Tag Archives: kevin mills

We provide our own emphasis

One of things I don’t like about the Daily Mail – apart from the misogyny, the homophobia, the jingoism and racial intolerance, the bile, spite and malevolence, the rejection of anything new or different, the small-mindedness, the crass populism and the utter, utter hypocrisy – is the underlinings.

They turn up in headlines like this:

‘So, who has got the fattest legs in showbiz?’

‘It’s official: immigrants do come from overseas’

‘How faceless Brussels Eurocrats plan to steal our children’s faces’

The sub-editors use these underlinings literally to underline the DM’s agenda. Each one says “You know those prejudices you’ve got? Well they’re well-founded. You’re not racist or irrational. Those dark thoughts and fears you harbour are in fact completely normal. Everything’s alright with your head. You’re amongst friends here. We’re like peas in a pod, you and I. And there’s nothing wrong with good old British peas, unlike swarthy, swan-eating foreign peas.”

Underlinings are ubiquitous in advertising copy, too, though their presence is driven by commercial rather than ideological reasons. “Can you just emphasise the price?” asks the client. “The price is a big selling point. And the phone number, can you put that in bold, along with the web address, and make sure they’re mentioned up front. And somehow draw attention to the ‘offer closes’ date. Oh, and underline the free set of steak knives. In fact, could you emphasise everything and makes sure it all gets mentioned first?”

Copywriters generally end up accommodating at least some of the clients’ wishes because, well, we like to eat. The result, though, is all too often deeply unattractive ads and, worse, a patronising shoutiness that doesn’t trust people to read the ad ‘properly’.

I challenge you to check out the current top 10 titles on the Amazon best-selling fiction list and find any examples of underlining, emboldening or italicising used as a means of emphasis. OK, the literature vs advert comparison is slightly disingenuous. Books want you to get involved; ads want you to get online, get on the phone or get down the shops.

Occasionally, I suppose, the way to get people to do that is to yell and hector them. After all, the market stallholder doesn’t outsell his rivals by adopting a Sergeant Wilson-style sales patter: “I say, would you mind awfully looking at the rather generous price of my splendid tomatoes? In your own time.”

But not all ads need to shout and nor do they have to tell you how to read the copy. If it’s expressed well, the voice in your head can detect the importance of a message or the uniqueness of a proposition. It knows when to invest copy with whimsy, breathlessness, charm or urgency. It can also tell when a word needs emphasis.

I was reminded of this the other day after reading that the Metropolitan Police were introducing a new ‘101’ number for non-emergency calls. Presumably this will replace the distinctly unmemorable number they launched a few years back with the same purpose in mind. But I kept the little door-drop because I liked the way it allowed people to provide their own emphasis:

Admit it: your inner voice put an inflection on ‘has’, didn’t it? Then you read it again and emphasised both ‘is and ‘has’. See? I rest my case.


Filed under Ill-informed advertising observations, Stuff

Having one less digit in a digital age

Along with date of birth, height and occupation, there used to be a space on the old-style British passport that noted the bearer’s ‘distinguishing marks’, or signes particuliers. Most people didn’t have distinguishing marks, or in any case not distinguishing enough for the UK Passport Agency.

I’m sure many applicants struggled to think of something that would have separated them from the herds of run-of-the-terminal, undistinguished passport holders. ‘Endearing smile’, ‘freckle configuration reminiscent of Ursa Major’ or even ‘mammoth tits’ might have been put forward. Not good enough. These peoples’ passports carried the crushing word ‘none’.

I, though, did have a distinguishing mark. On my passport it stated ‘TOP JOINT, FOURTH FINGER, R.HAND MISSING’. My pride in this was almost enough to counter the bouts of hilarity whenever anyone saw my passport photo. Like middle names, passport photos are guaranteed to provoke mirth regardless of how ordinary they are.

My phalange shortfall

See? There’s nothing remotely amusing about this, my first-ever passport photo

So how did it come about, this 33.33% deficiency in the pinky department? Well, I lost the top of my little finger in a car door accident.

This explanation normally makes people grimace briefly, before they recover and say “well, at least it was quick. Clean break and all that.” Then I go on to explain that it wasn’t the result of a car door being closed, but being opened. Their expression changes once more.

The car in question was a 1950’s Ford Prefect (registration FBD 528). This wasn’t part of some classic car restoration project. It was the family car. Yes, I really am that old. But at the time, I was very young. Just turned three, in fact. I had two older brothers who sat in the rear of the car, while I had to sit on my mum’s lap in the front. (No seatbelts to get in the way back then.)

A Ford Prefect, the inspiration behind the eponymously-named character from HHGTTG

We had stopped off at a shop on the way back from a day out to pick up some shopping. I waited on the pavement for my mum to get in first. I was leaning against the car with my hand splayed out against the central door pillar. Then one of my brothers opened the back door. My fingers were caught between the door and the pillar; as he opened the door it slowly sliced off the ends of two fingers.

I believe I may have uttered some expression of astonishment.

My father: lawbreaker

My memories of the actual incident are largely derived from others’ testimony, but I do have a strong recollection of my dad breaking the speed limit for perhaps the first time in his life to get me to A&E as quickly as possible.

The subsequent operation to reattach my fingers was only a partial success. The top of my third finger hadn’t been completely severed and was stitched back more or less as good as new.

The pinky fared less well. Perhaps the surgeon was a bit mean with the stitches. Whatever the reason, I had to revisit the hospital a fortnight later for the fingertip to be permanently removed.

People rarely notice its absence. I can be friends with someone for years before they suddenly stare open-mouthed at my hand. Or I’m in one of those my-scar-is-bigger-than-your-scar pub conversations, and I have to think of something to trump their Glasgow smile, AK-47 exit wound or Great White leg injury. That’s when I nonchalantly raise my little finger to looks of general incredulity.

Spot the difference

Curiously, the people most likely to notice are those who themselves are short of a digit or two. I have no idea why this should be. I certainly don’t go round looking at people’s hands to see if they have their full complement of fingers.

Some disadvantages of little fingerlessness

  • Not being a world-class drummer like Terry Bozzio. The thick end of the drumstick sits just where my stump is. (I think that might be a unique sentence.) So when I hit the drums hard, it starts to hurt. I know Rick Allen of Def Leppard managed to continue playing after the amputation of his entire left arm, but that’s different. He had the advantage of being talented.
  • In cold weather, my little finger starts to feel cold before the rest of me. In fact it gets bloody cold. My mum, bless her, once knitted me a pair of gloves with a foreshortened little finger. Awww.
  • If I used all ten fingers to touch-type it would potentially reduce my overall speed by as much as 10%. Luckily I only use two fingers, which itself is 100% more than I use to play the piano.

P.S. The picture above this one was taken with the Mac’s built-in camera, which produces a reverse image. Hence the little finger appearing to be on my left hand.

P.P.S. I reserve the right to blog about stuff that’s personal to me. I hope you enjoy reading it.


Filed under Anecdotage, Stuff