NOBODY LIKES A PEDANT

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PETE BELL writes a dangerous post on pedantry, typos, homophones and failed puns.

NOBODY likes a pedant. Except other pedants. People who spend their time on social media correcting other people’s posts rarely have many – if any – friends. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook posts, unless issued by a company in an official capacity, are as throwaway as pub chats and should be treated as such.

As someone who has spent most of his life as a journalist I find it hard not to wince at a misplaced “your”, a muddled “there” or a (and I’m biting my left knuckle as a type this with my right hand) a “must of”. But it is not my job to correct the public musings of anyone made in a private capacity, however stupid or incomprehensible. And it’s not yours.

I know the rules about possessive apostrophes and where to use there and their. And I know I occasionally get them wrong (and I WILL blame typos here) if I’m writing in a hurry. I once filed some copy about a government review using the spelling “revue” from start to finish, making the whole subject sound far more entertaining than it really was. I don’t know why, I knew the difference between the two words. So if I commit typos and muddle homophones, who am I to attack someone else for it? The point I have been meandering toward is this: we shouldn’t assume ignorance is the reason for a mistake.

BUT (I know, you saw this coming) if someone is posting in an official capacity, or writing copy to represent a company, they owe it to the public to do their utmost to get it right. It’s a simple matter of respect. And, unless the copy is genuinely funny, they should try and keep it reasonably formal. Innocent Smoothies have a lot to answer for, judging by the substandard frivolity spattered across so much food packaging these days.

In fact, the food and drink industry may well be the biggest culprit when it comes to offensive mangling of language and the crushing failure of forced jollity. From the greengrocer’s creative use of the apostrophe to the publican’s commandeering of tired old gags and motivational quotes, each day brings a constant bombardment of needless errors and illustrations of the lack of wit of the people who want to feed and water us.

Has an A-board with “Soup of the day: Gin” or some similar, witlessly regurgitated “joke” ever persuaded a passer-by to enter the pub it stands outside? In my case, it has done the opposite.

There is a very good pizza place near me. I’m not yet boycotting it, because it’s the best one in the area and my principles can often be overcome by convenience. But it makes me angry every time I visit. In addition to margherita and cured meat pizzas (illustrating they don’t have a blanket policy of “clever” names for their produce) they have pizzas called John O’Goats, Brie My Baby and Jon Bon Chovy.

A good pun can be a wonderful thing. These names are not even puns, they are just the swapping of one word for another that sounds similar. There are no Scots or infants or rock stars in these pizzas. “Goat to Hell”, “Don’t Brie Stupid” and “Get Chover Yourself” would work just as well. And by well, I mean badly.

Many people may not notice these things, or if they notice, they may not care. But the few that do care, really care. They may even care enough to boycott the thing the errors or clumsy wit are attached too.

At the risk of sounding like a motivational quoter, various people, including Winston Churchill have been credited with saying: “You are a master of the words you don’t say and the slave of the ones you do.” It’s best to try to avoid being slave to an error.

Pete Bell