You Have Grammar Cancer

You have grammar cancer.

I’m sorry. I should have told you to sit down first. If it makes any difference, I have it, too. We’re in this together.

You’re probably wondering about the symptoms of grammar cancer. The good news is that it’s not fatal–although, if left untreated, it can kill your social life.

Grammar cancer is that seemingly benign, creeping affectation wherein you begin to casually drop your punctuation. “Hi, friend!” has become “Hi friend!” (or, more likely: “hi friend!”). You can also think of it as “meme speak”.

nice grammar idiot meme

This new syntax makes you look weird or overly formal if you punctuate correctly (and you’re also a reasonably social person under the age of 45). Add this lack of punctuation to a growing reliance on exclamation points and smiley faces, and you have a new, subtle language, characterized by the fear of being misunderstood.

The Onion recently lampooned standard email punctuation, hitting the nail on the head by raising the question: When is it OK to abandon our creeping, cancerous new communication in favor of correctness?

Personally, I become more and more casual as I get to know someone. Just met me? I’m probably capitalizing and punctuating correctly. Been my pal since our daiquiri-fueled college a cappella days? You have seen me type (and say) things that are just straight-up not English.

As with all cancers, curing grammar cancer starts with awareness. I’m thinking of making rubber bracelets.

 

New Orleans Style Guide for Editors

Snowball
Snowball photo by Megan Braden-Perry @megandoesnola.

Po’boy or po-boy? Snoball or snowball? Y’all or ya’ll? (That last one, y’all should know already. It just makes sense.)

Living in New Orleans offers about 100 million opportunities per day to correct someone’s spelling. As a copy editor for several local publications, I get paid to do it—but I’ve been party to a few disagreements about the correct spelling of NOLA-centric names.

So, recently, I’ve developed a New Orleans Style Guide for editors, and others in my shoes. It was the right thing to do, being a native and all.

Feel free to disagree with it, or tell me I’m ignorant or wrong or ill-informed—just don’t accuse me of being inconsistent.

Here we go, in no particular order:

  • po-boy. I’ve always been a fan of hyphenating this name for the world’s most delicious genre of sandwich. You’ll often see it spelled “po’boy,” “po’ boy,” or “poboy,” given its origin as a “poor boy” sandwich–but I think the hyphen gives the two words a nice, even weight. It’s how we say the word: PO-BOY (emphasizing both syllables).
  • yat. When used in a question, such as “Where y’at?” this lowercase term takes an apostrophe. However, to refer to native New Orleanians, capitalize and remove the apostrophe: Yat.
  • snowball. Despite what the various tractor-trailers around town may call these icy treats (“snoball,” “sno-ball,” “sno’ball”), I stand by its most sensible spelling.
  • go-cup. Don’t you dare call it a “geaux cup”. That’s just straight-up foolish.
  • N’awlins. No one says this. No one writes this. Do not say this. Do not even think it. The closest a real New Orleanian will come to pronouncing our city’s two names as one is “N’Orleans”.
  • shrimp. Not “prawns”. Similarly, if you ever change “crawfish” to “crayfish,” you should immediately move back from whence you came.
  • fa’ sho. I’ll allow a little leeway on this affirmative expression meaning “for sure”. “Fo’ sho” and “fasho” would also be acceptable.
  • yerdmeh? Sadly, this remarkable expression cannot go into print as rendered, since a copy editor’s entire job is to make text readable/understandable by a wide group of people (and other places outside of New Orleans do exist) . Change to “You heard me?”
  • Uptown. This neighborhood designation should be capitalized. But if you capitalize “Downtown,” you are the worst. I’m not sure why, but that’s okay–lots of stylebook rules have little to no reason behind them.

Should I think of any more outrageous transgressions, I’ll update this list. NOLA editors, feel free to add yours to the comments!

How Copy Editing Makes the World Better

Terror-Eyes
Terror-Eyes seek out and destroys your typos!

Sometimes I feel like Atlas, using both hands to keep the world from getting stupider.

Just kidding, y’all. I have long been a natural copy editor–constantly pointing out typos, missing words, and incorrect punctuation wherever I see it (and I see it everywhere).

