Two things happened recently that all communications should note:
(1) An Australian HR firm called Maxumise conducted a study that found bad spelling and poor grammar are hurting your business’s reputation;
(2) The words “amazeballs” and “totes” (for "totally") were added to the Collins Dictionary
Do you see the irony?
Just when the widespread lack of basic literacy skills is causing a huge problem for businesses, a valued resource—the dictionary—is legitimizing stupidity.
There is some value in definitions for words such as “hangry,” “bashtag,” and “photobomb,” but these explanations should be freely available only in cyberspace for nosy parents trying to decipher their kids’ Facebook statuses. “Amazeballs” in the 200-year-old Collins Dictionary is literary blasphemy.
With many businesses spending upward of 10 percent of their total revenue on marketing and corporate branding, it can be heartbreaking to have all your hard work and big spending undone by language errors.
Take the recent example of the McDonald’s lamb burger advertising campaign in Australia. McDonald’s drew inspiration from a nursery rhyme for its billboards throughout the country; the ads stated “Mary had a little lamb fries and a coke.”
Yes, that’s right: “Lamb fries.” The absence of one little comma after the word lamb changed the meaning of the ad to suggest that with your Coca-Cola, you also would get lamb’s testicles, or “lamb fries” as they are commonly known.
Who is to blame for the grammar gaffes and abysmal spelling hurting businesses’ reputation?
It’s easy to blame the education system, under which millennials (like me) weren’t taught the difference between “it’s” and “its” until the final weeks of high school. Perhaps this is all the fault of social media hipsters with their online “YOLOs” (you only live once) and “CrayCray’s”(crazy), which have worked their way into mainstream vocabulary.
Either way, an employee who knows where—and where not—to place an apostrophe is considered to have an eagle eye rather than just understanding the fundamentals of writing.
To many people, capitalizing the right letter or putting that comma in the right place isn’t a priority. Beyond altering the meaning of what you’re trying to say, an error will portray your staff and your company as lazy, incompetent, and stupid. Even if you get something as simple as “to” versus “too” wrong, you’re setting yourself up for a storm of criticism and making it harder to reach your own corporate goals.
If you want to get your message out there, you have to get it right; it’s not worth tainting your reputation with an overlooked language error.
[RELATED: Why spelling and grammar matter in press releases
Rebecca Belsham is a consultant at CBC Group—Media & Public Affairs in Australia.