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Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

Are Spelling and Grammar Obsolete? 9

Am I being too critical? Do you react like I do to blatant spelling errors? Do they spoil messages for you?

Glaring grammar and spelling errors distract me. Yesterday I received an email from somebody asking me to help him find an “inverstor” because he’s had “alot” of interest and he “truely” believes he could go “worlwide.”  I notice when somebody uses “then” for “than” or “your” for “you’re.” I notice apostrophe errors like adding an apostrophe for every plural noun. I notice common spelling errors like “seperate,” and “definately.” Those errors interfere with the message. I was less likely to answer than I would have been if the message had been corrected.

What bothers me is:

  1. I deal with some genuinely smart, very well educated people who make lots of these glaring spelling errors, even in messages that are important and well thought out. If I get caught on grammar and spelling, with these people, then I lose. They don’t.
  2. Pots and kettles: I’m shocked at how often I commit these same mistakes myself, breaking easy rules I know well, by typing too damned fast and then not reading what I wrote. I see your mistakes much more easily than my own. Is that the same for everybody?
  3. Grammar and spelling bigotry: the word prejudice comes from pre judging, as in judging in advance, based on superficial factors. Am I not giving poor spellers or sloppy keyboarders a fair chance? Are spelling and grammar superficial?
  4. And now with social media, the opportunities for errors are so much bigger. What we post in social media is publishing it, where all can see. That raises the stakes. I’m so glad Twitter lets me delete and retype.

Some suggestions:

  1. Two great links: 10 words you need to stop misspelling, and how to use an apostrophe.
  2. I wish I had an email editor that underlines questionable words and phrases, like Word and Windows Live Writer do; at least there’s spellcheck in most email editors. Of course spellcheck doesn’t catch the then-than and your-you’re or there-their-they’re errors.
  3. My wife says angels fly because they take themselves lightly. I do try. But what if she called them “angles” instead of “angels?”
  4. At the very least, when you email me asking a favor, spell my name right.
  5. It’s hard to publish this post because I’m so afraid I might have a spelling or grammatical error in it.
  • Bill Gee

    In your sentence starting with pots and kettles, you used a double space between the words “by” and “typing”, even though i

    • Bill, thanks, and sorry your comment seems cut off there. Lots of irony, including the error in the pots and kettles sentence that anticipates it, and your cut-off comment ending with i instead of “I” (although I’m just guessing where you were going with that). I love it.

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  • If you are using WordPress, then try “After the Deadline” plugin. Checks spellings and basic grammar. Helped me a lot.

  • I echo the words of Kathleen it is impossible to notice your own mistakes. Stepping away from your work or even letting a friend proofread your work is one of the best remedies. I also encourage people to practice communicating correctly when texting. I know in this generation it can be very easy to short hand type almost any message but I have noticed whatever bad habits you have when texting you’ll also have when emailing and writing any other business materials. We all make mistakes but remember practically every mistake can be avoided.

  • I think it depends on the forum and the audience. In casual writing and conversation among friends I forgive a lot, but if you clearly don’t know the difference between word forms or tenses I will eventually say something, and I won’t laugh it off.

    When it’s someone who is presenting information from a position of authority I have much higher expectations from the start. I sat in a presentation where the speaker repeatedly said “then” instead of “than”. I approached him afterwards and was appalled to discover. It was written that way in his presentation notes. When I pointed it out he said it wasn’t a problem because nobody would notice, and when I told him I did he said I was being too critical.

    To me it’s a sign of self esteem. If you don’t care enough about your appearance to learn how to use language correctly I judge that you don’t care enough about me or our relationship to invest time into that, either. Perhaps it’s harsh and I’m inferring too much. That’s how I see it, though, based on my own value system.

  • Tim,

    I had a smile on my face as i read through your post. Earlier in my career, i re-wrote and reviewed content. I trained myself to read text slow and pick on small errors. Now, as an entrepreneur, when my thoughts run faster than my fingers; i tend to ignore minor errors and have stopped being picky about it. I used to jump to conclusions about people who sent me mails or wrote text with grammatical errors. My partner at work is one such. But his explanation to this is that he wants to express naturally and he wants to communicate in time. I take some things lightly now, but there is a degree to everything right? So, if someone sends me a mail with obvious errors, then i do tend to take offence. Though, what’s obvious to me need not necessarily be obvious to someone else 🙂

    Though, i think the whole importance to right spelling, pronunciation and reading through before sending it out seems like a practice of the past. (sigh!)

  • Full disclosure: for the record, I had a grammatical error in the second word of this post when I posted it. It read “Am I’m being … ” instead of “Am I being …” Kathleen Jaffe caught it for me, and I didn’t do it on purpose. Which proves I have to lighten up. I can’t see my own errors nearly as easily as I see errors of others.

  • No, it’s not just you.
    As for making the same mistakes yourself, that’s not surprising: it’s damn near impossible to proofread one’s own work. The only way I manage to catch most of my errors is by A) stepping away for a while before proofreading, and B) reading aloud, which forces me to slow down and read what’s *there* rather than what I expect to see.

    • Kathleen, i do exactly this. But many-a-times some things do slip past. Sometimes, when i read text aloud, i read what i intended to write rather than what’s written. That’s a problem!