “Axelrod”? Clearly, the text wasn’t even run through a spellchecker, much less proofed by human eyes.

Regular readers of GRAMMARGEDDON! will remember that we recently saw another creative misspelling of “neighborhood” on a Boston public school sign. Maybe there’s something in the water on the east coast.

(The photo comes from this article, which provides more details on this incident. I’ll be interested to see how it affects Akselrod’s prospects for election.)

Q: What do you call a neighborhood for hobos?

Nothing instills confidence in your school like seeing a big typo on the sign by the front door.

O no!

Just think: someone (probably many someones) had to write those words, create the sign, proof the sign, drill it into the brick wall, look at it, nod contentedly, and walk away, whistling a happy tune.

The photo comes from the Dudley Street Neighborhood’s Facebook album, and if you check out the comments there, you’ll see that the school posted the photo proudly, then realized their mistake after several people pointed out the error. This article offers a good quote:

“I think we get a big, fat F for the spelling on this sign,” said Matt Wilder, director of media relations for Boston Public Schools. “We are already in the process of fixing it, and it will be taken down today.”

Kudos to the school for acknowledging the error and moving quickly to replace the sign. But this incident just goes to show you that, for good or ill, it’s hard to get away with typos in these days of instant feedback from social media.

 

Super Mario and Hitler

I went to GenCon last week and have been thinking a lot about games, so what better time to bring you a trio of game-related typos?

Our first howler comes from New Super Mario Bros. 2, a recent release for the Nintendo 3DS. The Mario games are extremely popular across all Nintendo game systems, so this isn’t exactly a tiny error in an obscure product that no one will ever see.

No, Mario, I don’t want to click OK! That implies my acceptance of the typo hovering right above the button! (The above image is a screenshot I took of a short video that documents the error, proving it isn’t a fake.)

Our second typo is also from the New Super Mario Bros. 2 game, this time from the manual. (Yeah, yeah, I know—errors in an instruction manual? The devil you say!)

According to the note below the cute diagram, co-op play requires two Nintendo 3DS systems, two game cards, and two game cards. Is that Nintendo’s sneaky way of saying you need to buy four game cards? (The above image comes from this article that documents the typo.)

Let’s give poor Mario a break now and turn to our third typo, which comes from the world of Major League Baseball. I can’t improve on the title of the article where I found this typo, so I’ll just echo it here: There are closed captioning typos, and then there’s calling Carlos Pena “Hitler.”

It’s nice to know that Godwin’s law holds even in baseball games. (By the way, the expression on Pena’s face above is crying out for a “WTF?” thought bubble to be Photoshopped above his head.)

Thanks to the GRAMMARGEDDON! readers who alerted me to some of these mistakes. And if you see anything worth spotlighting on the blog, feel free to send it in. Your efforts will be also be appreciated.

Two really unfortunate typos

Hi, folks! I haven’t been too present on the blog lately. I was away for much of last week on a family vacation, and tomorrow I’m heading to GenCon to see old friends, but I recently found* two typos that I had to share. Consider them snacks to tide you over until a real post comes along.

First, you’ve heard of Porsche, right? Their cars ain’t cheap, so you’d figure the company would have a little money to invest in producing great ads. However, they seem to have skimped on the proofreading in this series of billboards promoting their Boxster. I always say if you’re going to misspell the name of your own product, you might as well do it big.

Next up is this obituary, which contains a hilariously inappropriate acronym in the photo caption. Apparently, some folks on Twitter have called this the “worst caption fail of all time.” I really don’t know how this particular error can be explained. You’d have to go out of your way to make this mistake. One theory is that the caption writer meant to signify “lots of love,” but that just makes me LOL.

(When I say I “found” these typos, I mean I read about them online. One of them was sent to me by a friend, and one of them was discovered while browsing. I much prefer taking photos of real typos in the wild, but until Karen and I launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund our world travels for that very purpose, a prescriptive grammarian’s gotta do what a prescriptive grammarian’s gotta do.)

There’s no “I” in “they,” either

Yesterday, Karen posted about how she’s fine with the use of the singular “they,” as in, “Everyone can decide for themselves.” My initial response to her was, “Of course you know this means war.” (Yes, that phrase comes from where you think it comes from.)

