why you need a sub like a fish needs a bicycle

August 16, 2009


Why should sub-editors should be afraid of their own pedal-power? Well – it’s clearly because of the influence they have over our very own Mother tongue: good old English. You know, that thing we speak, where everything has a meaning? And we remember and use these meanings so we can communicate with each other? And we try to get it right, because we want to be “effective” in our communications?

Yes, we want our partners, stakeholders, audiences to understand what we’re telling them. We want to look at least as intelligent as dolphins, if not slightly more so. “Because,” as the Guinness people told us, “not everything in black and white makes sense.”

Like this:

The vitures of the other Elizabeth Taylor

Despite the sneering of Saul Bellow, Claudia FitzHerbert argues that the writer Elizabeth Taylor was a brilliant writer

Hmmm. The vitures. Like fissures and vultures, like virtues and dentures, vitures are an uneasy hybrid… no, wait. What are vitures?

As it happens, the whole article that follows this unhappy headline is a bit confused. I’m not really sure what Claudia FitzHerbert’s argument is, other than, “Elizabeth Taylor the novelist is really great, ya!” But that’s for my bookish blog. For the purposes of this one, we should just be glad that nowhere in it, not once, does she mention vitures.

I can see you getting all smug, thinking, “Ah, but those newspaper sub-editors are notorious for their headline clangers. We’re all right because we’re a very practical business/not-for-profit/NGO/small agency/local authority/small company/we do everything in-house/we outsource everything/we’re not like those media types.”

But I have seen with my own eyes a series of documents, which were produced for public consumption, which were posted on a corporate website as pdf downloads, which were produced by one satellite team and never checked centrally, and which were all based on a template. A Word template. (More on that another time: I have views on trying to do layouts in Word.) That template, I am sorry to tell you, had a typo in the main title. So this typo was repeated across every document that had been produced with that template.

Nobody had checked – or cared. Or, from the looks of it, looked. When I pointed it out, they told me there was no mechanism for checking things centrally that had been produced elsewhere – it would be stepping on the other team’s toes, no one had ever done it, there were resource issues – so up on the website those documents went, typos and all.

It was a vitures cycle.


2 Responses to “why you need a sub like a fish needs a bicycle”

  1. Ben said

    Fine stuff, Katy.

    Did I ever mention this rather excellent headline cock-up?


  2. msbaroque said

    OMG, what does it MEAN??

    One of my favourites was a council newspaper I used to write for where the front page accidentally went out with the sub’s holding headline on it: a picture of a traffic warden ticketing a car, under which they had typed in, “Parking services – smiling while they ruin someone’s day.” Class stuff.

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