Marketers and marketeers


Ahem, sorry about that. I mean, it’s probably true, but that’s not actually what I want to write about.

A colleague turned to me today, sucking his teeth and generally looking a bit dramatic in that understated sub-editor way. He pointed at his screen. In the sub-head, ‘marketers’. In the body copy, ‘marketeers’. What devilry.

“I hate that word,” he hissed, deleting one e.

And then, like Carrie Bradshaw, I got to thinking. Marketeer has slightly negative connotations in my mind, possibly having been tainted by profiteer or black marketeer. For me, it conjures up images of someone who markets products recklessly and without conscience, whereas marketer just describes someone who markets stuff. However, it’s entirely possible that I made this up, because I do that sometimes.

As says, the -eer suffix is “now frequently perjorative”. But does that include marketeer?

Perhaps not. I looked it up in several places, and couldn’t find any evidence of a negative nuance. There is, however, a specific meaning to marketeer, relating to support for EU membership.



  1. (British) a supporter of the European Union and of Britain’s membership of it
  2. a marketer


a person employed in marketing



  1. a person who sells goods or services in a market: software marketeers
  2. [with modifier] a person who works in or advocates a particular type of market: in the US libertarians are free marketeers to the bone


(only listed as a derivative of market)

There also seems to be a particular stress on marketeers operating within a market, whereas marketers, perhaps, can just market in any old way. This does seem a rather obscure differentiation, though.

What do you think? Do you see them as equal in meaning? Do you read a negative nuance into one? Are the French involved (they usually are)? Is it a UK/US thang?

If I’m not alone in seeing marketeer in a negative light, it strikes me that it would be a useful thing for those who use it as their job title to be aware of. It can’t help with the marketeering.

Say that again

A while ago I wrote about reduplicative ideophones in Japanese, such as fula fula for being unable to walk straight while drunk, or giri giri for being just in time. The post is here, if you’re interested.

I don’t know squat about the linguistics of other languages, so I have no idea how many use this device. But I was delighted today to read on Simon Fenton’s blog Travels with my shirt that the Diola (or Jola) language of Senegal has something similar. They’re different in that they don’t describe the sensory experience of a feeling, but instead take a noun or verb and double it to make an adjective or show a current action.

Here’s the extract:

The diola word for hot is “boily boily”. Many adjectives seem to be two repeated words – gileng gileng is cold, libby libby is heavy, leggy leggy is to go (ok, that’s a verb and it’s also Wolof, a different language). Year ago I could speak basic Indonesian after four months strolling around there – it was quite simple grammatically and I always remember if you are actually doing the verb in question, you repeat it. For example Jalan was to walk, so if you’re walking you are “jalan jalan”. I think I’m remembering that correctly, but I know I have readers in the Indonesian Archipelego, so will no doubt find out.

I wonder how many other languages also use them. I think they’re great. 🙂

Thanks honey

This is a bit of a quick lunchtime rant, so I apologise if it lacks finesse (it does).

I just phoned a PR chap. It was the second time we’d spoken, ever. I won’t go into why, but suffice to say that some requests he’s made over the past week have doubled the workload involved in a particular task, and it’s been passed to me to sort out. The phonecall today was to make sure he was on track for the deadline I set yesterday. In short, he’s on the back foot, I’ve been efficient and more than decent, and now we need to wrap it up.

But then he did a thing.

It went a bit like this:

Me: “Hi, it’s Cathy, we spoke yesterday.”
Him: “Oh hi, yes, thanks for sending that through, I’m going to look through it at lunchtime and get it back to you early afternoon.”
Me: “Super. Because I’m working elsewhere for the rest of the week, so I do need to see it off today.”
Him: “Yep, definitely.”
[So up until now, I’m in charge.]
Me: “Great, speak to you later.”
Him: “Thanks honey.” [phone down]

And with those two magical words, he’s put himself back in charge.

Thanks honey? Sorry, did I just bake you a FUCKING MUFFIN? Do you know me? Did I pick you up a pint of milk, or compliment your hair? I did not. I phoned you to remind you that I need you to do a certain thing, by a certain time.

But the thing that amazed me was the incredible potency of those two small words. By sneaking them in just before the phone hit the cradle, he changed the power balance of the whole conversation. Ending on a “thanks honey” transformed both our roles: with the “thanks”, he implies that I’ve just done something he asked me to do, and with the “honey”, he makes it personal and affectionate. Suddenly, I’m doing him some kind of menial personal favour and he’s letting me. In fact, he’s patronising me.

