Freelance Writer Files: That guy’s no gentleman…

On the TV news, I heard a woman being interviewed about a crime. She said, “…then that gentleman shot him and ran away.” Or something like that. Hey, lady—a guy who shoots people is no gentleman, unless he’s a cop, in which case he’s a “police officer.”

What I’m getting at is the excessive niceness of using the word “gentleman” for any old bloke. Of course, long ago, a gentleman was a fellow with some property and some manners, a man who was, if not in the upper class, at least in the upper-middle class. Someone you would call “Mister” instead of “Hey, you!” But today, people use the term, “gentleman” to refer to anyone from a gangster to a king. But hold it, folks. The word has connotations and denotations you might not mean when you use it, to-wit:

Gentleman riding to hounds

• A chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man.
• A man of good social position, esp. one of wealth and leisure.

Not every old anybody you meet is a gentleman. So isn’t it okay to call a male human a “fellow,” a “man,” or a “guy,” depending on the context? For example, consider the following:

“That man at the entrance gate said we ought to park in Row R.” Generic male human.

“A fellow I know can get you a good deal on tires.” Implies some personal knowledge of the man.

“Who told you that?” “I dunno. Some guy at the bar.” Generic with a tinge of disrespect.

But “gentleman?” I wouldn’t apply it to a homeless guy living under a bridge. He may, in fact, behave in a gentlemanly manner (especially if he’s a former banker, investment broker or Humanities major). But still, I’d reserve the term for someone who is several cuts above a “guy.” Wouldn’t you?

I wonder if all this “gentleman” business is about the drive to eliminate “elitism,” that bugaboo of Yankee down-to-earthism. If every man, no matter how uneducated, crude or penniless, is a “gentleman,” then no one is really “elite.” If every 8th-grade dropout hanging on the corner talking trash is a “gentleman,” then where is the honor in being called “gentleman?”

On the other hand, it might be a well-intentioned attempt to honor every male citizen’s potential, or not to judge a man one doesn’t know. But now, let’s put the shoe on the other foot, in this case, a lady’s foot.

English ladies

There are women, ladies, girls, gals, and other names I won’t mention which are generally used by guys (not gentlemen). A “woman” can be anyone from your Great-Aunt Suzy to a female wrestler to a jailbird. A “lady,” on the other hand, generally is the female counterpart to gentleman. “Girls” and “gals” can mean women of any age—to other women of the same age. But “girls” generally refers to females under the age of 18. “Gals” generally refers to women over 30, especially when they pal around together—as “gal-pals.”

As a woman of a certain age, I recall fondly the days when store clerks and waiters called me, “Miss.” The first time someone called me, “Ma’am,” I looked around to see who they were talking to. I had crossed the Rubicon from “Miss” to “Ma’am” without knowing it, and finding it out that way stunned me temporarily. I’ve gotten over it now. I don’t feel like a “Ma’am,” still a “Miss” on the inside. But my outside apparently has given me away. Not fair, I say, but alas, there’s nothing to be done about it, so I will adopt the motto of the alley cat, Mehitabel, in Don Marquis’ brilliant book, “Archy and Mehitabel.” “Toujour gai, I say, toujour gai!”

Freelance Writer Files: It’s nice to be appreciated…

Here’s a note from a client whose Web articles I’ve been proofreading and editing for a couple of years—a nice gentleman out in California who sells large tracts of land in the western U.S.

Liz, I find your corrections amazing, very detailed, and so critical to me presenting an intelligent article. I like your side notes also as it makes me rethink any assumptions I might have written late at night. Thanks again for all your help!

It’s always nice to be appreciated.

Once, I worked for an ad agency that had a regional KFC organization as a client. We did all kinds of collateral for them, including window signs. The production manager, Wanda, put one that had just been printed in quantity (500 or so) up on the glass wall separating her office from the front lobby. As I was walking by it, I stopped in my tracks. It read:

Chicken and Bisuits

Nobody had proofed the copy. There was so little of it, the production manager probably didn’t think it was necessary.

I asked her, “Wanda, what are ‘bisuits?'” She looked up and asked, “What?” I said, “Well, I wondered what a ‘bisuit’ is. ‘Cause they’re selling them at KFC for $5.99.” I pointed at the sign. It took a few seconds for the penny to drop, and then, Wanda gasped and nearly fainted. A very cost-conscious person (a skinflint, actually) she was, and now she realized the agency would have to eat the cost of re-printing 500 window posters, this time touting Chicken and “biscuits,” not “bisuits.”

Not proofreading can cost you money! Far more than hiring me to do it for you.

Hire a professional to make sure your print or Web text is okay before you publish it. Ads, brochures and Web articles need to be grammatically correct, easy to read, and properly punctuated. If they are, you’ll look professional. If not, well… it could mark you as very unprofessional, and even unintelligent. Is it worth it to hire a proofreader/editor? You be the judge.

Freelance Writer Files: Bad Spelling Can Get You Into Trouble with the Law.

If you’re gonna use slang terms like “gonna,” you gotta learn to spell them properly, or you could get yourself into a whole lotta trouble with the police.

Here’s a case in point, reported in today’s Kansas City Star. A student at Lanier Technical College (in Georgia) sent a text message he meant to say, “Gunna be at West Hall this afternoon,” but the auto-correct feature changed “Gunna” to “Gunman.” On top of that, the text message was sent to the wrong number.


Whoever received the messaged called the police, and panic ensued. A north Georgia high school and middle school were locked down yesterday for fear the “Gunman” might be at large in the area. But finally, the texter was located and let off the hook when the lawmen realized he wasn’t a Gunman, just a lousy speller and a sloppy texter.

These tragic spelling mishaps needn’t happen. Watch what the heck you’re texting, how you’re spelling words, and how your “auto-correct” is messing with them. And for heavens’ sake, get the phone number right. Technology—ain’t it great?