This Singular Qantas Error Is Entirely Avoidable

So three weeks ago I picked on Qantas for a spelling mistake on one of its wine bottles. Then last week I pointed out that the airline wasn't handling apostrophes well. And now I feel compelled to point out an error on the signs explaining how to use Macs in Qantas Club lounges.

So let's be clear: I don't think Qantas is massively unusual in this respect. Linguistic sloppiness is a deplorable fact of modern corporate life. But because I fly frequently on Qantas, I'm exposed to these errors. What I hope for is that by discussing them, others can learn from them and not repeat them.

The big problem with this sign is on the very first line:

This iMac provides the user with a choice between a Windows or Apple Mac operating systems.

The grammatical issue is that "a", which is singular, does not agree with "operating systems", which is plural. The broader problem is the sentence is too long. Here's a snappier and more precise way of saying the same thing:

This iMac can run either Windows 7 or Mac OS X.

Is this going to be fixed? I suspect not. For one thing, the date on this sign is 1 January 2011. More crucially, it appears that Qantas is soon going to be abandoning in-lounge Macs altogether, rendering that signage irrelevant:

And now I have to point out that this sign should say "we have a small number of iPads", not "we have a small amount of iPads". Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


Comments

    And now I feel compelled to point out an error on the signs explaining how to use Macs in Qantas Club loungesI think the "problem" here is mostly in your head Angus.. Who cares whether they are talking about a plural or singular issue of Windows..? It works either way as far as I can see. A single user would be using a singular OS, No..? I think you might save the rest of 'yer hair, if you stop stressing about the little stuff... I kid, I kid.. I think..! :)

    Last edited 17/11/14 2:12 pm

      A post containing the word care's is only likely to up his stress!

      Who care's whether they are talking...

      If that error wasn't deliberate, it's hilariously ill-timed!

        Hey... I'm not a Grammar pedant, and never will be... are you..? But hey, just in case 'yer knickers go the full twist, I'll fix it for ya..! ;)

        Last edited 17/11/14 3:06 pm

          Between the 'yer, ya and ..! I don't think changing 'care's' was really that important.

            For the most part I use those abbreviations, and the ellipses, to piss people off because they keep whining about it, and I don't friggin care..! :)

      Not going to comment on whether it's a large problem or not but the grammar is wrong and although Angus' much snappier sentence is better, but it does lack clarity for people who are unfamiliar with operating systems.

      You could fix the first sentence as:

      This iMac provides the user with a choice between Windows or Apple Mac operating systems.

      or

      This iMac provides the user with a choice between a Windows or Apple Mac operating system.

      Of course if you're not a grammar pedant then none of this really matters to you at all, though personally I think it is a little embarrassing.

      The reason Angus notices problems like this is because he is plagued with the curse of education. As a professional writer, he is much more likely to notice spelling, grammar, and syntax mistakes, because such mistakes in his own work would make him seem less professional.

      In essence, if someone has a CV containing spelling mistakes, one could argue that unless the positions for which they are applying are directly related to literacy (such as editor), then those mistakes could be overlooked.
      This, however, is not the case; proper use of spelling, grammar, and syntax demonstrates attention to detail, ability to follow existing conventions, and the ability to edit one's own work.

      Angus is not arguing about whether they were talking about a single issue of windows or multiple issues; he is pointing out that the sentence makes no sense, likely due to a lack of proofreading.

      The reason this is worrying for an airline is that, unlike most organisations, airlines take your lives in their hands, and mistakes can be fatal.
      If this user-facing documentation (which is often the most rigorously checked material due to marketing departments needing to see anything customer-facing) contains simple errors that make a sentence make no sense, then what's to say that some of their more important documentation doesn't contain errors (such as a "not" missing in a sentence) regarding aspects such as safety or maintenance?

      If it were a post-it note stuck to a vending machine with handwritten text scrawled across it bearing the words "Machine not work", then it would not be an issue; obviously such a note does not reflect the proper process of the airline on the whole.
      Contrarily, the signage mentioned in the original post appears to be past the process of proofreading and editing, and shows the end result of QANTAS' checks and edits.
      It is unacceptable and unprofessional.

      Last edited 18/11/14 9:55 am

        Yeah, he's obviously educated, and from what I can see, he likes to show people just how specialised in grammar he is. Pedantry by any other name, as far as I'm concerned. I may not be educated, but that doesn't mean I'm ignorant... It also doesn't mean I need every minor grammar error in advertising and airport messaging bashed into me either..!
        Oh look... for some reason, my comment is suddenly being moderated, how strange..!

        Last edited 18/11/14 12:03 pm

          Maybe if the title of this article didn't interest you, you should have kept scrolling.

            See... now that's about as trite a reply as any I've seen here..! Don't try to trivialise my interest, just because you think, you... and all the other Grammar pedants out there are right..! If you have nothing relevant to add, just leave it be..! I'm already being moderated on every comment, simply because your two downvotes..!

