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The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

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The Vine: May 16, 2012

Submitted by on May 16, 2012 – 9:37 AM8 Comments

My husband and I have a casual friend who is a musician in Eastern Europe. We are not very close and don't keep in touch regularly; we met several years ago at a folk-dancing event and see him every year or so at similar events. On the other hand he is a nice guy, and when we do run into him he is always very friendly to us (he showed us around his city when we visited in 2009, invited us to his wedding, etc.).

Cut to 2012, when we receive a package from him in the mail: a copy of his latest CD. We are pleased for him, and it was nice of him to think of us (my husband is also a musician so it was probably sent partly out of professional courtesy). However, the title of the CD is in English, and contains a major mistake. I don't want to give away the title in case he Googles himself but a word that should be pluralized is written with the possessive apostrophe before the S. It is definitely not intentional, but rather the result of English being his second language (and presumably that of whomever he asked to proofread for him). As far as we know, the CD is self-produced.

Should we say anything? Assuming he hasn't already found out about the mistake from someone else, us letting him know about the error could potentially allow him to correct it on future albums. On the other hand, if he has sunk his life savings into several thousand of these puppies and has no way to make any more, it might be kinder to spare him the embarrassment and let it be. For all we know, most of his audience might be his fellow non-native English speakers and might not catch the error anyway.

If he were a close friend I would likely say something but we don't know him that well and are not sure how to approach this.

What do you think?

Hem's and Haw's

Dear Hem,

Don't say anything. If it were a closer friend, or you knew he could correct the mistake (either now or in a future printing), or he asked you directly if you liked the design or had spotted any English-usage errors in the text, I might answer differently. I mean, certainly if somebody had spotted a brick like that on the label of the GBC CDs, I'd have sat down with a Sharpie and hand-corrected every single one — but based on what I do as part of my living, I'd have to.

But so many native English speakers make that mistake that, although it's right in the title and like a fingernail on a chalkboard to those of us who know it's incorrect, it's unlikely to be fatal to his reputation. He's a musician, not an ESL teacher, and if he spent a significant amount of his own money getting these done, knowing the title contains a usage biff is only going to give him agita.

If you find out that he's creating another batch, you could consider mentioning, very gently, that the English in the title is not correct, and that you're sure nobody cares or judges him — certainly you don't — but you wanted to mention it, just in case.

Otherwise, though, this kind of thing — CD covers, book jackets, printed programs for friends' shows, et al. — is like baby names: unless you are asked, in so many words, for your opinion, your only response is "that's lovely — congratulations."

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