We’ve all had a chuckle at the expense of bad spelling or usage a time or two. Signs wind up advertising not quite what they thought, the IKEA instructions tell us to “place the longer shaft in the lower hole for maximum comfort;” French politicians say “fellatio” when they mean “inflation.” That’s just part of the fun of English (and part of the even more fun of French, apparently).
But there’s a lower category of linguistic mutilations that aren’t really wrong — just dumb. Little touches that don’t add anything and leave readers scratching their heads and saying “I wonder what they meant by doing that?” And I’ll preface this with a warning: my job involves a lot of greeting cards. Don’t ask, just accept that I see more oddly-used English on a given day than most people, and that most of the examples below come from those experiences.
The Weirdly-Placed Quotation Marks
Sometimes this one crosses the border into just-plain-wrong territory, but mostly you see quotation marks surrounding perfectly reasonable phrases…that no one’s actually saying. You know — graphic of a cake with candles, fun font; text that reads “Happy Birthday” with the quote marks included. No one’s saying it, so maybe it’s meant to be like those little air-quotes people do with their fingers? Birthday cards for the secret ill-wishers in your life or something. Often appears in conjunction with one of my least favorite linguistic abuses…
The Quote “by Anonymous”
Let me be clear here: if no one knows who said it, it isn’t a quote. It’s a saying, a truism; a just plain-old sentence. You do not ever need to print something that looks like this:
How can I manage my life if I can’t even manage my hair?
I want to personally slap each and every one of these publishers.
The Misattributed Quote
I’ve hit on this one before, but very briefly — any phrase that’s so common you know it by heart is probably a quote. At a guess it’s from Shakespeare or the Bible, with Milton running a distant third. But there’s lots of potential sources for all the little colloquialisms of modern English, so do a fucking Google search.
I guess there’s nothing wrong with being excited about things, but the use of exclamation points in advertisements kind of weirds me out sometimes. It looks especially odd attached to incomplete sentences or single-word phrases: SALE! This is a very emphatic declaration. I’m not sure I want to go into a store that gets that excited about markdowns. They must really want to get rid of that merchandise.
Glancing back over the list, most of these have to do with quotations. Not sure where that’s coming from. I’ve probably missed a few, so you fill in the gaps — what are people doing to their texts that isn’t wrong in a technical sense, bu still makes your writerly nerves twitch?