The Spinach Syndrome
Here’s another in my occasional series on the art and practice of writing, good or bad. Today: bad.
Picture yourself at a swanky business reception, or some other social/professional event. You’re having an interesting conversation with a fellow practitioner whom you’ve just met, maybe even learning a thing or two. But then you see it: a green blob of spinach that managed to transfer itself from a mini-quiche hors d’oeuvres to the space between his incisors. Now, despite your herculean efforts, you can’t not see it. And now it doesn’t matter what he’s saying, because you’re no longer able to focus on the conversation. Your mind is filled with: “Do I tell him? How do I tell him? Boy, that’s a big piece of spinach! I should tell him. But I don’t want to embarrass him. Wait–I had a mini quiche. Is there spinach stuck in my teeth, too?”
When I see an obvious, glaring, dumb mistake on television, a sign, online … anywhere … I think, “There’s a little piece of spinach I can’t ignore.” No matter what the intended message, the screw-up—even if it’s just a typo—creates a distraction that can obliterate it. Obviously, the way to prevent this is to check, double-check, and then triple check everything before it goes public. That seems like it should be easy, but lately I’ve noticed a salad’s worth of spinach stuck in our collective teeth. I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of simple, everyday copy editing recently, ever since I saw this photo posted on Facebook:
I thought it was a pretty powerful message about the importance of education. Or, it would have been, until I came to this paragraph:
“If your lucky enough to be one of the 6.5% to become a NCAA football player, and one of the 1.5% of that group to make it to the NFL, you’ll be lucky to get THREE years out of it. At a minimum salary, you wont make enough to live on for the rest of your life.”
As they say, (sic).
Now, when I see the image my eyes go right to the mistakes, and the message I get isn’t “stay in school,” it’s “I wonder about the education of the people who made this poster.”
On September 11, I was watching a local newscast and heard a reporter intone that the 9/11 Memorial at The Pentagon had become “hollowed ground.” My takeaway from the newscast wasn’t a reflection on the terrible events and the victims being memorialized, it was “this reporter doesn’t know how to speak English.”
When I whined about the “hollowed ground” incident on social media, a friend of mine who collects examples of such dumb, distracting mistakes shared a few of them with me, and I am happy to share some of them with you in support this public service message: Spinach may be good for Popeye, but The Spinach Syndrome is a message killer. So, please, watch your language!
With thanks to Randy Kurlander!