Spelling and Grammar DO Make a Difference

Audio available: [audio:2006-08-31_spelling_and_grammar_do_make_a_difference.mp3]
The girl at the docks said "I like British seamen."
I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen that example before, it was given to me by my English literature teacher a long, long time ago.
What’s that?  You can’t see anything wrong with that sentence?  Well, yes that’s right there’s nothing wrong with it at all.  But if you take away the "a" in the last word, it gives it a completely different meaning.
Through the getting on for 50 years I’ve been on this planet, I’ve had many people tell me that spelling doesn’t matter, it’s the meaning that’s important.
I used to argue with them, fruitlessly in most cases, until I realised that for whatever reasons, in the majority of cases, their perception of spelling and grammar wasn’t going to change.  Even when I gave them the example above, usually well within the argument by this time, I’d get a smile, but the mindset wouldn’t give.
That’s another bit of lunacy I’ve come across – the inability or unwillingness of some people to change their mind even when presented with incontrovertible evidence, but don’t get me started on that one!
I don’t know if it’s because people are embarrassed by their poor spelling which is what makes them so defensive.
But we all make typos, I made several while writing this, but fixed them afterwards (all of them I hope).  And sometimes we all fall over a sentence because we haven’t thought it out properly, or we don’t know where it’s going when we start.  I’m too of that guilty…
And of course, often spell and grammar checkers only make things worse.  Why?  Because they give people a false sense of security that what they’ve written is okay.
For example, there’s countless times I’ve typed "form" when I meant "from".  Now a grammar checker might pick it up, but I’ve always found that grammar checkers just complicate sentences and make them too formal when it was the informal style of writing I was aiming for.  Like this article.
Now why do I bring this up?
Well, a couple of weeks or so ago, I was sent an email from one of the big marketers.  I’m on lots of mailing lists as I like to see what’s going on in the marketing world, and I really don’t like spending too much time in forums as I think they can just suck all of your working hours out of you.
In this email, amongst several typos, was the theme.  And that was that he claimed that spelling doesn’t matter.  He said that it made absolutely no difference to his sales, people would still buy his products even if his emails and sales pages had spelling mistakes in them.
Well, I can tell him from personal experience, it DOES make a difference and he’s leaving money on the table.
If someone is trying to sell me advice (not give it), then in order to get me to part with my cash, I have to feel that they are in several ways superior to me, and have superior knowledge to me.  In my head I call it a big dog, little dog thing.
Bad spelling is a bad start if you want to convince me to cough up.  I always think, "well if he can’t be bothered to just get someone to check out his spelling (or at least use a spell checker), how bothered is he going to be if I have a problem and need to contact him?"
See what I mean?
If spelling really doesn’t matter, then how come I don’t see more spelling mistakes in newspapers and magazines?  And in printed ads?  I see some, but not many, they’re usually caught somewhere in the publishing process, so it’s quite rare.
I’d like to leave you with one last example.
Sometime in the last six months I’ve read two sales pages where their product would give "piece of mind" instead of "peace of mind."
Now I’m not sure if this is a UK only colloquialism, but here we talk about giving someone a "piece of my mind", which means we’re going to really have a good shout at them and tell them what’s what.
So is the writer going to calm my thoughts or give me a good telling off?  Answers on a postcard please…
My wife’s just read this, smiled and given me another example:-
An English professor wrote the words "woman without her man is nothing" on the blackboard and directed the students to punctuate it correctly.
The men wrote: "Woman, without her man, is nothing."
The women wrote: "Woman!  Without her, man is nothing."

Posted by Frank Haywood