I’ve heard other people, particularly women, complaining about endearments before. I understand that they can be annoying, but they’ve not bothered me personally. If the greengrocer calls me “luv”, no problem. If a love interest calls me something sweet, I might even like it. And my friends and I call one another all kinds of sickly things. In a professional context, however, it’s clearly inappropriate.

But until half an hour ago, I’d never realised how much you could elevate your position, albeit temporarily and cosmetically, with just one or two strategically placed words.

On a completely unrelated subject, I’m really looking forward to receiving that copy.


This post, which I dashed off in all of 10 minutes, has attracted more attention than any of the ones I’ve spent hours poring over, and now I wish I’d put a little more consideration into writing it.

As seems to happen whenever anyone mentions the gender word (and I didn’t even, look!), I’ve had quite a few “calm down dear” responses. Also, my having mentioned a greengrocer has earned me suggestions of class snobbery.

So, three things that I perhaps should have included or done differently:

  • Shockingly, this was not the first time I have ever been addressed as “honey”, “luv”, “babes” etc. It is, however, the first time I’ve written about it. To those who feel I took unnecessary offence, when in fact the poor man concerned was just being friendly, or perhaps confusing me with his lovely wife, you’ll just have to trust me on this one. Or not, as you wish. The conversation was nothing if not a power struggle – an editor and a PR manager thrashing out how a document should look, each with their own agenda? Come on. To slip that “thanks honey” in so smoothly half a second before I hung up was genius, and we both knew it.
  • As for class snobbery, I was probably unwise to write “greengrocer” there. If, like Cher, I could turn back time, maybe I’d replace that bit with “if a person, regardless of job title, gender or indeed colour, in an informal situation that involves no conflict or power struggle, calls me ‘luv’, no problem”. Okay? It was an example, hunnies. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to charge some proles down with my horse, before they steal all the potatoes again.
  • If you’re someone who already calls me honey, you can keep calling me honey. I’m not going home and sticking pins in an effigy of you, don’t worry.

What does a sub-editor do?

That’s one of the most common search phrases that bring people to this blog. The boring answer is: they cut copy to fit space, correct spellings and grammar, change copy to fit house style, check facts are correct, write headlines and proofread. For the web, they also source pictures, write captions and credits, add links and optimise for search engines. Yada yada. More things too, such as poking tardy journos, laying out pages, clarifying meaning, finding missing information and sometimes rejecting articles.

But mostly, and this is the fun bit, they stop great big boobs like these below from ending up in published copy. These were donated by a mysterious anonymous source at a national paper, and I’ve thrown in a couple. Feel free to contribute your own (or email me if you’d rather donate anonymously).

“He took over in a bloodless coup, which left 100 dead.”

“Hopes for a negotiated end to the crisis were dashed last week when Saleh suddenly returned from Saudi Arabia, where he had spent three months recovering from an assassination.”

“… All Saints Church in Torquay, where ‘Queen of Crime’ Agatha Christie was baptised and worshipped for 50 years.”

“Unusual sightings are not unusual.”

“Forensic archaeologist Lucy Sibun said various body parts belonging to Victoria Couchman were missing, including her hands, feet and right arm. No clothing or personal possessions were found during a fingertip search of the area.”

“The morning after the printing press was invented in 1452, there was almost no one in Europe who was literate. Literacy was then the purview of a tiny and elite fraction of the population. The great and vast majority of the world was incapable of reading and writing.”

“This vacuum cleaner did a fantastic job of cleaning traditional wood flooring, sucking up dust and dirt from cervices with ease. It comes with a separate hard-floor nozzle, but we found the standard one to be the most effective.”

Aha ha ha. But, seriously, if you’ve ended up at this post because you’re thinking of training to be a sub, you might find this debate between the respective subbing lords of the Telegraph and the Guardian useful.

Learned/learnt and spelled/spelt

“Can you point out the grain that attacked you, ma’am?”

These two pairs have long troubled me gently, and it came to a head last week when someone impertinently commented on Facebook (where, for reasons you need not worry about, I was talking about ‘commonly misspelt words’) ‘”Misspelt”?! “Misspelled”, please.’

To deal with spell first, here’s the thing. The Guardian style guide specifies spelled for the past tense and spelt for the past participle, The Times prefers spelt in both instances, The Economist says spelled is American English and spelt is British English and healthfood shops tell us spelt is a more primitive form of wheat. Then there’s the OED, which says both are fine but lists spelled first, and Collins, which agrees but lists spelt first.

