Sunday, May 31, 2009

There's Such A Thing As Too Much Self-Awareness


PATROCLUS and JAMES BLUE CAT are sitting in companionable silence. Eventually:

MR BC: What are you thinking about?

ME: I was just mentally going through everyone who follows me on Twitter, and imagining all the ways in which I disappoint, annoy or otherwise fail to meet the expectations of each and every one of them.

MR BC: Crikey.

ME: Why, what are you thinking about?

MR BC: Goblins.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Public Trust Shaken By Fresh Revelations

The nation's trust in its chosen vanity products is being sorely tested by continuing revelations on the Quinquireme blog about improper copywriting in the toiletries industry, reports today's Daily Telegraph.

In what is coming to be seen as the scoop of the decade, Quinquireme editor-in-chief Patroclus reportedly paid £4.79 for the exclusive right to reveal the widespread linguistic and grammatical inaccuracies pervading the sector.

The scandal started as far back as August 2008, with an exposé of poor translation skills at upmarket hotel-toiletries firm Gilchrist & Soames, but it was not until this month that the Quinquireme began a full-scale investigation into the extent of the problem.

The blog's decision to drip-feed its revelations day by day is causing anxiety not only among makers of shampoo, conditioner and other bathroom essentials, but also among a populace that is finding its faith in its personal grooming products severely shaken.

Today's blog post caused embarrassment for shampoo manufacturer Aussie, maker of such products as the 'Three Minute Miracle' deep-treatment conditioner and 'Dual Personality' shine serum. In particular, the blog cited the unnecessary insertion of a comma into the copy on the reverse of the 'Miracle Moist' shampoo bottle.

Nowhere to hide: blog reveals comma misuse by haircare firm Aussie

As well as publishing a damning photograph of the misplaced punctuation mark, the blog also transcribed the copy in full for the benefit of readers lacking 20/20 eyesight.

Our unique formula, with Australian Macadamia Nut extract, helps condition and smooth hair.
Native to the land down under, the Queensland Macadamia Nut is rich in oils, and has been used in Australia for centuries. And it would have stayed their little secret if it hadn't been for, an intrepid 19th century explorer who schlepped half way across the world and brought it back for the rest of us. What a guy.

"I don't know how they thought they could get away with this," said Jibby McBib, a disappointed Aussie customer. "Just because it's on the back of the bottle doesn't mean people won't find out it's there."

McBib said she would no longer buy Aussie products, but was unsure of which haircare products she could now trust. "You never read about this kind of thing in the media," she said. "It's always all about how it makes your hair look, what it smells like, and that kind of thing. To imagine this kind of thing has been going on all the time behind our backs...well, it makes me sick."

Forensic literary science expert Bilbo McCrum believes the problem runs deeper than simple improper comma use. "Here is a company that promotes itself as being Australian, yet clearly refers to the country of Australia as a place from which macadamia nuts have to be 'brought back' for 'the rest of us'," he said.

"This, combined with the failure to name the explorer who brought back the nuts, or indeed to specify where the nuts were brought back to, very much points to the presence of an unreliable narrator," McCrum continued. "And if the brand's narrator is unreliable, that does not bode well for the trustworthiness of the brand itself."

Ursula Mop, senior analyst at personal-grooming think-tank HAIR, said that the crisis in public trust could have serious repercussions for the country's future. "With so many mainstream cosmetics brands being 'outed' by the Quinquireme, there is a real risk that people will turn their backs on the haircare establishment," she warned.

"I think there's a danger that people will increasingly turn to fringe shampoos as they become disillusioned with the major players."

It's a danger that, for the moment, remains academic, as the public reveals itself to have more common sense than is imputed to it by think-tanks.

"There's no way I'm buying a fringe shampoo," said Jibby McBib. "What would I use on the rest of my hair? It just doesn't make sense."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Polyglottal Bottle Plot

Assiduous readers of this blog will recall that I once had occasion to take to task the hotel-toiletries firm Gilchrist & Soames for its reckless and cavalier approach to labelling its bottles in what it endearingly imagined to be French.

