Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Copywriters vs. linguists!

As a former linguist turned copywriter, I find myself in the odd position of defending my current profession against my former. Mark Liberman over at Language Log takes some copywriters to task for mispelling violà voilà. To be fair, Mark is not just ragging on copywriters, but the whole ad industry--writers, editors, clients.


But if I were spending $100,000 to put a full-page ad onto the back page of the New Yorker, with 26 total words of copy, I think I could manage to check the spelling.


Having now been on the inside of an agency, I can tell you how this went down. The copywriter most likely made a mistake and wrote violá voilá in the manuscript. Then the sharp-eyed editor noticed the problem and changed it to violà voilà. All was fine until it went to the client for review. The client remembered back to her highschool French and changed it back to violá voilá. The editor at the agency flew into a rage. The account person asked if the client is right. The editor composed a heated email explaining the problem, complete with scanned dictionary and style book pages. The account person gently tried to explain the problem to the client. By this time the client had found a few colleagues to back her up. The writer, exhausted from coming up with 50 different concepts to sell cheap wine, ignored the whole thing. At some point after that, the account person uttered the phrase, "We're not going to die on our sword for this." And so it went to print.

So don't hate us Mark. We're only human.

9 comments:

boredoom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
boredoom said...

You just violated the French language! Accents aside, it's voila, not viola. I guess it proves your point, though. ;-)

cawshis said...

Why the heck are they using a French word anyway? Yeesh.

liberal elite said...

Damn, how embarrassing. That's what I get for blogging while at work.

Anonymous said...

Yep, that's how it works. And then there was the committee who told me they had workshopped some difficult spellings and decided to spell 'accommodate' with one c "in order not to upset people's expectations."

Sign me:
Copy-editor for 40 yr and still sane (sort of)

Eric said...

So what are you goin gto do now that you're famous, over there at Language Log? Huh? Huh? You stud. I always knew you'd hit the big time, but I figured it would be for your awesome bass and guitar-playing abilities ...

cawshis said...

They workshopped spelling a word??? I can back up mispronouncing a word...or even using the wrong word for a thought.

But workshopping the spelling of word that's "difficult" to spell???

That's just crazy! Surely the endtimes are upon us.

liberal elite said...

Just think of it as freemarket spelling reform.

Dr. Whom said...

Which just goes to show: don't trust your memory of your high school French against a sharp-eyed editor. Voilà!

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