My Copywriting Pet Peeves
Pet peeves. Let’s be honest. We all have them. They’re those annoying little behaviors that, while seemingly normal to everyone else, drive you bonkers.
Being surrounded by the written — or typed — word for the majority of the day, I happen to have collected a number of personal pet peeves when it comes to copywriting.
It should be noted I subscribe to the AP Stylebook frame of mind, so for those writers out there who have their differences of opinion, to each their own.
The following list is in no particular peeve order, but each is nonetheless like nails on a chalkboard to my copyediting brain.
- Home in vs. hone in: I bet you’ve heard someone say something like, “Let’s hone in on this goal and really try to hit the mark by the end of the first quarter.” Well, it’s wrong. It should be “home in.” I promise. Whenever using the word “in,” always put “home” before it, not “hone.” I get that it seems weird. But in truth, home as a verb means “to move or be aimed toward a destination or target with great accuracy.” Just like to “home in on.” Now, you can certainly “hone” (or sharpen) your skills. But you can’t “hone in” on your target — nope.
- Daylight saving: This is on the list primarily because we just rolled the clocks back for daylight saving time (DST) this fall. I would guess many people don’t know it’s wrong say “daylight savings time.” Don’t believe Wikipedia that says, “Daylight saving time (DST), also daylight savings time (United States).” You are saving time … not savings time. (sigh)
- Hyphens: Those little marks sure can make or break you. Heck, there’s a whole section in the AP Stylebook that says “use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense.” Just in case you weren’t already confused by them. The standard I go by is making sure to hyphenate words that act as adjectives or modifiers for a noun in the specific text. For example: full-time job; high-quality care; first-rate service. When coming after the noun, the modifier is no longer hyphenated, i.e. She has a job that is full time.
- Capitalization of titles: This one gets you, every time. People like to capitalize things — they just do. More important. More significant. But in some cases, more wrong. (OK, that was bad grammar, but you get the point.) Only capitalize titles when they are directly before someone’s name. For example: Vice President Public Relations Tiffany Whisner. When the title comes after your name, don’t capitalize it. I am Tiffany Whisner, vice president public relations. Hard to swallow, but if you really want your title capitalized, put it before your name.
- Comma, specifically the Oxford comma: I left this one for last. The Oxford comma is also known as the serial comma, and it sparks a lot of debate in the copy community. (Sad, isn’t it?) It’s the final comma in a list of things. AP Style does not require the use of the Oxford comma, and personally, I’m not a fan. I prefer, “The flag is red, white and blue” as opposed to, “The flag is red, white, and blue.” That last comma actually was difficult to even put in the sentence! I ONLY use the Oxford comma when the meaning of the sentence would otherwise be unclear. Now, when you start writing a complex series of words, that’s a different story. While I can’t say using the Oxford comma is wrong … I CAN say it’s a pet peeve. A big one.
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By Tiffany Whisner,
Vice President Public Relations