Egg on Their Faces

Have I discovered the world’s worst website?

bookediting.co.uk editor Lee Dickinson

By Lee Dickinson

“Hello, I’m Lee from Word Wise,” I told the woman on the phone, “and I want to help you fix mistakes on your website.”

“OK. What sort of mistakes?”

A fair question, so I gave a fair answer.

“There are too many to mention individually; I have a list in front of me. For example, though, your name is wrong.”

“Our name?”

“Yes, the name of your company on your front page. You’ve spelt it as Mathiesons without an apostrophe at the top and, just below that, it’s Mathieson’s, with an apostrophe.”

“I see.”

Do you, though? Do you really see it’s a terrible ‘advert’ for your company? In your shop window to the world, you seem baffled by your own name? 

There were more howlers to point out to this major bakery firm but, for now, the implications are too far-reaching to ignore. Even if Mathieson’s/Mathiesons do. Mistakes like that go to a firm’s core, threatening to damage a reputation which might have been nurtured over centuries. Not quite ‘centuries’ for Mathiesons/Mathieson’s, but they’ve been around since 1872. Long enough, you’d think, to know what they’re called.

It should be time enough to realise the damage a mistake like that can cause. If they look so unprofessional on their very public surface, suspicions could grow over what’s happening behind the scenes. If they don’t care about spelling, what confidence does that give anyone they care about baking? My admittedly weird copy-editor’s brain is thinking: “Hmm, you don’t check your spelling? So do you bother to check the use-by date on your eggs?”

I didn’t tell the woman on the phone of my baking-based fears. She was being professional amid what could be seen as provocation. 

“Are there other mistakes?”

“I’m afraid so. That list I mentioned is lengthy. Forgive me if I don’t tell you them all, because I’m in business to help people fix mistakes, rather than alert them to problems they then fix themselves. I will tell you one more mistake, though.”

“Go on …”

“You’re in the confectionery business, aren’t you?”

“Since 1872.”

“You’ve spelt it ‘confectionary’.”

I was primed for discussion, because ‘confectionary’ is a long-defunct spelling for the place where sweet treats are made, and was once a synonym for ‘bakery’. But Mathiesons/Mathieson’s have used it on their ‘OUR PRODUCTS’ page, next to pictures of their goodies, which can only be called ‘confectionery’. Maybe they’re traditionalists, though, wrongly trying to uphold a centuries-old spelling? Oh, hang on, they’ve spelt it both ways on their front page, so maybe not?   

Websites and words are not Mathiesons/Mathieson’s area of expertise, of course. I don’t expect them to be at the internet’s cutting edge or their website text to be foremost in their thoughts, any more than I expect a web developer to bake a fine array of shortcrust tarts. But surely they should look professional, know their name, at least use a dictionary to check the definition of their own business? If they can’t be bothered to do that, there are professionals who’ll do it for them.

It’s even more shocking that, after they’ve been alerted, they’ve kept the mistakes. When this was published, the problems were still ‘live’.

Yes, great desserts are Mathiesons/Mathieson’s priority, but if their website’s not important, why have it? Why botch a job then leave it as a very public embarrassment? Why use it to boast of being “passionate about … attention to detail” and claim “only the best will do”? 

This is the firm, incidentally, which had the slogan “Baking at it’s best”. I emailed them about that error, but it was there for years in all the major supermarkets.

They’re far from being the only offenders. I’ve also been trying to help other businesses with a catalogue of mistakes on websites and other material. But some are happy with howlers, apparently.

It’s a shame because, in Mathiesons/Mathieson’s case, their tarts are superb. I used to buy the strawberries and cream version but, because of this, I’ve now stopped. It’s the thought of those eggs …

An over-reaction? Perhaps. Maybe standards are slipping and it’s time to embrace the relaxed approach to language ‘inspired’ by social media? Or maybe it’s time to embarrass the likes of Mathiesons/Mathieson’s into action over our defenceless language?

This article’s writer, Lee Dickinson, is an advanced professional member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and chief editor at bookediting.co.uk. You can read his blog here.