Am I splitting hairs?

I’m Caryn and I am a linguistic pedant. I wish there was a 10 step program to cure my affliction as it is starting to affect my quality of life.

Picture the scene. My legally significant other offers to take the kids to his folks for the afternoon. I feign objection before giving in grudgingly. The garage door closes and I am alone. I have two hours to myself.

My eyes settle on the pile of opened-but-unread mail and magazines. The couch beckons; I flop down ungracefully. I discard the junk mail, set the bills aside for another day and turn eagerly to my magazines.

In addition to being a pedant, my addictive personality extends also to a penchant for glossy magazines. *

On this particular Saturday afternoon as I paged through the pile a leaflet fell out of one of the magazines but I couldn’t be sure which one. It was a four page newsletter-type marketing leaflet called PHYTO LIVING 2011 01.

By nature sceptical of all things beginning with “phyto” I was moving to toss it onto the recycling pile when my eye caught a caption – SPLITTING FINGERNAILS? Intrigued by the image that popped into my mind of an old hag with gnarled, forked nails, I read further.

As you can see from the extract above, the first line contained a serious grammatical error which made my hackles begin to rise. Surely you don’t have to be a geek like me to know about subject-verb agreement?

Nevertheless, I pushed on. By the third line, dizzy from the changes in font, case and type, I managed to absorb the epigrammatic “ONE HERB CAN TREAT MANY AILMENTS.” The previous sentence informed readers that alfalfa “supplement(ed) nutrition” but there was no mention of any other uses for this apparently multi-talented herb.

A bit mystified, I continued to the end of the paragraph. “MANY AILMENTS CAN BE TREATED BY ONE HERB.” So, in case you didn’t understand the simple, if sweeping, statement the first time, they have kindly restated it in the (grammatically undesirable) passive voice. Was this an advert for herbs or an example from an English textbook?

I was hooked and thirsty for more. I get a masochist kind of pleasure out of reading poorly written or edited copy. (Don’t go there, please.)

The last thing that struck me about this advert was that they listed one of their distributors as Dischem. The missing hyphen jumped out at me. I am no fan of corporate giants, but if I were the brand manager of this large pharmaceutical chain, I would be incensed.

On the same page, I found additional useful information on splitting fingernails.

“Splitting Fingernails: The most usual cause of splitting fingernails is nutrition.

Alfalfa which is high in minerals is know to toughen soft or

splitting nails. Drink 10-20 drops Echinacia in a quarter lass of water, 3 times a day.

Pain nails with Myrhh Tincture Supplement with Zinc.”

Is it poor nutrition (as per the first extract) or just nutrition that causes this frightening affliction? I am not merely nitpicking. We need to solve this contradiction in order to know whether the very act of ingesting, which we all do many times each day, can cause our fingernails to split.

In addition, not only does Alfalfa “supplement nutrition”, it can also “toughen, soft or splitting nails”. Hmm, spot a misplaced comma, anyone? Come on, you must have. Even Microsoft did. As I typed that line a green squiggly line appeared under the word “toughen” and the comma that follows it. Are there really marketing people out there who don’t even do an elementary spelling and grammar check before sending their material to the printers?

Moving on, is “pain” in the last line a typo or a command? This is a serious question: If it is in fact intended to be the imperative form of the verb to pain, we should avoid Myrrh Tincture at all costs.

I am almost at my word limit and have not progressed past the first page. Shall I go on? Does any of this bother anyone else? Or am I just splitting hairs?

*Does anyone know if Magazine Addicts Anonymous has hit Cape Town yet? Or maybe there is an offshoot of Shopaholics Anonymous that assists those spending copious amounts of money on glossies?


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