I spent the wee hours of Thursday morning browsing a number of Twitter posts. Of the many that caught my interest, I stumbled on two — one in French, the other in English. In fact, these posts took the form of a blog entry and a photo gallery, respectively.
The blog entry, written by Quebec journalist Sophie Durocher, describes an e-mail she received from a Toronto-based communication firm this past spring. She, like so many French-speaking readers, was shocked at what she saw in the body of the message: it was ridden with mistakes of all kind (spelling, grammar…). The biggest shocker? The company in question seemed to have little regard for its French-speaking clientele. If you click on the link above, you’ll get an idea of what Ms. Durocher had to read. Warning: some of the comments that follow the entry are chock full of egregious mistakes.
As you know, I am not a native francophone. I can, however, point out some mistakes that jumped out at me. (My francophone colleagues will certainly find many more errors.)
First, in accordance with French-Canadian typographical conventions, a thin or full space (known as an espace insécable in French) is left between a number and its respective symbols, i.e. the dollar sign, per cent symbol, as well as units of time, measurement, length, volume, and so on. Thus, francophone writers should write
14 h 30 instead of 14h30
75 % instead of 75%
200 m2 instead of 200m2
It is also customary practice to put a thin or full space in dates (between the day and month, as well as the month and year) and before certain punctuation, such as the colon and chevrons (French guillemets):
22 octobre 1984
Et il échoua : c’était à prévoir.
« Elle est en pleine évolution. »
In the last example, notice that a thin or full space follows the opening chevron and precedes the closing one.
Second, beware of capitalization! If you have an advanced command of French, you will know that French and English don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to what should be capitalized and what shouldn’t. Like every language, Canada’s official languages agree with capitalizing names of places, people, and the first word of every sentence.
However, our official languages don’t agree with capitalization of words in titles, government departments and ministries, and tourist attractions, to name but a few entities. Unlike English and some international French conventions, Canadian French capitalizes only the first word of each entity mentioned above. If another word is a proper name or a complement (as in the case of government departments and ministries), it is capitalized, just like the first word. Thus, in English, it is customary to write
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
The Magic Flute (Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte)
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
Ontario Science Centre
In a Canadian French context, the examples above are written as follows:
Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments
La flûte enchantée
Affaires autochtones et Développement du Nord Canada
Centre des sciences de l’Ontario
If you’re writing French in English-language contexts, some of the rules above may differ. (I’ll write a column about this in the not-too-distant future.)
The photo gallery, on the other hand, presented 10 pictures of English typographical errors. Among some errors, here were some that made me chuckle:
This is “not” an entrance. Please use the “front” door.
Door is close. Please use another door.
Open if your game enough.
In the first example, why would you put not and front in quotation marks? Is the author suggesting that the entrance isn’t an entrance, and the front door really isn’t what it is? If I edited this message, I would simply remove the quotation marks. The message will then be perfectly clear. If you want to put emphasis on the quoted words, the author of the web page suggests you underline them.
In the second example, are the authors suggesting that the door is far from another one? If that’s the case, it’ll take quite a while before I find the next available door! Diligent editors should have caught the mistake at first glance, for the message should read: Door is closed. Please use another door.
The last example should scream at you, for I see this recurring mistake in regular English writing. I don’t know about you, but I remember studying a slew of commonly confused words when I was in high school. Your and you’re were among the many I had to review. If you don’t know the difference between the two, here’s a brief review: your is a determiner in a sentence (e.g. That is your car). Your can also be used for association to an unknown person or people (e.g. The church is on your left heading south). You’re, on the other hand, is the contraction of “you are.” That said, the sentence should have read: Open if you’re game enough.
In closing, SVP, please (pretty please, with the cherry on top) edit and proofread your texts before publication! Mistakes like the ones Ms. Durocher, the web page author, and I pointed out can seriously undermine your credibility and professionalism. If you know you’re not capable of editing or proofreading texts yourselves, think about sending them to a professional editor or proofreader. You’ll be glad you did.
It’s the Fourth of July, and you know what that means: our neighbours (or should that be neighbors?) south of the border have a national holiday. I wish all of my fellow Americans a Happy Independence Day!