I was sent a promotional e-mail for a restaurant:
See, here's the thing. This restaurant has a French thing going. Here's how they begin their self-description:
Avenue is the modern answer to a blend of the Parisian brasserie and the luxurious beaches of St Tropez on the Atlantic beachfront. It has brought Savoir-vivre to the Jersey Shore with it's dramatic high ceilings, classic brasserie banquettes in an oceanic palette, ….
Pretty undeniably French vibe.
So, should I e-mail them about how you are supposed to spell prix fixe in French (and, by the way, English)? Or do I let them simmer in their own juices.
This reminds me of a problem with a recent Yoplait commercial. Yoplait is actually a French brand of yogurt. In one of their commercials, two women suggest that they would like to get a little intimate with a good-looking masseuse.
In that case, I did write to the company and asked them if they were really trying to be as progressive as it seemed to me, or if they had simply made a gender mistake that was very, very embarrassing for a French company to make.
They never replied. But the ad seemed to have a fairly short run.
So, back to this restaurant. The place is actually very nice! Should I advise them?
I've done the same: advised a business about some glaring errors in their ad copy. Usually, I see the ad gets changed but never hear back … as with your Yoplait experience. On a couple occasions, I got a nice "thank you" email with a coupon to use for their product. Unfortunately, the exchange has never resulted in a writing assignment and actual income.
I say go for it Glenn. You just might get a free French meal out of it.
When I worked in advertising as an IT guy, I used to have conversations about editorial copy all the time. (This is before I joined the language dodge fully, though I was involved with the American Dialect Society at the time). Even when I could bring to bear all the best authorities on a matter, and (as far as I was concerned) prove that they were making a mistake, the copywriters would still go their merry ways, mistakes in hand. In fact, it seemed as if they wanted to break grammar, syntax, and spelling rules. The large kinds of rule-breaking would never fly -- nudity, obscene words, truly avant-garde art -- but breaking a language rule would often be approved (or would slip by). It was a mark of some kind of character, I guess. Much the way that some folks express all of their identity in the way they do their hair. Or they way school kids, even when forced to wear a uniform, will find some way of making it their own so that they seem different from everyone else.
This restaurant had it out front
These errors are not charming. Is it just me that I feel like something is wrong with the people involved-- that level of laziness and lacking of self respect? Am I a nazi?
Take it a step further, Robert, a step beyond annoyance. Why are so many restaurants making this mistake? How are the mistakes different from each other? How are they the same? How could they make a mistake that wasn't caused by being lazy, self-loathing, or having something wrong with them?
There are a number of possibilities at play here.
—Though the expression is borrowed into English, its orthography is French, which makes it hard for Anglophones to spell: in "prix-fixe" we have two sounds for the vowel "i," two sounds for the consonant "x," a hyphen, and a silent E. Even people who know the word and have tried to learn it, or have learned it, still might get it wrong on occasion.
—They may not have any book-knowledge or specific instruction on the word in the first place.
—They may believe it's an English word and should follow English spelling rules.
—They may even think it's restaurant slang or jargon, and understand (as speakers usually instinctively do) that the spelling, therefore, can be a bit more fluid or irregular.
—There is no Official Restaurant Style Guide.
—They may prefer a variant spelling, either because it is more aesthetically pleasing or out of pure cussedness or because of GO ’MERICA!
—They may have a problem with spelling any unusual word.
—They don't doubt their own spelling at all so looking it up doesn't even occur to them.
—Maybe they were instructed to spell it that way.
Words borrowed from other languages often undergo transformations in spelling, pronunciation, and meaning. Sometimes that transformation is abrupt, sometime it is herky-jerky, sometimes it is delayed, rarely does it never undergo any transformation at all.
In fact, nearly all of the complaints I hear or read about language are the result of an observant person noticing something changing before that change is complete. It is neither fish nor fowl and so it seems to be an abomination. Maybe it triggers the "not one of us! push the enemy out!" impulses in the tribal brain of the observer.
Points duly observed as sound, and better, you make me feel that much less riled, but--
There is a saying that one should not trust a company that can not keep its bathrooms clean, and here we are talking the front representation of a cutthroat business. If I have to walk 3 New York blocks to a restaurant that can spell, I will, everything else equal.
Spelling errors are everywhere! How do you ever go out to eat? :)
When my family lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a neighborhood utterly festooned with restaurants, my wife and would agree on a number, usually under ten, and then walk down either Fifth Avenue or Seventh Avenue. We'd tick off the restaurants one by one, left and right, and when we hit the number, that's where we'd go. Later we added one veto apiece to make it a little more accommodating if the restaurant was a something like a churrascaria place (my wife is a reluctant meat-eater) or an ice-cream shop.
We had many a very good meal this way, and only a few duds.
I found an archive of the Yoplait commercial. It happens to be a GLAAD affiliated website. I assume GLAAD was intrigued by this commercial for the same reason that I wrote to the company.
GLAAD to be eating yogurt at the spa
I would have respected the company had the statement been intentional, instead of a gaffe.
Seems to have been about 10 years ago that I started noticing spelling and grammar errors in places they never previously showed, like billboards, commercial signs and marquees, newspapers, magazines (though nationally distributed mags are faring better).
I've always attributed this to publishers and ad and sign companies trying to do more of their writing in-house, instead of hiring "real" writers. That would obviously cut their operating expenses. But there's no question in my mind that copy quality has definitely headed south over the last 10 years.
You think it's as simple as that? Or is it a more global problem related to declining quality of writing instruction in schools? Or maybe an increase of ESL hires by corporations? Or maybe just a lack of proofing because they don't even realize they need it?
Saw a sign in my rural area posted by a neighbor. Written on cardboard, and attached to their mailbox: the sign read "No trespassing, unless invited." Sign of the times?