Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Crappy English: print media have no room to talk

May I have a little whine about crappy, sloppy editing in the print media? And no, I'm not highlighting this because I want to get in a dig at Bullard and his ilk. I think the Sunday Times has very good subs (C - you can post that cheque directly to me).

I'm moaning about it because it seems to me that the standard of subbing in books, magazines and newspapers seems to be going from bad to appalling. (And, frankly, it's a bit rich for Bullard and his fellow glass-house-dwellers to mock the standard of writing in the Blogosphere when their own industry is so far from perfect.)

I sometimes wonder, reading magazines, newspapers and books, whether they actually employ any subeditors at all.

Take local fiction: time and again I've picked up an interesting new novel by an SA author, only to find myself huffing and tsssking over numerous typos, inconsistencies and unforgivable spelling and punctuation errors. Call me pernickety, but I do think the least that a publisher can do is ensure that a manuscript has been properly proofread before it's put on the shelves. I'm not the only one who thinks this, I might add: I've had several conversations with avid readers, book reviewers and book editors who are equally dismayed.

I was discussing the whole matter of bad subbing and lazy writing in the print media (and the blogosphere) with a friend the other day. 'Am I just being old-fashioned and crabby?' I asked her. 'Does punctuation matter? Does anyone care?'

'I care!' she exploded. 'It is important!'

And, do you know what, she has a point.

Take local magazines. A good example is Good Taste, the Wine-of-The-Month Club's magazine, which has won several awards. I can't pick up a copy without wanting to whip out a red pen, correct every second paragraph, and post it back to the editor. An example from the latest issue (and this is the introductory blurb, printed in at least 16pt type): 'It's a sunny day in Durban and although we take the odd wrong turn en route we certainly don't let it damper our spirits.'

Damper? That's irritating enough, but read on, and you'll find a story about a Durban restaurant that is so badly written it's virtually unreadable. No punctuation, no structure; just a string of quotes by the restaurant's owner, typed out verbatim by the 'writer'. The rest of the magazine is riddled with errors. Not surprising, then, that I can't find a sub's name on the magazine's staff list.

The other lifestyle and decor mags are not much better. Even if they manage to get the subbing right, the editorial is so trite that it borders on ludicrous (see my rant on the Woolies magazine Taste for more). 'The sexy side of concrete' was the coverline on one glossy interiors magazine recently (Visi, I think it was). Another classic from the same issue: 'Imperfect is the new perfect'. Huh? Sexy side of concrete? Who is writing this swill? Who is buying these magazines? (I, of course, picked up my copies on a bus. No, that's a lie, I bought them for R2 each from the blessed Parkview Library, along with a big stash of brand-new National Geographics, Time magazines, Spectators, etc. Whoever the big-spender magazine junkie in Parkview is, thanks for sharing!)

And then you get the newspapers. Here are some howlers I've collected from the Saturday Star (whose sub hasn't got the hang of correcting dangling modifiers):

In a food review (the reviewer was writing about a fish dish his wife had ordered):

'Indifferently sauced with white wine, she finished it all.' [Oh, his poor dizzy wife!]

In a book review:

'Gritty, fast-paced and violently realistic, Orford has created a Cape Town underworld whose depths reach into the far recesses of human depravity.'

'Hands bound, eyes blinded and necks cut, his viscous [sic] attacks are getting more and more frequent...'

In a social column:

'marquis' (instead of 'marquee') and 'source' (instead of sauce).

From a recent Taste magazine: 'Plump and oval, long and slender, glossy purple or almost black, we celebrate the mysterious brinjal!'

I could go on and on giving you examples of modifiers dangling by their fingernails, and lists of 'its' instead of 'it's', and 'it's' instead of 'its', but I'll leave you with my most prized example of crap subbing (taken, I'm afraid, from the Sunday Times).

The writer, in an article about madumbes (African potatoes) writes, 'Greyish, slightly floury and a little dense, I am going see what they’re like in a bredie'.

You said it, dude.

PS: If I see the words 'tad' or 'leafy suburbs' in another newspaper column, I'm going to vomit.

PPS: Another tagged-on thought: Bloggers don't have the luxury of having a sub to correct and proofread what they write. Print-media journalists and columnists do have this luxury (or should have; see my comments above). What I'm trying to say here is that, having worked for years as a freelance editor and proofreader, I've seen copy submitted by so-called journalists and writers that is so shockingly incompetent that the only thing I could do with it was put it in the circular file under my desk. (I nicked that from the FT - isn't it a brilliant image of a dustbin?)

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Louisa said...

Perhaps the Wine-of-he-month writer was drunk when he wrote the article? ;-)

Juno said...

Lol. It was a 'she'. But maybe you're right!

Muriel said...

I recently began a book called Pomegranate Soup. I can't remember the author because I slammed it closed and consigned it to the circular file under my desk the minute I got to page 2. Why? Because it contained a sentence that described 'phenomena' as singular ('phenomenON', people!). I absolutely refuse to waste my precious time on books written (or edited) by people who don't know the basics of English grammar. I consider it an insult to my intelligence.