The Junk Drawer: The End of “What Summer Vacation?” Edition

As we noted in several earlier posts, the Junk Drawer is usually full of stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else but you still need. Since we start school after Labor Day, this will be the last post on the weekly summer schedule, with daily(ish) posts beginning shortly after that. Given the summer that was, it seems appropriate that we’re looking at a mess of really weird stuff that is random at best.

Consider some of these moments:

YEAH, THAT’S SMOOTH…: Like many other universities, UWO is in a fiscal pickle these days, thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak and other fun variables. To bring the budget back from the brink, the U decided to cut faculty salaries, although that’s not how they decided to put it in the email we got last week:


First, way to bury the lead. “Furlough… mumble, mumble… Smoothing… mumble, mumble… Reduced by… WHAT THE HELL!?!?!” Second, if you’re going into PR, realize that euphemisms don’t make things better. When rolling out a plan to force people to take days off that they don’t want to take (or will likely end up doing work on anyway), referring to jobbing them equally across the rest of the semester is anything but “smooth.”

Just be honest: “You’re taking a kick in the groin of about X percent each month to the end of the year.”

See? Much smoother.


PIVOT THIS: During my battle with smoothness, I found that one of the hivemind folks started the list of words and phrases that we really need to kill with fire. If you find yourself using these in any of your media writing efforts, consider taking an inflection point in these uncertain times and pivot away from them:

  • Inflection point
  • Grow (as in enrollment)
  • Uncertain times
  • Unprecedented
  • Pivot
  • For the foreseeable future
  • Remain flexible
  • De-Densify
  • Continue to be nimble
  • New normal
  • Synergy
  • Do the needful
  • Out of an abundance of caution
  • Circle back

Feel free to add your own candidates in the comment section.

SINE OF THE THYMES: I’m occasionally baffled by signage I see here and there, like this one from a local flea market:


As God as my witness, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here. That said, a few things stuck out:

  • The author (and I use that term loosely) either started with the “A-C-C” version of accepted and went, “Nah, that can’t be right” or did the “E-X-C” version only to realize the other one was right, tried to change it, realized they couldn’t and then thought, “Hell, nobody will know the difference around here.”
  • The apostrophe in “Offer’s” looks to be done with a different marker, meaning this person thought, “Wait, I gotta fix that or someone will think I’m stupid.”
  • I think we should add “reasonal” to the list of words above.


STIP JOYNTE: Our new home had some godawful wallpaper in the dining room, so we needed to get rid of it. In purchasing some items to help me do so, I came across this spelling gem:


If I can find that “wallpaper stipper,” I’ll definitely be using this sponge…


WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU CLUSTERS….: As pretty much anyone with a brain or the ability to observe human behavior expected, once college students came back to campus for the start of the fall semester, COVID-19 spikes followed almost immediately. At UNC, the school saw multiple coronavirus clusters (maybe another word to add to that list above) appearing, as students didn’t engage in perfect social distancing, mask wearing and personal sanitizing. The student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, captured the mood on campus with a perfect headline and editorial:


I couldn’t have said it better myself, mainly because my publisher wouldn’t let me…


YOU BE ILLINOIS-ING: Some abbreviations lead to problems in headlines and decks, like this one for coronavirus-based travel restrictions between Wisconsin and Illinois:


I think keeping Ill. residents home might be a good idea, but not as good as watching out for a Mass. murderer.


JUST A BIT OUTSIDE: This sign caught my attention because of the color and such, but the font choice put that first line in jeopardy of being  a terrible typo, much like the “Thompson’s Pen is A Sword” headline.


If you’re going with this campaign, use a simple headline break or rewrite this. The last thing you need is people asking what an “Anals Superhero” does.


BILINGUAL BIAS: We often talk about reaching your audience where they are. For example, a number of really great student news outlets with heavy Spanish-speaking readership include Spanish versions of their work within the paper. When I saw this sign, I was torn in how to feel about Fazoli’s use of Spanish:


You can make the argument that bilingual outreach is always a good thing, but why is it that the times and days in which the place is open for business is only written in English, while the alert to potential armed robbers is written in both English and Spanish? In short, if you speak Spanish, we don’t expect you to eat at our establishment, but we’d like to wave you off since you’re probably planning to rob the joint.


And finally….


THANK YOU: I was looking for a wall-mounted aluminum-can crusher on Amazon last week, as to keep the number of empty Diet Coke cans from consuming my office, when I did the ego thing and typed in my own name in the search box. When it pulled up the reporting book, I was stunned at what I saw:


I know that there are 1,001 caveats here, in that this rating happened in only one hour of time, that it happened during textbook buying season, that it’s not representative of larger samples and more. (I know it also feels really self-important to “Google yourself” like this…)

That said, if you had told the 18-year-old version of me as I headed off to college so many years ago that at one point in life, that I would write a book that other people would read, I’d have been doubtful. If you told me the book would be in the top three best sellers in any category for the largest bookstore on the planet at any point in time, it would have been beyond my ability to comprehend. In many ways, it still is.

I don’t think I can adequately explain how big of a thrill it is for me to know that folks out there are using my books and reading the stuff on this blog as part of what they do in teaching this important craft. It’s one of the few times I’m truly at a loss for words, so I’ll just say, “Thank you. And please tell me what else I can do to help.”

See you in September.

Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)

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