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By Don Hauptman
You might assume that respected publications employ battalions of skilled editors who work assiduously to ensure that no errors appear in their pages. Maybe so, but the mistakes don’t always get caught. Here are four that I recently found in major newspapers:
* “When Mr. Biden indulges in his rhetorical overkill of repeating the same phrase three times – the proud men and women of Scranton, he said… ‘wanted the government to understand their problem, to understand their problem, be cognizant of the problem’….”
Did you catch it? He didn’t repeat the phrase three times. He repeated it twice.
* “We create elaborate Excel spreadsheets in our head sorting what we would buy….”
In our one collective head? Try the plural heads.
* “Indeed, the banjos owned by Mr. Scruggs were nearly priceless.”
As the MasterCard ads suggest, the word priceless has some validity when it’s applied to a sunset or time with one’s family. But a rare collectible surely has a price. What’s more, “nearly priceless” is nonsensical.
* “I have known him for nearly two years, and have seen him in a variety of situations… over a glass of wine in his boyish loft in Manhattan’s Tribeca….”
The word boyish means “like a boy” or “youthful and innocent.” The word may legitimately be used to characterize an adult male, but can it describe his apartment? Nope. In place of this clunky phrasing, the writer should have told us something about the resident’s furnishings or toys. That would have conveyed a vivid and concrete image.
These examples demonstrate once again that it’s a good idea to express oneself carefully. Sloppy writing and unprofessional editing tend to stop readers in their tracks and distract from the message.
[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]
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