Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Mr Writer

As a professional writer, and a semi-professional pedant, I am enraged on a daily basis by the general illiteracy of the world around me. As a professional writer and semi-professional pedant, I am also baffled on an equally frequent basis by the total apathy displayed by the inhabitants of said world to the linguistic idiocy that surrounds them. It’s reached the point where bad grammar or spelling has become almost unremarkable – a wallpaper of ignorance that coats our society – and if you think I’m getting worked up about this, you don’t know the half of it.

It’s perhaps understandable that a local charity volunteer might insert an unwarranted apostrophe into their fundraising “menu’s”, but it’s unforgivable when one of Scotland’s largest car dealerships runs a full-page ad on the back of the Edinburgh Evening News with the word “BARGIN” proudly emblazoned across it in 72-point bold capitals. I can forgive a neighbour getting my name wrong on a hand-written note, but I must acknowledge Volvo once again (not in a good way, this time), who once sent a marketing letter to Mr ? Cumins. Even the BBC has become guilty of proofreading laziness – the recent series of Food & Drink displayed captions for “1 carrott” and “half a bottle of of Italian red wine”, while a live news interview on the Oscar Pistorius trial came from a reporter in “Petoria”. After two minutes, the on-screen Petoria caption magically vanished, possibly in response to an anguished tweet from a freelance proofreader in Glasgow.

Bad spelling has become an affliction that strikes at the heart of our society. In terms of its cause, I could blame league table-obsessed schools and their under-qualified teachers, money-obsessed colleges and universities, apathetic parenting, lazy students, disinterested employers, or the almost total lack of demand for professional proofreading services. In fact, I blame all these factors equally. Since setting myself up as a freelance copywriter six years ago, I have witnessed a shockingly low level of demand for proofreading, despite its inestimable value to any company that wants to look even vaguely professional. Company websites are frequently peppered with unnecessary errors, and even people who work in PR and advertising often struggle to write a single paragraph without some sort of grammatical cock-up. Clearly, “it’ll do” is the accepted mentality, and often from people who should damn well know better. If time-served public relations professionals can’t proofread their own press releases, what hope is there for the rest of society?

I’d like to think basic sentence construction and accurate spelling could be taken as read (get it?), but sadly, these elementary skills seem to be an optional extra these days. I don’t expect other people to proofread everything three times as I always do, but once would be nice. Amid this linguistic malaise, my ability to spot a misplaced apostrophe at ten paces is beginning to seem almost quaint and olde-worlde. It’s a situation that makes me feel profoundly sad (particularly while writing this blog post), but Grammar Pedantry Syndrome knows no boundaries, and my daily struggle against the semi-literati must continue.

Now, does anyone want to recruit a freelance copywriter what can write proper and that, innit?

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