Monday, January 29, 2007

Ooh, that spell...

Before I get into this spiel, I should disclose that I am a champion (or, more accurately, near-champion) speller. In 6th grade, I placed second in my schoolwide spelling bee, beating several 8th graders; as a high school senior, I placed 2nd in division and 5th in state in the subject at Rally. I won journalism Rally the year before (and 2nd in state), hold journalism and English degrees and worked several years as a reporter and writer.

In other words, I'm probably way too overqualified-slash-dorky to complain about this. But I'm still going to do so. If your job involves, in any capacity, the need to persuade via communication, PLEASE LEARN HOW TO SPELL AND USE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE!

On Saturday, I went midnight bowling. Between bowls, I looked up at the score screen and was greeted by an ad that read something like this:

"Lot's of great deals available!"

I believe it was for a real-estate firm. You know, smart people who make nearly six figures and can hire top-notch advertising agencies? Yeah. And no, it did not appear to be a pun of any sort. So, of course, my visceral reaction was this: "THAT WORD SO DOES NOT HAVE AN APOSTROPHE!"

My friends looked at me in disbelief. Actually, no they didn't--they completely ignored the whole thing. Which immediately made me feel like a nerd. Then again, grammatical mistakes are so ubiquitous in this town--I've seen first-grade mistakes on restaurant signs, movie advertising and virtually every other medium of communication involving words--that perhaps they didn't think it was worth mentioning.

One major abuse here is to use quotation marks to emphasize a point. Thus, at Cajun Field, you have this sign: "Don't" be a tailgator! Granted, that last word is a pun (get it, waterboy?); but here's a word of advice for future ad agencies who hope to actually stop bad driving: "Learn" the language so you don't look "illiterate." You want to emphasize? CAPITALIZE!

Flashback to around 2002: while visiting some friends out of town for a barbecue, I went to the store to get the fire started. Strolling down the barbecue aisle, I found myself drawn to a particular bottle of lighter fluid made by a big-name company. The warning on the front screamed at me: "Caution: Combustable." Aargh! At least they got it right on the back: "This product is combustible." I bought it just so my friends would swoon at my eye for detail. They didn't.

And, of course, there are those who think every word that ends in "s" is possessive (except when it actually is): "Teds Car Shack is the best place to find car's of all make's and model's! Check out the new Cutlass's and Volk'swagen's! Its the best in it's class! So come talk to our owner, Ted Dugas'!"

But those are minor considerations compared to the blogs I read. I'm not going to single anyone out, though it does involve every part of the political spectrum. But yes, most of it comes from people who think English should be the only language used in America. You'd think they'd at least make the strongest case for doing so. But they don't. And some seem to take pride in that.

I'm not trying to be hoity-toity or go-getting or whatever other label is polite parlance for condescension. I'm also not expecting everyone to reach post-graduate levels of language use. But the bottom line here is this: if you're a lousy communicator, I'm going to assume that your product, service or idea is equally lousy.

Much has been said about the declining standards of intelligence in this country. The least we can do is ensure that our citizens aren't bombarded with careless mistakes by those whose business it is to know better.


Anonymous said...

I've got news for you. It isn't just that town. It's an epidemic. I'm certainly not a champion speller, but I see those mistakes everywhere too, and it makes me cringe.

JTekell said...

As Bridget cannot escape it. No matter where you go it lies in wait. We are truely becoming an idiocracy.

As for spelling words in general, I'm not gifted with that ability. However, I have to agree with the great Mark Twain who said "It's a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word."

Hillary For President said...

pepole like Ian (Neocons, etc) always talk about thinks like spelling, etc because they ca'nt deebate the facts. I see on my blog all of the times.

I'am sorry to say it at you're blog Ian but it so true. Look, Ian why don't we focus on my message and not on few insitnificant spelling mistake's?

Anonymous said...

now i got all self-conscious about this.. (and i don't even know if you read my blog anymore.)

but, i agree with you on the business part of it. i think professional should be professional. hire a proofreader, how hard and expensive can it be? right?

Hillary For President said...


plese send me you're cirriculum vitae if you wish to apply for the posishion.


Anonymous said...

With you all the way. One of my favorite books on the topic is Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. It warms my heart to know some people feel the same way I do.


Anonymous said...

I recently realised most French students (yes, FRENCH students, those with that accent, you know.) would be unable not only to do such mistakes, but also to understand a lot of them -because it's actually too far from any grammatical logic.
Oh, and, Harry Hutton's last post was about it too, in a way ( and I swear he did not pay me for that) (though I should ask him to).
By the way, I know my school, the poli sci institute of Paris, is in partnerschip with Tulane and I would have liked to know : do you, by any chance, know if journalism classes are given there ?
Thanks Ian,
"I judge you when you use poor grammar",

Anonymous said...

Ja so natürlich ich schreibe nicht "partnership" in die deutsche manner, this is a mistake. Don't hit me.

Anonymous said...

Ha! I was about to mention ES&L myself!

It's a global epidemic, Ian, even out here in my little corner. At least English is not our national language...

Cajun Tiger said...

I know this is a post about poor english, but the complete lack of any knowledge of history gets me going just as much, especially when it is so easy to find in the internet age.