[rant] why grammar matters


On a completely different note from networking, I wanted to discuss something a little more annoying today. Annoying because by talking about it, I am undoubtedly annoying many of you out there who think I’m just being “that girl” who cares too much about something that perhaps doesn’t matter too much in the long run, but the fact is, I can’t neglect to talk about it, not only because (a) it would annoy me not to get it out there, and (b) it does matter.

Grammar. With the advent of the Internet and text messaging, people have apparently started to believe that standardized spelling and grammar are for nerdy purists like me or for publication only. NO!!

Grammar matters in business, it matters in law, and yes, it matters in web copy. Today, this happened:

I was in the middle of ordering a sweet bodycon dress (my first!) online. The description of said dress read, “Part of Missguided’s EXCLUSIVE range, let the dress do the talking and simply add a complimentary pair of heels and clutch bag.”

I was honestly confused for a good minute before I realized they weren’t intentionally telling me the dress came with free shoes and a purse, but trying to suggest accessories to pair with it.

Complimentary means “free.” Complementary, on the other hand, relates to the way different colors and styles coexist. You may laugh, I say, but when it comes to a sales transaction, that one little mistake can cause a lot of confusion. This is why they go over grammar all over again in law school, because those barristers will one day have to comb through fine print and legal jargon looking for loopholes and clauses that allow for argument.

This relates to you, how? What if you’re not a businessperson or a lawyer? “I’m not a writer,” you say. “It doesn’t matter if I don’t know how to spell onomatopoeia.” It relates to you because what you put out into the ether that is the Internet represents you. You may not realize it, but you are a brand. Everything you say and do in public represents you. This is why employers will often toss a resum√© holding spelling mistakes.

Playroom specials
This was on the specials menu at the restaurant I had dinner at tonight. I can’t even begin to decipher it.

“It doesn’t matter if the person reading it understands what you mean,” some say. But did you know this is precisely the reason why language is standardized? There are correct and incorrect ways to spell or punctuate things BECAUSE it (in theory) eliminates any kind of confusion to the reader. In other words, as long as you write something correctly, responsibility is off of you in terms of general comprehension. Of course, things can start to get hairy around this concept because there are other variables like the use of voice that can potentially confuse the reader. (For example, I can only imagine the number of Americans that had to look up the word barrister in my earlier paragraph.) For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to strictly discuss the usage of language for written copy used in social media, marketing, and business in this post. The subject of the written word in art is a whole other matter entirely.

Of course, when we write, we are assuming that the average reader also understands these rules. In a day and age where people seem not to think before they speak (i.e., write), I’m not lamenting the more complex facets of language that no one but a grammarian would find problematic.

I’m talking about little mistakes like the difference between to, too, and two. Substituting your for you’re. The stuff we learned in fourth grade. And to a slightly lesser extent, the hyper-corrective practice of people who think “for you and I” makes them sound somehow ¬†smarter.

I’m not saying that I’m pedantic enough to get confused by someone commenting, “Your stupid” on Facebook. What I am saying is that person looks uneducated and sloppy. For an exaggerated example of this, please read this post on the Pop Tart Tragedy, which had me doubled over in laughter for almost an entire day due to its unabashed absurdity.

This becomes worse when it is a business writing the words. I once saw a table talker at a local bar covered in grammatical mistakes, and I had to push it out of sight. Take a look at any national company’s marketing efforts. Doesn’t matter what company it is, from McDonald’s to Macy’s. Not a single mistake. Never is probably too strong a word, but when it comes down to it, these companies have very strict quality control when it comes to who is writing their copy and therefore representing their brand.

Thus, it is only logical to conclude that grammar mistakes are the sign of a small business. I’m absolutely not trashing small business; obviously, I own one, and so do my parents and many great people I know. I’m just saying it is a dead giveaway.

If you want to be taken seriously by your audience at large, you had better keep those supposedly minor errors in check. I remember nationally bestselling memoirist Jen Lancaster publicly denouncing ice cream company Skinny Cow for misspelling the word whoa in a national advertisement, so I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

All this said, regardless of how obnoxious this is going to look, I’m owning my respect for language and its constructs, and I’m going to post little memes reviewing basic rules of grammar and spelling in an effort to get the information circulating. I apologize for sounding judgmental and condescending — and I know that if we were in a world in which everyone communicated in mathematic equations or binary or something I’d probably be singing a different tune . . . though, if a computer can’t forgive a simple sign error or mistaken syntax in the world of numbers, why should we be expected to do that with words?

Apostropheswhy punctuation matters meme

Owning it,

PamelaHsieh signature