But then today I saw this article about how the Queen’s English Society closed up shop recently. For 40 years, the QES had pushed for the continued use of proper English despite what the group perceived as declining standards. It took the prescriptive approach to grammar—trying to enforce the rules as they should exist, rather than adapting the rules to reflect what was actually happening to the language.

So I started to wonder: when (for example) I continue to insist that “they” is not singular, and I go out of my way to recast phrases such as “Everyone can decide for themselves” to “People can decide for themselves,” does that make me part of the language police? When is it worth fighting, and when is it better to go with the flow?

I don’t have an answer yet. I just wanted to ask the question and see what people thought.

Also, while looking into the QES, I couldn’t help but notice that the group’s website says nothing about disbanding. In fact, they’ve announced that their next annual meeting will take place in September. So perhaps the QES is not dead yet!

That would be a good thing; if nothing else, their website has a section called “On the Lighter Side” that has some decent language entertainment. For example, check out the Oxford Word Challenge, in which you have to identify a pair of homophones from clues. And then read “A Lesson Learned (the Hard Way),” which dramatizes the terrible things that can happen when you end a sentence with a preposition.

New Olympic sport: typo squatting

What with the Olympic Games playing out across the pond, lots of people are hungry for up-to-the-minute news about the events and athletes, so they head straight for the official website—or they try to, at least. But if they make any mistakes while typing in the URL, they might end up on a fake page instead, where spammers are happy to offer many wonderful ads for their clicking pleasure.

Last week Zscaler, a cloud security company*, reported that 80% of all Internet domain names that contain the string “olympics” are actually scams or spam, and many of these domains are incidents of typo squatting. That’s when a spammer registers a website with a URL that is extremely similar to the real one but with deliberate misspellings designed to catch careless typists. Zscaler’s sample list includes the following fake sites, which I advise you not to visit:

cnbcolympics.com (extra c)

nbcolympic.com (missing s in olympics)

wwwnbcolympics.com (missing dot between www and nbcolympics.com)

msnolympics.com (msn instead of nbc)

nbolympics.com (missing c in nbc)

nbcolympics.org (.org instead of .com)

nnbcolympics.com (two ns in nbc)

mbcolympics.com (m instead of n in nbc)

ncbolympics.com (c and b inverted in nbc)

Of course, the fact that some websites are scams isn’t exactly news to anyone who’s spend more than, oh, five minutes on the Internet. But given that the Games are such a hot topic at the moment, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to tie them to the need for better proofreading. By typing carelessly, you could be putting money in the pocket of a scam artist. So do the right thing and mind your URLs.

* That’s how Zscaler describes itself on the company website. I know the slogan refers to cloud computing, but I prefer to think that they sell trained attack clouds that will guard your home. I’d buy one of those, wouldn’t you?

Demons and possession (but not that kind)

I was talking about video games recently (and wondering if I dared take the plunge into Skyrim, at long last) and was reminded of a classic action role-playing game called Demon’s Souls. Here’s the cover:

I played this game a few years ago and loved it. Basically, the object is to explore the world, kill a bunch of tough boss monsters (which are referred to as demons, though they certainly aren’t demons in the traditional sense), and use the power of their souls to level up. Extremely challenging, yes, but just as rewarding and compelling. However, one thing about the game really bugged me: the title.

The use of the apostrophe-S suggests that there is one demon, and it has multiple souls. But the game is lousy with demons. Why isn’t it called Demons’ Souls? Or, if you think the ending apostrophe looks bad (even though it would be correct), what’s wrong with just Demon Souls?

Singular possessives and plural possessives are two different things, and the placement of the apostrophe matters. If a house belongs to one college student, it’s the student’s house. If it is shared by a number of students, it’s the students’ house.

It gets a little trickier (but not much) when the subject is already plural. For example, a clothing store’s sign for “Men’s Department” is correct because the word “men” is plural.

Worse yet is when the subject ends in the letter S. If you’re talking about Lois Lane’s attempts to prove that Clark Kent is Superman, do you call them Lois’s attempts or Lois’ attempts? I go with the former, which is also recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style: add the apostrophe-S. The fact that the subject happens to end in S doesn’t matter. (Also, look at the second option–if you came across that while reading, how would you pronounce it? How did you pronounce it in your mind when you saw it just above? Did you say “Lois” or “Lois-ez”?)

By the way, the sequel to Demon’s Souls was released last year. The new game was titled Dark Souls. Much better.