To a lot of people, copy editing seems like nitpicking. LET ME TELL YOU WHY IT’S NOT.

Copy editing pays (my) bills.

Aaaand on to the next one.

Copy editing improves reading comprehension.

People understanding what they read is pretty much super-pivotal. How many times have you tried to read the impossible “English” on product packaging and been completely enraged by its obscurity?

Or have you ordered breakfast from a badly written menu, and received something other than what you were expecting?

Oxford orange
Haaaaaaa, get it?

Copy editing makes text as perfect as it can be.

For anyone who appreciates the sheer beauty of words, this is a crucial consideration. There’s nothing like getting into the flow of a piece of writing, and having a typo or missing word straight-up donkey-kick you out of your Reading Rainbow reverie.

Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. [Click to tweet]Tweet: Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. - @theenglishmaven http://ctt.ec/M47X7+

Copy editing preserves the English language.

Ding ding ding! Ladies and gentlemen, in all of its truthiness, here is the crux of the issue. English is a living language, yes. But like all living things, it can only take so many unceremonious gut-punches before it shudders and dies.

Please stop misspelling “night” as “nite”. Please stop thinking “you’re” and “your” are synonymous. Please stop eliminating commas, one by one, from every sentence (though if it’s a stylistic choice, I’m down for that. But you have to be doing it on purpose; most people are not).

And please understand that these things matter, for the reasons listed above.

I’m not casting myself as the last, valiant defender of a dying art–but I am saying that if you speak to me in “abbrevs” one more time, I will break your laptop.

The “shameless plug” section

Did I mention I’m a copy editor, and that I offer Editor On Retainer packages so you never have to worry about provoking the anal-retentive rage of people like me? Get at me here.

The Single Most Important Conversion Tool (That Most Websites Lack)

Brace yourself, because I’m about to throw some hard truths at you. But hey, at least they’re not bricks.

Read on to find out whether your website is missing the number-one tool to convert prospects to buyers. (And it doesn’t matter whether you run a business or not — this applies to personal websites and LinkedIn profiles, too.)

The Missing Piece

You shelled out for a beautiful new website design. Your e-commerce store is stocked and ready to ship. Your SEO is ranking well. But you still don’t have any conversions or paying customers. Why?

You forgot to hire a copywriter.

A gorgeous website without equally dazzling content is like a Michael Bay movie: loud, flashy, empty and frankly disappointing. Design and content go hand-in-hand. You won’t see results if one or the other is missing.

Michael Bay explosion
Also, Michael Bay movies suck.

Get Your Words’ Worth

Visitors to your site are looking for reasons to buy what you’re selling, whether that’s gourmet dog treats, dynamite copywriting services, or you and your resume.

They’re not looking for generic hard sells  (“The Best Dog Treats Available!”) or bland clichés (“You Won’t Believe Your Eyes…”). These trite turns of phrase turn customers off.

A good copywriter takes what’s special about your product and presents that information to the person most likely to buy. Good copy answers the following questions:

  • What makes the product unique?
  • What need will it fill? What problem will it solve?
  • Where can customers buy it?

Content should never be an afterthought. It should be the first thing you think of as you design your website, flyer, brochure — any piece of marketing collateral.

Consider Your Audience

A good copywriter gets to know your product AND your target audience. Claude C. Hopkins, the original gangster of copywriting, said: “We cannot go after thousands of men until we learn to win one.”

Your target audience is not “everyone,” so your copy shouldn’t target everyone.

Test Your Copy Right Now

There are two easy ways to test your written copy for effectiveness.

  1. Pretend you’re Morgan Freeman. Read your copy out loud in your best Morgan Freeman voice. If it does not sound at least as epic as “March of the Penguins,” hire a copywriter.
  2. Ask the questions listed above and see if your site copy answers all of them.
Morgan Freeman as God
WWMFD?

 How does your copy measure up? If you’re not sure, send me your copy at lianna@theenglishmaven.com for a free evaluation. If you are sure (that you’re unhappy with your copy), I’d love to help. Request a project quote here.