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Not quite the best, not quite the brightest

A few minutes ago, as I was reading the Education Life supplement to the Aug. 4 New York Times, I came to a full-page ad. The top half of the ad was a color photograph of a dentist and what I presumed was a student. Both of them were looking into the well-lighted, gaping mouth of a helpless patient as the dentist pokes instruments into said mouth.

Slashing across the middle of the page just below the photograph are the words "The best and the brightest," all in capital letters, white on a blue background. Beneath, in slightly smaller capital letters, are the words "Choose Nova Southeastern University graduate programs."

I'm a word guy, and when the most prominent print in a full-age ad includes a cliché like "best and brightest," I examine the rest of the ad, but not because I'm interested in what it's selling. Rather, I want to see if the copy contains more clichés or other bits of you-should-know-better writing.

Alas for Nova Southeastern, it did.

Here's the first line in the copy:

When graduates of New York University, Cornell University, Duke University, the University of Florida, and UC-Berkeley to name a few, choose a graduate school, Nova Southeastern University is frequently on their list.
Nova, we have a problem. Make that two problems. First, the phrase "to name a few" needs to have a comma after "few" and a comma before "to." The phrase is non-essential information. Remove the phrase, and the sentence still makes perfect sense. Second, one student has a list. But we're dealing with "graduates." They have lists. In grammar terms, this is called "logical agreement."

The ad's second line refers to ... medical school graduates that go on to the nation's best residency programs ... Graduates are people, not things, so the pronoun referring to them should be "who," not "that."

The third line of type refers to "first-hand experience." My Webster's New World College Dictionary, fourth edition—the official dictionary of the Associated Press (I'm not kidding)—spells "first-hand" as one word, no hyphen. A little thing? Sure. But it's wrong nevertheless. I could show you a case where faulty comma use cost a Canadian communications company more than $2 million. Little things can have huge consequences.

The fourth line of copy says [u]ndergraduates commonly work with professors in research endeavors and clinical exploration programs, giving undergraduates a preview of their career choice. Undergraduates = more than one person, so they have "choices."

The fifth line of copy makes the same mistake—twice: NSU's Dual Admission program provides highly qualified undergraduates with a reserved spot in one of our prestigious graduate or professional schools while they earn their bachelor's degree. The undergraduates have reserved spots. They earn their degrees.

The sixth line of type is error free, but the seventh and final line contains a beauty: By providing a research-based, academically challenging environment, employers recognize the value of an NSU education ... The way it's written, that sentence says employers provide the "research-based, academically challenging environment." But the words "by" through "environment" are about the university, so the university needs to be the first thing after the word environment—something like this: By providing a research-based, academically challenging environment, NSU gives students valuable experiences that employers recognize."

I see writing like this and ask myself, "How do the people who write this kind of copy stay employed?" Or is it a matter of my being a wordosaur because, after all, anyone who reads the ad knows what NSU is trying to say?

If the latter is the case, I'm unrepentant. Besides, grammar stands still. Rules change slowly. There's no reason to get it wrong—especially in a student-recruiting ad in the New York Times.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2013 05:23 pm (UTC)
The only people who went to law school at Nova were the ones who couldn't get in anywhere else in the state. Then they transferred as fast as they could.
Sep. 18th, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC)
Ouch! I'm not feelin' the love.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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