A few days ago, I stopped at a gas station to buy a soft drink. Inside was an erasable whiteboard urging donations for a cancer charity with these words: “The money stay’s in our community.” This annoyed me so much that, when the attendant turned her back, I reached over and erased the errant apostrophe.
Humor aside, the death spiral of correct spelling and grammar disturbs me. Language is fluid, of course, but there’s a difference between linguistic evolution and mere laziness. Sadly, the latter is what we see far too often in the communications field, posing greater risks for messages to be misinterpreted or ignored.
The Harvard Business Review posted a blog about a small study that suggested a correlation between grammar skills and career advancement. While hardly definitive, “this data set clearly supports the hypothesis that good grammar is a predictor of professional success,” author Brad Hoover writes. He posits that attention to spelling and grammar is a sign of a person who is detail oriented, a critical thinker and intellectually solid.
A restaurant sign’s extraneous “s” may not signify the demise of humanity. But what are we to think when newly minted college graduates – including those with communications degrees – try to start their careers without the ability to write correctly? Or when what was once the bastion of proper prose, the newspaper, has all but done away with its language warriors, the copy editors?
By minimizing the importance of writing correctly and well, aren’t we diminishing the value of the traits Hoover cites?
One of my favorite quotes is this one from playwright Tom Stoppard: “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”
That should be the guiding principle for every professional communicator – and every person who wants to communicate effectively.