…unless you’re absolutely sure about them

three things you shouldn't do

1. Use Latin if you’re writing in English

I’ve just been reading a blog post by one of my favourite bloggers. He’s witty, intelligent and often makes me laugh out loud. His writes things I can’t find anywhere else (the Holy Grail of blogs) which is why he’s always on my must-read list. And one of the things I really like is that his spelling is impeccable. Or at least, it used to be. Because his latest post contains a glaring error. Homo sapien. It brought me to a juddering halt. In my mind’s ear, I could hear Mr Watson drumming his thin, bony fingers on the blackboard. “Sapien, Mr Walsh?” he’d intone. “Sapien? Be so kind as to tell the class what part of speech that is.” Just thinking about it sends a chill down my spine. And more so because sapien isn’t any part of speech. It’s just a common-or-garden mistake. I can see how he got there, though. If homo sapiens means ‘men’, then you just knock off the ‘s’ to mean ‘man’, right? If only life were that simple. This blogger used the Latin term because he wanted to appear just a touch cleverer, more educated and…more superior? It didn’t work. [Note for Latin lovers – or even lovers of Latin: homo sapiens is singular; the plural, never used, would be homines sapientes. Thanks, Mr Watson.]

2. Make fun of people (unless it’s yourself)

Oh dear. Hell’s Pizza has done it again. I’ve written about the New Zealand pizza chain before. They like a walk on the wild side when it comes to marketing. They’re the ones that created a pizza called ‘Lust’ that shipped with a free condom. And they ran an advert with Hitler with his arm outstretched with the line ‘It is possible to make people believe that heaven is hell’. (Jewish groups were outraged and the ad was withdrawn.) Well last week, they crossed the line again. This time, it was a Halloween promotion that had three dancing skeletons: Sir Edmund Hillary (the first man to climb Everest), the actor Heath Ledger, and the Queen Mother. Hillary’s family said it was “in very poor taste.” (The campaign, not the pizza, you understand.) It too has been withdrawn. Rachael Allison, Hell’s Pizza marketing director said the company was known for its controversial advertising, and that a lot of people loved it. She went on to say:
“Interpretation of this is always up to individuals and we are always mindful of that and always keep an eye on our tone of voice and try to keep on top of that.”
A little too much sauce, I think.

3. Assume that technology works

Your website’s got an e-commerce function so you never have to talk to people. It just runs itself, right? Wrong. I recently (re)discovered this when I tried to buy a USB pen drive. I dropped it into the basket, then clicked ‘Next’ to enter my details. Then ‘Next’ to go to the payment screen. I filled in my card details, and hovered over the ‘Pay’ button. And that’s when the little seed of doubt sprouted into a green shoot and pushed through the soil. Had I ordered the 2GB or the 4GB drive? I was pretty sure it was the 4GB one. But here’s the thing: I couldn’t go back, forward, or anywhere else. I couldn’t view the basket. It was ‘Pay’ or nothing else. So I opened another browser, brought up the website again, found the contact number, phoned them up, got them to pull up the (pending) order and check that it was 4GB. It was, so I clicked ‘Pay’. Not an example of technology at its best. It’s also important to remember that technology is logical – ruthlessly logical. The sort of ruthless logic that caused AOL and Google to blacklist the northern English town of Scunthorpe as an obscene term (think about it). The sort of logic that meant Google Alerts I set up a few months ago never reached me. Why? Because they were blocked by the Google’s Gmail spam filter. The bottom line is this: technology is only as clever as the people who design it (not to mention the people who use it). And that’s a pretty scary thought. Find out more: