Wednesday, August 25, 2010

There Is No Their There: Grammarians Oughta Snickr

by Drew Martin

If you use the photosharing site Flickr a lot, you will notice that each image can be viewed at multiple sizes, depending on the resolution of the original picture. This makes sense if you are interested in downloading an image and do not have Photoshop or a less robust program to resize it to the exact dimensions you require.

I am sure most graphic artists typically grab the largest original size and work with it: I certainly do. Many photographers do not allow their photographs to be downloaded, which means the various sizes are unnecessary. My problem with this block is not the restriction (though I claim otherwise in my posting on Image Karma), technical oversight (even though it follows the heading "All available sizes") or the new look & feel, which seems to require more clicks to do anything.

My feathers are ruffled by the English message that informs the user he or she does not have the photographer's permission to download it.

The note reads:

The owner has disabled downloading of their photos.

This is grammatically incorrect. It should read:

The owner has disabled the downloading of his or her photos.

Actually, the programming could be sophisticated enough to personalize it to gender of the in this case, for the Norwegian photographer I stumbled upon, }~T~{ , it would say either:

The owner has disabled the downloading of her photos.

Or even:

}~T~{ has disabled the downloading of her photos.

To avoid all of this, Flickr could simply write:

The owner has disabled the downloading of this photo.

Or simply...

This photo cannot be downloaded.

I understand that people are not consulting Flickr (or this blog for that matter) for grammar, but considering the 85+ million unique worldwide visits the site receives each month, this error is getting a lot of traction...granted, the site can be searched in at least eight languages and this message only appears when the English-reading user wishes to download a restricted image.

Having a truncated name such as Flickr is cute and part of a branding trend that that became popular in the 1990's, although the preschool-dyslexic Toys "Я" Us logo predates this by a couple decades (which my former Russian teacher wanted to believe was really the Cyrillic letter, Я, used for the personal pronoun for I: "ja").

I actually find such logos interesting and do not mind their stepping on the toes of language because they show an evolution from text to image, often abandoning font families for unique artwork, while they maintain a status which combines verbal and visual languages. That being said, the fact that some people are visual, while others are literal, does not warrant a life-long pass to ignore the basics from the other side. Just as graphic artists appreciate consistency in branding and attention to detail to avoid skewing, pixelation, etc., grammar should be respected accordingly. Whether this began with Caterina Fake and her team when they founded Flickr or happened as an after-purchase grammar-glitch by Yahoo!, I hope someone attends to it before the world falls apart.

"There is no there there" is from Gertrude Stein's Everybody's Autobiography. When she returned to California in the 1930s and wanted to visit her childhood home in Oakland, she could not find the house: "there is no there there."