            Last edited 18/11/14 3:40 pm

              It also doesn't mean I need every minor grammar error in advertising and airport messaging bashed into me either..!
              My point is that you read the information voluntarily; nothing is being "bashed into" you, despite the fact that that is the subject of your complaint.
              On the point of grammar pedants thinking they're right: Yes; we are right. We are not pedantically looking to make mistakes, we are pedantically looking to remove errors from our work.
              On the point of your comments being moderated: If you are being moderated automatically based solely on downvotes, then you have nothing to worry about; once they see that your comments are constructive and helpful, they will remove the restriction.

                On the point of grammar pedants thinking they're right: Yes; we are right. We are not pedantically looking to make mistakes, we are pedantically looking to remove errors from our work.The operative words there being "our work", not the work of others..!

                I replied to this comment yesterday, but it was removed. Which pisses me off, because, it was not spiteful or venal, just a rebuff... Someone doesn't like criticism..! But I'm done with this shit now, so don't bother replying..!

    Go easy on Qanta's there a good airline.

      You mean Quantas, surely?

      I sure hope that was intentional, I got a good laugh out of that error.

      Good airline? What if they make similar mistakes in their engine repair manual that ends up with the engines fans being removed instead of the fans' dohickey? One way you might end up with a noisy engine, the other no engine at all. Accuracy matters with airlines because if they are sloppy with communication, where do they draw the line? Sloppy in the cockpit? Sloppy with the control tower?

        I think you may be overstating that situation just a little bit, no..? :)

          Maybe, but I'd have to check their Sloppy Policy to be sure.

            Speaking as an individual and without any official stature whatsoever;

            Our "Sloppy" (as you call it) policy, in terms of maintenance is fine. We work extremely hard, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year to ensure that our passengers depart on time and arrive safely. We do this work with the utmost professionalism and under a good deal of stress, because we know our failure can really hurt people's holiday/business/family plans - or worse.

            No shortcuts, no sloppiness allowed.

            Personally I am proud of my work and I know a lot of other people I work with are too. Quite simply, when it comes to people's dreams, plans, and lives there is no room for sloppiness. Not just on a regulatory or company oriented level but on a personal level too.

            Clive, does your job carry the responsibility of people's lives? If so, then you will know there is a whole field of strawmen's difference between a grammatical error on a gate sign and what you are saying there by saying we would make a mistake like that so trivially.

    @anguskidman

    The grammatical issue is that “a”, which is singular, does not agree with “operating systems”, which is plural.

    I beg to differ... The user has one choice, of which there are multiple options.

    Last edited 17/11/14 3:25 pm

      Oh, and more importantly, you cannot have a choice without multiple options.

        Nope. A choice can be between singular options, or from a plural selection.
        Easier example - both of these are acceptable:
        1) Choose either a red or a blue toothbrush
        2) Choose either red or blue toothbrushes

        This is not:
        3) Choose either a red or a blue toothbrushes

          I think you might have misunderstood what is meant by multiple options - as opposed to a singular option, which is not a choice.

    "wi-fi" should also be "Wi-Fi", but who really cares?

    Qantas did not make a mistake. The 'a' relates to 'choice', not 'operating systems'.

      Sorry, you meant the other 'a', just saw it... Why can't I delete my comments?

        Maybe they left out the "b". This iMac provides the user with a choice between a Windows or b Apple Mac operating systems.
        Choose "a" or "b".

    I agree that accuracy matters in language; more importantly in the public space.

    http://www.amazon.com/Eats-Shoots-Leaves-Lynne-Truss-ebook/dp/B0051UH6YM/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    It is one thing to rely on labour-saving and memory-saving devices. It is another thing to give up thinking altogether and become completely dependent on external intellectual assistance. I think it's important to manage linguistic accuracy in the public realm. If literacy and numeracy skills drop too far, then Skynet will be doing us a favour...

    I would have picked on "Windows or Apple mac" as they're branding one and not the other, Microsoft Windows or Mac.
    Windows or Mac, to me seems the more appropriate, unless there are other brand Mac is I'm not aware of.

      Keep in mind, though, that error is not grammatical in nature. It's frustrating and poor convention, but it's not what makes the sentence 'incorrect'.

        Indeed, though my picky nature and bad grammar overlooked what was really wrong.

    @drbatman Thought I'd have a go at bypassing Agus's moderation... Meh... Gave it a shot
    Heads up! This comment is awaiting moderation. Check back soon!

    Last edited 18/11/14 12:14 pm

      Hi Timmahh, as I've mentioned in the past, parts of our comment approval system are automated. If you appear on the "awaiting moderation" list it's likely due to receiving multiple down-votes in a short period of time. This should revert to normal sooner rather than later. (In the meantime, I'll endeavor to approve acceptable comments as quickly as possible.)

        Yeas Chris, I'm well aware that it's automated, but an aggregate score of two downvotes from one person, should not trigger the thing,... Just sayin' the system is skewed..! And I note this comment went through, but the one above did not..?

        Last edited 18/11/14 6:20 pm

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