You, dear reader, have no doubt moved on since then, caught up in the ebb and flow of daily life and its attendant demands. Rest assured, though, that I have remained steadfast and alert to the linguistical shortcomings of the companies that furnish our nation's hotels with tiny plastic bottles of goo.

It's a lonely and desolate beat, untroubled by sensational revelations, media scrums or mass outbreaks of public outrage, but I like to think that I'm performing a vital service in shining the uncompromising spotlight of scrutiny into a dark and neglected corner of consumer affairs.

Today that spotlight falls upon Elsyl, a range of hotel toiletries whose bottles, according to this hotel-toiletries website, have an aluminium lid that gives this unique range a little extra.

Look carefully, however, and you'll notice that the aluminium lid is not the only notable feature of the Elsyl range:

[Click picture for bigness]

It's hardly surprising that the makers of Elsyl are trying to distract you with their shiny lids, for their labels represent an attempt at international jet-set chic that can best be described as 'woeful'.

I wonder if I can imagine the process by which they were created.

...Wibbly lines descend across the screen...

BRANDING EXECUTIVE 1: What we need is a label that lends the product an air of continental elegance. An atmosphere of cosmopolitan élan. An aura of European finesse.

BRANDING EXECUTIVE 2: So what you're saying is that the label has to be in English and French.

EXECUTIVE 1: Yes, yes, good. But not just French, that's so parochial. That's the kind of narrow-sighted caper you'd expect from Gilchrist & Soames. No, we need to project an image of truly international refinement.

EXECUTIVE 2: So, English, French...and Italian?

EXECUTIVE 1: Yes. And - what's the other one? - German.

There is a brief pause for reflection.

EXECUTIVE 2: Can you speak any of these languages?

EXECUTIVE 1: Not really. Except English. I can speak English. Can you?

EXECUTIVE 2: I can speak English too.

EXECUTIVE 1: No, I mean any of the others.


EXECUTIVE 1: We could look the words up in a dictionary.

EXECUTIVE 2: (sucking teeth) I don't know...that's what Gilchrist & Soames did, and they got stick for it on Patroclus's blog.

EXECUTIVE 1: You're right. We don't want to get stick on Patroclus's blog. That's the very essence of what we don't want.

EXECUTIVE 2: It would be a PR disaster.

EXECUTIVE 1: Yes, you don't want to get on the wrong side of the blogs. I've heard that Patroclus has literally tens of readers.

EXECUTIVE 2: I have a marvellous idea!

EXECUTIVE 1: Hurrah!

EXECUTIVE 2: You said we only need to provide an air of continental elegance. An atmosphere of cosmopolitan élan. An aura of European...what was it again?

EXECUTIVE 1: Finesse.

EXECUTIVE 2: Finesse. Well, how about we just translate one word into each language?

EXECUTIVE 1: Brilliant! Which one shall we translate?

EXECUTIVE 2: How about 'with'? It's the easiest one.

EXECUTIVE 1: Fantastic! Quick - to Babelfish!

Some moments later...

EXECUTIVE 2: There, look. Perfect.

EXECUTIVE 1: 'Bath cream avec ginseng'. Oh yeah, baby. That's cosmopolitanism, right there.

EXECUTIVE 2: We're surely the best branding executives in the whole world.

EXECUTIVE 1: We surely are.

NEXT WEEK: Patroclus fearlessly exposes the unnecessary comma on the reverse of the Aussie 'Miracle Moist' shampoo bottle.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ooh Dear

The blog seems to have ground to a halt somewhat, what with the twin disciplines of Work and Baby (and to a lesser extent Garden, Twitter, Dungeons & Dragons and Making Biscuits) taking up all my waking hours, including a good many hours when no sensible person should be awake at all.

I really hope to be back before too long, as not blogging makes me terribly unhappy, but I fear it's not going to be anytime very soon. In the meantime, I shall set you a jolly Dave-style quiz, which is:

1. Who is this?


2. What does he have to do with this field?

A prize will be awarded for the most entertaining answer, irrespective of correctness.