Monday, October 17, 2011

Make No Mistake...

I have here in the writing cockpit a broadsheet-sized book called The Copywriter's Bible, which, like any real bible, is full of outdated anecdotes and questionable advice. I like to refer to it sometimes to remind myself that there was a time when a magazine ad could be this maggoty with verbiage:

This particular novella-length ad, entitled " A FEW ENCOURAGING WORDS FOR THE TOTALLY INCOMPETENT" contains this apercu outlining the oratorical deficiencies of a past U.S. president:
William Gamaliel Harding wrote his own speeches while President of the USA in the 1920's.  
When Harding died, e.e. cummings said, "the only man, woman, or child who wrote a simple, declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors, is dead." 
Here is a rewarding sample of the man's style. "I would like the government to do all it can to mitigate, then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved."

I don't know--it sounds like George W. on a good day, if you ask me.

Anyway, as it turns out, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this president in his book, Blink, where he used the hapless Harding, whom everyone agreed "looked presidential," as an example of what happens when we choose appearance of ability over, well, ability. He called it "The Warren Harding Error." He did not call it "The William Harding Error." That would have been an error. Not "totally incompetent" perhaps, but definitely an error.