Category Archives: how not to write

the worst words i’ve seen.

save the melting polar bears!

Wait..what? Polar bears are melting? Well, if you say so, Coca Cola..


You know that feeling of shock you get when a big brand does something stupid? You think, don’t they have enough money to throw around to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen? Yeah..that.

And you know that feeling of shock you get when you find out white fuzzy cuddly terrifying killer bear things are capable of MELTING? You think, don’t the laws of physics have something to say about this? Yeah..that.

Imagine both of those feelings together, and you’ll get an approximation of my reaction on hearing the soundtrack to the above video, a Coca Cola/WWF charity thingy, asking you to help, and I quote,

save the home of the polar bear, which is melting.

End quote.

Assumptions are never good enough

Yes, yes, I know what they mean. But assuming that your customers will know what you mean when you word something stupidly is just not good enough.

It’s not good enough for Coca Cola, it’s not good enough for WWF, it’s not good enough for anyone who works in advertising or charity.

And it’s certainly not good enough for those fuzzy wuzzy bears, who are pretty genuinely sadface about their home disappearing. Here’s Greenpeace doing it better. Warning: this made me weep actual tears.

homeless polar bear :(((

Am I overreacting? Here’s the thing: Any time your wording causes me to concentrate on the actual words you’re saying, and write a blog post ridiculing them, you’ve just distracted me from your (genuine) cause.

Avoid the smudgy windows

Writer and renowned clever bloke George Orwell once remarked that good prose is like a window pane. When you write, readers should be able to see through your words to the truth behind. As soon as your words jar a bit, it’s like seeing a smudge on a window – you don’t see the view through the window, you see the smudge.

So when you can’t be bothered to sort out the relative pronoun in your sentence, with the result that it sounds like you’re telling me polar bears are melting, my focus has shifted way away from the real problem. And that doesn’t help anyone.

Get your act together, Coca Cola/WWF. The white fuzzy killing machines deserve better.



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spot the difference! or, how The Economist can’t spell

The Economist Style Guide is a thing of beauty. But more for the book’s content than its cover.


click to embiggen


I checked, and ‘useage’ isn’t an alternative spelling. It isn’t optional. It’s can I put this? Wrong.

And it’s on the front cover of a guide to how to write English. 

And they spell it correctly inside the book.


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weapons of mass description

the kind of description you should be writing

This quote is from Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and it illustrates one of the most important things to remember as a writer: DO NOT BORE YOUR READER.

People don’t like being bored. Newsflash! I know. I have literally never heard anyone say ‘I’m sooo bored right now, it’s amazing!’ or even ‘I can’t wait for the meeting on Thursday, I’m going to be so bored!’ 

When you write, people have a choice whether or not to read your output. It’s simple: if you bore them, you’re making that choice for them.

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has the world literally ended?

If you’re reading this, then reports of our extinction have been greatly exaggerated.

The world has not ended.

So that’s a relief. 

Because as long as the world still contains takeaway menus which use the word ‘literally’, I’m happy.

not metaphorically

What is Pad Thai? I asked myself. Fortunately, there was a very basic answer:

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is this it?

What did you think when you read the title of this post? Did you think – she’s disappointed because she expected more? Or – she’s excited because she thinks she’s found what she’s looking for?

(Or maybe you thought, she’s been listening to The Strokes.)

The question ‘is this it?’ can have two meanings. There’s the negative one: is this all there is? Can I not expect any more? Frequently uttered when eating in restaurants that serve ridiculously small portions for ridiculously large amounts of money. Or tapas bars.

And there’s the positive one: is this at last what I’ve been looking for all this time? Is this the culmination of everything I’ve worked for and longed for? Is this the Promised Land?

It does seem somewhat careless on the part of the English language to have a phrase that simultaneously means two things which are COMPLETELY OPPOSITE. Why is this? Stupid language. 

Because I couldn’t think of an appropriate photo to illustrate this point, you can have instead a photo of the Christmas lights in Regent Street last week. You’re welcome. Aaaaand – happy weekend! If you can figure out what day it is. I have no idea.

oh my days, check the sparklyness!

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