Is learn any simpler? Nope. Now, my first chief sub told me to spell it learnt, so as not to confuse it with the adjective learned, as in ‘he’s a learned man’. The Guardian style guide, however, says not to write learnt ‘unless you are writing old-fashioned poetry’. The Economist says learnt is British English and learned is American English and The Times prefers learnt in both instances. Collins and the OED agree that either spelling is fine, and both list learned first.

Fowler, in a rare show of tolerance, acknowledges both learned and learnt, spelled and spelt, though he notes that the -t endings are more common in British English, and that learned is more common as the past form.

Right then. That’s as clear as mud. So, what do people actually do? I asked the question on Twitter, and discovered that they do all kinds of things. There was a slight preference for -t endings (most of my followers are British, so that makes sense), a lot of confusion and a few preferences, but none of the usual tubthumping. Basically, we’re all a bit unsure.

Do I have an answer? Not really, beyond that if someone starts throwing ‘?!’ combinations at you on Facebook, you’re well within your rights to tell them to bugger orf.

As a general rule, it seems that -t endings are a trait peculiar to the British, and as such have some connotations of old-fashionedness. If you’re writing for an international audience, you may wish to switch to -ed, but otherwise, as you were. Pick your preference and defend it to the death, or at least until someone comes up with a sensible argument for changing it.

What’s your preference?


Update 28/11/2012

This just in from my colleague Kathy:

I found the thing wot I was talking about yesterday: the -t endings that have now fallen away include: curst (as in that fine Brighton band, The Curst Sons), dropt, husht, kist, stopt and whipt. The ones where the -t ending is now the only formation include: crept, dealt, felt, kept, left, meant, slept, swept. And those that have preserved both alternatives include: bereave, burnt, dream, kneel, lean, learn, smell, spell, spill and spoil. Because I know you won’t have been able to sleep.

Direct mail fail

Facts and fingers. Mostly fingers.

When you espresso-drinking types decide to grace our inboxes with a spot of direct marketing, your main goals are to pick up new clients and stimulate repeat business. Even if you don’t achieve that, hopefully you’ll still increase awareness of your brand. If your message is binned without being read, that’s disappointing. If your recipient opts out, that’s the worst‐case scenario. Right?

Or how about when the targeted customer, upon reading your carefully crafted prose, froths violently at the mouth and forwards your email to, um, me, with the following comment:

“Why you would trust anyone to work with you on direct mail when their own attempt at email direct marketing is so shabby is beyond me. It’s the mix of fonts, colours, bold; the length, lack of salutation or sign off, not to mention poor sentence construction and punctuation, that make me go grrrr.”

That’s how this little treat fell into my hands. And, would you believe it, the point of the direct-marketing email in question was to market… direct mail. Ouch. A double whammy of self defeat. To see the email in all its glory, click here. I’ve removed the company’s name and links, because I’m not a total bitch, honest.

In the interests of positivity (which is definitely a word, because the Spice Girls said so) here are five points that could have made it better:

1. Length and structure
This email is well over 1,000 words long – that’s at least three times as long as it should be. Try to limit yourself to a maximum of 300 words, and use a three‐point structure so that you don’t overwhelm your reader’s tiny mind. For example:

  • Outline the client’s possible desire or difficulty
  • Describe your company’s solution
  • Provide the next step, whether it’s a link, phone number or email address.

2. Style and layout
Make sure the email contains clear branding – your logo, your font, your colours. This one was so generic‐looking that at first I thought it might be a scam, and had to confirm with the company that it was genuine.

When it comes to the text, don’t mix colour, underline and bold (unless you want it look like a GCSE computer skills project from the 1990s). Choose between either colour or bold, and use it sparingly – and if you choose colour, make sure it fits with your branding and that it matches, or complements, the colour of any hyperlinks. Underline is so last century, baby; don’t do it. Also, do you really need to use block capitals? I THINK NOT.

3. Spelling and grammar
Where to start? The mistakes in this piece smack you in the face like a sack full of hammers. But here are a few of the less idiotic ones.

