GrammarPhile Blog

Sorry -- This is NOT a Judgment-Free Zone!

Posted by Amy Dorta McIlwaine   Nov 3, 2009 4:00:00 AM

Don't get me wrong—I love my gym. I love going to my gym. It allows me, for an hour or two, to get away from my computer, from my brain, from the constant barrage of words, words, words. It lets me escape from the reading, checking, and correcting. Well, almost.

You see, I was the child who sat at the breakfast table and, without enough time to enjoy a book before catching the school bus, instead perused the back of the cereal box. I would read it each morning, turning to the side panels when I ran out of text, as if something interesting might be there that perhaps hadn't been there yesterday. I must not even really have known I was doing it.

The same thing happens now at the gym. I go there to relieve my mind from the constant processing of words. But naturally, there are a few signs and labels—just a few, but they're right there, in my face, imploring me to read them over and over and over... The repetition is bad enough. But what did I have to go and do? You guessed it—I found a "typo."

On its signs and labels, my gym describes itself as a "judgement free zone." Oh, excuse me, mate—are we in bloody England? I know it's slightly anti-intuitive, but here in America, we like our judgment (and our program and our aluminum) just fine, thank you!

The spelling is not all that bugs me about this phrase. The Chicago Manual of Style probably would give my gym a break: While CMS 15th ed., 7.86 does not mandate hyphenation of compound modifiers when the phrase precedes a noun, it does encourage it, with the namby-pamby "hyphenation usually makes for easier reading" and "it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun." I, however, am all out of breaks today. So pardon me for insisting on judgment-free—or at the very least, judgement-free.

The irony of being so insistently judgmental in a "judgement free zone" is not lost on me. Ha ha ha. But how can you blame me? My gym (which I love) also hangs a big red siren with gigantic sign that proclaims, "Lunk Alarm" (apparently this will go off if someone's 'roid rage gets out of hand, though I've never seen it happen). The sign then very considerately provides the definition of a lunk: "one who grunts, drop weights, and judges." While I do appreciate the serial comma, I wonder about the middle term. Is there a verb to drop-weight? After all, my gym clearly has something against hyphens, unless . . . why, of course! This is actually supposed to read drops weights—as in, the alarm will sound if someone throws dumbbells noisily to the ground.

Sigh. It is at this point that I ask myself, as all persnickety editors and proofreaders must do at times, "Isn't anybody vetting this stuff?"

The truth is, in all likelihood, nobody really cares about such minor infractions. Clearly, the organization doesn't give a toss (although to its credit, I received a letter this week that does spell judgment correctly—even if it stubbornly refuses to hyphenate!). And that's because the average English speaker doesn't give a toss.

But we do.

-Amy Dorta McIlwaine, persnickety proofer

Topics: typo

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