Grammar Make Good More Pretty: Why Language Matters

From time to time I find myself involved in a discussion about grammar and word use. The conversation reignites every time I read an email where I see a plural word spelled with an apostrophe or read a word or turn of phrase where the person meant something entirely different from what they’ve composed. One of my favorite popped up many years ago when I read in an email the phrase “coup de gras,” or “blow of fat.”  Normally this would be a minor mistake that caused a few chuckles amongst colleagues, but it became much more serious when our French-speaking client read it.  The client wasn’t offended, of course, but he did come away from it thinking that the person, and by association the team, were simpletons.

There are people who would say that this reaction is an outlier, but deluding oneself about the magnitude of these sorts of mistakes is foolish and it ultimately impacts the bottom line. Not knowing the difference between “jibe” and “jive” or understanding when and when not to use a semicolon leaves an impression on the people for and with whom you work.  As Old Navy learned today, it can equate to millions in lost revenue.

Having released a series of college-related t-shirts with the phrase “let’s go” written as “lets go,” it now has to consider recalling the products.  Personally, I would be inclined to play up the humor of a misspelling on a college t-shirt, but it doesn’t look like that was either the intent or what will happen.  And perhaps it doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things should they choose to simply let the shirts sell.  These are inexpensive t-shirts, after all, and won’t destroy the company’s brand image.  But it’s still a mistake and, depending on how they spin it, a potentially costly one.

Now imagine what this sort of mistake means if what you sell is strategic thinking.  Think about what it means if you are basically selling intelligence, creativity and insight.  In this situation it does influence how your brand is perceived.  Make sure your wording and spelling are correct or risk losing credibility and work.

Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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