  • Don’t refer to your company as a female, for flip’s sake. Most style guides suggest the singular (“Relfco and its partners”), but some companies prefer the plural (“Relfco and their partners”) because they think it sounds more human. Either is fine, just make sure you’re consistent.
  • Remember that spellcheck is a little bastard. Only a human would know that you meant “whereas” in the sentence: “ROI for Direct Mail has steadily increased over the last 3 years, were as digitals has declined.”
  • Read it out loud. That way you’ll spot the awkwardness of sentences such as: “We will do all of the or part of, the work for you” – and either annihilate them on sight (recommended), or at least improve the punctuation.
  • Consider employing a professional proofreader, or at least running the document past the most pedantic person you have to hand. Not everyone will spot a misplaced modifier, but if you’re sending the email to several thousand people, some definitely will. Here’s one, where the “its” and the “we” disagree: “In its simplest form, we work in partnership with local marketing experts.” Not the end of the world, but some people judge you on this stuff. Some people, eh. No-one I know, obviously.
4. Wild claims
Stay focused on what you can actually deliver, and the benefits of that to the client. You won’t win business by promising the world. Unless you can actually deliver it, of course – in which case, I want one. For example:
  • “Mail is engaging. Consumers spend on average 10 minutes reading mailshots.” Per item? (Sounds unlikely.) In a lifetime? (Not very impressive.)
  • “It lets you have a one to one communication which delivers more emotional intensity than any other medium.” Is anyone really going to believe that receiving marketing mail is an emotionally intense experience? Delete.
  • “[Mail] affects all five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Mail is the only medium to provide the creative possibilities to engage the customers on all levels.” Yes, I often sniff, lick and listen to my letters before opening them. But enough about me.
5. Beginnings and endings

How you start and finish matters. If you’re contacting an existing client, you want them to feel valued and remembered. If you’re contacting a potential new client, remember that you’re nothing to them, as yet. And in both cases, bear in mind that unsolicited mail is rarely welcome – so you need to be as polite, professional and to-the-frickin-point as possible.

Use a program that allows you to address each recipient by name, and check that their name displays correctly. Most people are more likely to read on if they see “Dear Cathy” than if they see “Dear Ms C Relf”. Though it really is time you stopped reading my mail.

Also, make sure you sign off properly. You’re reaching out to new business – so to whom should it reach back? And how? Be friendly, write like a real person, and give options for how to get in touch. Finally, think carefully about your final statement. Do you really want it to be “In the mean time for more ideas, fact & fingers click on Direct Mail”?

I have got a question

This front page really jumped out at me yesterday. And not just because of the odd choice of the first person.

Where do you stand on have+got or has+got? I can’t think of many instances of the ‘got’ being necessary.

When you’re leading up to an adjective (“he’s got old” or “she’s got tired of working”), it’s needed (though of course “he’s aged” or “she’s tired of working” would do fine).

But when you’re talking about possession, it seems not only unnecessary but also clumsy. What’s wrong with “I have a secret lovechild”? (That’s not a moral question, I hasten to add.

I have a cold, I have a house in France, he has an exam tomorrow, she has bad breath… all of these read better without the got.

Does anyone know of a good argument for including it? Or, in this case, is it a play on some famous Arnie quote that I’m missing?

PS. Watch out for the behead beast.

Bonus post

Here’s another picture for you. It’s the menu for the Which? canteen. Now let me first state that I have had many, many lovely meals from the canteen. And let me also state that I do understand that the chefs and waiting staff are employed for their cooking and serving skills, not their writing. Okay? So don’t shout at me.

Take a look. No, no, not at the apostrophe crimes – we’re beyond that. Take a look at the salad bar bit along the bottom.

Honestly, it’s a nightmare. You go there for a bit of couscous salad, and you come away with instructions to write all your darkest thoughts down on a piece of paper and float it out to sea at sunset while breathing deeply and visualising your new life.

Let me try and explain this

Earlier this week, I posed a question on Twitter.

I love Twitter, and being connected with a community of editing professionals bigger than I could ever hope to meet in real life is a real honour. But it can be frustrating at times, basically because we’re all such pedantic bastards. I’d hoped to discuss whether ‘try and’ was a regional expression, and whether it was used for a slightly different meaning than ‘try to’. But even though I’d acknowledged in the initial question that the ‘to’ form was the correct one, the conversation got stuck on that point.

‘Try and’ is wrong, I was told. Wrong, wrong, wrong: simple. You can see the conversation, and my growing exasperation, here.

Except that language isn’t simple. You can have formal, standard or style-guide compliant styles, and you can have colloquial, slang or pidgin variations, but language is rarely wrong. Unless you’re misunderstood by almost everyone, almost all of the time. Then, perhaps, you’re doing it wrong.