 

 

Number 2 in a series?

Regular readers of this blog might remember a magazine ad I ran that contained a gotta-see-it-to-believe-it typo. Well, I recently found myself forced to flip through the Crate & Barrel summer catalog (since it was the only reading material available near the, er, place where I was sitting), and the very first page that I happened to look at contained the same typo, albeit in a smaller font.

Just like in the other magazine ad, the people responsible for this error can’t fall back on the excuse that it’s easy to miss a repeated word that occurs at the end of one line and the beginning of the next line (which is true, by the way). And most spellcheckers catch repeated words, so apparently this copy wasn’t subjected to even that lowly level of care.

For the record, I’d also hyphenate “powder-coated” (as they did, correctly, with “Weather-resistant”). However, the trend these days is to close up compounds, so I won’t hold it against them. I mean, yeah, I think they’re wrong in this case, but their hearts were in the right place. And at least they didn’t have “powder coated” as two separate words.

So now I’ve found two recent instances of “the the” in print. Is this the beginning of a series? Stay tuned to find out!

Charging for freelance editing

I thought I’d look at a subject that is near and dear to the heart of every freelance editor and proofreader: how to charge for your services. I’m not talking about how much to charge; that’s a thorny topic that I will cravenly kick down the road for later. Instead, let’s talk about the method by which you charge. The four most common systems are charging by the word, by the page, by the hour, and by the project. And on top of all that, you must decide whether to charge different rates for different kinds of editing.

==  Charging by the Word  ==

This system has the benefit of being simple and clear for everyone involved. Just do a word count on the document and tell the client exactly what the total cost will be. If the job requires that you work from printed pages rather than a file, you’ll have to count the words by hand first.

One potential drawback is that you are paid the same regardless of how much work you put into the job. If you edit or proofread a 7,000-word article or short story that is written flawlessly, you’ll do all right. But the more likely situation is that you get a manuscript that is, um, flawful. (Hey, maybe I should submit that to the Collins Dictionary: flawed + awful = flawful.) Working on 7,000 flawful words will take you a lot longer, but you won’t get paid more for your efforts.

Do those situations balance out overall? That is, will you get enough clean jobs that require less time to make up for the messy jobs that eat up too much time? That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself based on who your clients (or potential clients) are and what kind of manuscripts you’ll receive.

==  Charging by the Page  ==

This system relies on the industry standard that says a page consists of 250 words. Again, do a word count on the document, but here you also have to convert that to the appropriate number of pages before you come up with the final price. And again, if you’re working from printed pages rather than a file, you’ll have to figure out how many industry-standard pages the job entails.

Charging by the page has the same benefits and drawbacks as charging by the word. If the manuscript is in good shape, you’ll probably come out ahead on the job. If the manuscript is so stinky that you need safety gloves and tongs to pick it up, you’ll put in longer hours for the same pay.

==  Charging by the Hour  ==

This system seems simple at first—you charge by how much time you put into the job. One major benefit is that the pay is commensurate with the amount of effort required. If a job comes to you well written, you will spend less time on it overall, lowering the total cost for the client. If a job is a mess and needs lots of help, you will spend more time overall, raising the cost. It’s fair for everyone involved (as long as you keep track of your time accurately).

However, the reason I said this method seems simple is that some clients are reluctant to hire an editor without knowing how long the job will take. They don’t want to be on the hook for a final price that could be higher than what they were expecting (and who can blame them?). If you charge by the hour, you should also give your client an estimate of the number of hours you’ll put in. That requires that you have enough experience in the field to size up the initial manuscript and judge the amount of blood, sweat, and tears you’ll expend.

You’ll also need to spell out what happens if you were wrong and the job takes more or less time. If you quote an estimate of 12 hours and the project ends up taking 16, the client might not be thrilled to pay for the extra hours. Thus, it helps to give regular updates on how the work is progressing. That way, if you’re approaching the quoted number of hours and know that you’ll need more time, the two of you can figure out a solution.

==  Charging by the Project  ==

In this system, the client pays you an agreed-upon price to do the job, no matter how much time you end up putting into it. This method is appealing for clients who don’t have much in their editing budget and want to eliminate the guesswork of the other methods. It’s not always the best method for the editor, but in some cases a client will simply say, “I can pay you X amount to edit my manuscript,” and you must decide whether to accept the job or turn it down.