Also, to tell someone that the way they speak is ‘wrong’ can be a little, erm, insensitive. Though we mostly conform to similar rules when writing, our spoken language differs wildly and reflects our culture, background, family, geography and education. To use myself as an example, here are just three things that I observe in formal writing but not in speech: fewer and less; who and whom; try to and try and.

Perhaps if I were meeting the queen, I’d make an exception. But the rest of the time: no, because how I speak is a reflection of who I am, where I’m from and how, and by whom, I was brought up. I’m sure this is the same for most people – speech and identity are tightly tied, and if you criticise one you criticise the other.

My mother (from sarf London) has a painful memory of meeting my father’s parents (from deepest Kent) and having her pronunciation of ‘bowl’ (‘bawl’) corrected (‘bewl’). Someone once suggested I might improve my career prospects if I observed ‘whom’ in speech. This is scummy, classist bollocks, I’m afraid, and I send a big WRONG to anyone who indulges in it. Whether you’re an editor, a sub-editor, a teacher, a lecturer or a fricking rocket scientist, remember: unless invited, you never have the right to criticise someone’s style of speaking.

‘Try to’ and ‘try and’

Anyway, back to ‘try to’ and ‘try and’. I’m going to have another bash here, and please feel free to join in below if you’re interested.

Firstly, let’s be so, so, SO clear that no-one can misinterpret. If it’s grammatically correct and formal you’re after, ‘try to’ is the one for you. But ‘try and’ has a lot going for it. It’s easier to say (at least in my southern drawl), and has a friendlier sound. And if there’s no problem with “go and get ready” or “come and see me”, why the objection to ‘try and’?

Secondly, although the two are broadly used to mean the same thing, there is sometimes a subtle difference. For example, “I’ll try and read that later” suggests that I may not get around to reading it, but that if I do, I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to. “I’ll try to read that later” could mean that I’ll struggle with the actual reading. In the Facebook screenshot below, the points by Pablo and Terry, in particular, match my own interpretation. And while Terry’s a southerner, Pablo’s an exotic Leeds breed. So I guess it’s not just a Bognor-and-surrounds thing.

It’s not, as some people argue, ambiguous. “I’ll try and read that later” is just as clear as “I’ll try to read that later”. On Twitter, I was told that the ‘and’ suggested a second action must also be taking place, which made the expression misleading. But you’d have to wilfully misread it to get confused. Or would you? If you would genuinely be confused by “I’ll try and read that later”, please do leave a comment and explain why. In the Facebook screenshot, Michael gives the example “I hope to obtain a copy. I’ll try and read it later.” – but, for me at least, in the absence of a pause/comma after the ‘try’, I would hear/read it as the equivalent of ‘try to’.

Even if the expression itself can be ambiguous (and I am doubtful of that), that’s no reason to brand it as ‘wrong’. Pretty much all words and combinations thereof can be open to misinterpretation if used unthinkingly. A large part of being a good communicator, in speech or writing, is using your judgement to limit that risk.

Rant nearly over now, I promise. But here’s a kick-arse link, courtesy of Stan Carey, to the Merriam Webster dictionary. Its entry on ‘try and’ quotes Roy Copperud on attempts to separate it from ‘try to’: “This proves nothing but the lengths to which the wrongheaded will go to make nonexistent points.” Ahh.

Any thoughts?

Culture clash

Yoghurt, yoghurt, yoghurt. For the past three weeks or so, my every spare minute has been oozing with yoghurt. Eww. Not literally, thank goodness. I’ve been writing a category report on yoghurt and pot desserts.

This involved talking to around 35 press officers, one for each of the different brands and one for each of the supermarkets. The press officers for the brands are superb, almost to a (wo)man. Pleasant to deal with, quick to respond and totally on the ball.

Oh, but the language. The language of press releases, of the internal workings of brand identity, of fmcg. It is a terror.

I work in my kitchen, so I read these things with an oven nearby. A gas oven, temptingly near to my head. Do you know how dangerous that is?

The point of a press release – or, indeed, any information given to the press – is to deliver information to journalists, who in turn deliver it to their readers. In this case, the feature was for The Grocer magazine, so the readers are suppliers, retailers, wholesalers, farmers and the occasional member of the public with an unusual taste in recreational reading. Above all, they’re people, not robots. Therefore, there is no reason to talk to them of “eating occasions” when you could say “meals and snacks”.

However, very few press releases are actually written with the reader in mind. Instead, it’s all about the company and what they want to shout about – in their strange private dialect. But if you write your press releases in simple, direct, meaningful words, you stand a much better chance of getting your message across.