As another option, if you accept the job for a fixed price, you can break that down to an hourly rate to help manage your time. For example, let’s say that you normally charge $30 per hour, but you accept a job that pays a fixed price of $500. A bit of quick division reveals that if you want to earn your usual hourly rate, you should devote no more than 16.6 hours to the project. Of course, that doesn’t mean you stop editing in midsentence when the timer reaches zero. Instead, you budget your time throughout to ensure that you can finish the job in 16.6 hours. (This option assumes that you’ll still do good work in those 16.6 hours. If you cut corners and do a sloppy job just to stick to the allotted time, that won’t do the client—or your reputation—much good.)

==  Differentiating Your Services  ==

Different jobs require different types of editing. Simple proofreading is at one end of the continuum. Developmental work is at the other. Between the two extremes are light, medium, and heavy copy editing. If you want to charge different fees based on the type of work performed, you’ll need to assess the initial manuscript and let the client know what kind of editing is required. That’s a skill in itself, one that you gain only from experience. A look at the Editorial Freelancers Association rates page shows many different specific services that editors might offer. (It also shows the range of suggested fees, but as I said up top, that’s a subject for another day.)

This complication usually comes into play when you charge by the word or by the page. I find that when you charge by the hour, it doesn’t really matter what kind of work you’re doing—light proofreading will automatically take less time than heavy copy editing, so the client will pay less overall.

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This post isn’t meant to be comprehensive. Each of the topics mentioned above has aspects that I haven’t touched on, and the choice is not black and white—you can use a combination of any or all of them in your work. But I thought it would be useful to look at the basics (as I see ’em, anyway) and start a conversation.

Copy editors and fiction editors

So there I was, wondering what to post here on the blog, and then fate stepped in and delivered unto me a wonderful little essay on the difference between copy editors and fiction editors, written by Torah Cottrill (who happens to be both a writer and an editor).

In my own professional work, I do both kinds of editing. Karen focuses mainly on copy editing. But plenty of people out there—including many self-publishing authors, unfortunately—don’t differentiate between types of editing. No matter what you’re writing, it’s important to know what kind of editorial services you want and/or need to make your stuff as appealing as possible to your audience.

And now, take it away, Torah!

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A Few General Thoughts About Editors

It’s worth pointing out, for those not familiar with the distinction, that copy editors and fiction editors are two entirely separate things. (Although there are cases where the same person can do both, it’s actually pretty rare for one person to be good at both.)

Copy editors will make sure you don’t use “bare with me” or “should of” or “sneak peak” and that your typo “what is” instead of “what if” gets caught and corrected. Copy editors can catch continuity errors (for instance, that your character had a red shirt in the first chapter, but you described a blue shirt in chapter three), and can even offer advice about restructuring sections of text and about reworking clunky or confusing language.

Fiction editors look at the larger picture of your work, and can help you decide things like whether you need to add more POV characters, if the narrative structure is falling apart in chapter 5, whether your antagonist is believable, and all of the other story advice that writers dream of when they imagine “having an editor.”

Both types of editors are invaluable. What you should spend your money on depends on what you feel you need. Bottom line, everybody needs to have a copy editor (or a friend who’s good at those kinds of details) look at their work before it’s published, because basic errors of grammar and spelling are inexcusable in work you offer a reader.

As with any professional service, ask for references when looking for any type of editor. Ask what the editor offers, and how much he or she charges. Ask for a sample of his or her work. Discuss price and what you get for your investment. Maybe you’d benefit more from general advice on the structure of your novel, based on the first two chapters and a detailed outline, rather than from a full-blown edit of the whole work. Maybe you only want a final proofreading polish rather than a more intensive copy editing pass. Discuss what you want to achieve by working with the editor, and how the editor can help you accomplish that.

Remember, like any other professionals, editors have varying degrees of experience and expertise, and varying personalities. Spend the time to find someone who’s a good fit for you.

For examples of both kinds of editing, look at the Serious Pixie blog by Susan Morris and GRAMMARGEDDON! by Karen Conlin and Ray Vallese.

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Very well said, Torah. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us—and for the shout-out to our blog. (I disabled the GRAMMARGEDDON! link you put in your essay so as not to create a self-referential loop that would destroy reality. That’s me, generous to a fault.)