So I’m going to be radical and take some real phrases that were sent to me and put them in nice, simple, human English. I know, I know. Try not to get too excited.

  • “Snacking is one of the key occasions for the Low Fat yogurt consumer”
    This just makes me think of David Attenborough (“Bamboo is one of the key food sources for the mountain gorilla”) – it’s an odd construction to use. How about “consumers most often eat low-fat yoghurt as a snack”? If that’s true, of course. Which we don’t know, because the word “key” doesn’t actually mean anything.
  • “Greek yoghurt sits on a continuum between yoghurts and desserts”
    This is crazy talk. Try “Greek yoghurt sits somewhere between yoghurts and desserts”, if you must. Or say what you mean: “Being thicker and more luxurious, Greek yoghurt can also be used for desserts.”
  • “Yoghurt retains a health halo”
    No it doesn’t. “People see yoghurt as a healthy food.”
  • “It is an eye attractive on shelf product”
    Okay, I know what you mean. But “it looks good on the shelf” or “it’s an attractive product”, would be better.
  • “It is about becoming more treaty through flavour choices and style”
    Look, I know the linguists say we’re not meant to scream “this is not a word”, but, sorry, this is not a word (except as a noun, where obviously it is a word). Perhaps “to make the yoghurts more attractive as treats, we’ve introduced more flavours and updated our packaging”?
  • Pleasure remains a key need-state in food”
    This means “people still like food that tastes nice”. You wouldn’t write that, because it’s stupid. So don’t write this, because it’s stupid.
  • “there will be a new TV campaign heroing on great taste”
    Was “focusing” not good enough?
  • “This is an iconic brand with strong taste credentials”
    I’ll refrain from going off on a rant about icons on this occasion. What this means is “it’s a well known brand and the product tastes good”. And then, I’d question whether either of those things are actually worth mentioning anyway.
  • “This is set to expand the ambient desserts category through the snacking occasion”
    This means “our new product is perfect for snacking, and this will increase sales of ambient desserts” (so stock up, all you supermarket buyers).
  • “this will catapult the plant-based eating trend firmly into the mainstream”
    This isn’t quite as silly as it sounds, but the fact that it sounds silly makes it silly. The company makes soya products, but they realise that soya itself doesn’t sound appetising. So they’re trying out “plant-based”, because everyone knows that plants are tasty and healthy, right? Right. And that’s why we already eat them, in the shape of fruit and vegetables. Firmly in the mainstream. No catapulting needed.

As I say, the press officers I dealt with were by and large incredibly professional and efficient. What I’m complaining about here is not them, but the kind of language that has become commonplace in fmcg. Commonplace, you say? Then what’s wrong? What’s wrong is that it’s only commonplace within the industry – the reader has a right to expect direct, no-nonsense language.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Take this from Danone. “You’ve been hit by some smooth caramel.” (Dananana nana na na nana na na) – that’s just great.

And there was my friend telling me what she and her husband got up to with a pot of yoghurt while on holiday in Greece. That too. In fact, I think the two of them may have damn well expanded the yoghurt usage occasion further, what with pleasure being their key need state and all. (They’ll be eating plants next.) I’d like to dedicate the photo above to them. Treaty!

It’s all about the hygeine

When you meet a reporter out and about and reveal that you’re a sub-editor, you might just catch a flash of fury in their eye, quickly subdued under frosty politeness. (After all, you write their headlines, and there was ‘that one time’ when one of your kin saved them from widespread mockery.) But that flash of fury? It’s justified. Because once upon a time, a sub messed up and made them look bad.

Like this:

Further down in the article, the writer did spell it wrong, once. Or, possibly, they spelt it wrong three times and the sub corrected it twice and missed the third one. Either way, the sub then went on and wrote ‘hygeine’ in nice big letters in the caption… twice.

I nearly did this, fairly recently. In subbing my colleague’s article about prepositions, I added a sub-head that read: “So is it ever okay to end a sentence with a proposition?” Answers on a postcard. Luckily, we (okay, she) caught it before we published it.

Whenever I do something like that, I make myself go away and read that odious email by Giles Coren again. Because, over-the-top and petty though much of it is, it reminds me to be afraid, be very afraid. And when your job is striving for perfection, fear is a valuable tool.

Edit: a couple of people have said they hadn’t seen the Giles Coren thing before, so here’s the response from the Sunday Times sub-editors, too.