Working in radio, a non-visual medium, does not give
us license to trash the written English language.
James Hart; used under a
Creative Commons license
After all, we’re supposed to be
professional communicators, right? We
radio folks may find it easier to hide our misspellings, grammatical and
punctuation errors behind a microphone; but sooner or later they’re bound to be
a source of embarrassment.
I was an English major in college, aspiring to
be a teacher. I ended up in advertising — go figure.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. Advertising and
marketing involve a great deal of reading and writing, consulting and coaching.
So it’s not all that far removed from teaching. I just work in a different kind
Reason I mention the English major thing is because
I’m going to climb up on my soapbox and rant a bit.
THEIR YOU GO AGAIN
Whether you’re creating sales presentation
materials, corresponding with advertising prospects or clients, writing a
newsletter or blog, etc., you’re investing time and effort to build your
credibility and career. Sloppiness in
this area can have unintended consequences, leaving your reader with a poor
impression of you.
I happen to live in a college town, where one
might reasonably expect to find a higher level of education among its citizens,
or at least a proclivity for maintaining high standards in communication in our
One had better be prepared for disappointment.
With astonishing frequency I see newspaper headlines,
articles and advertisements (created by the newspaper’s own employees), reader
board signs on businesses, posters on bulletin boards, business cards,
brochures, newsletters and professional correspondence — you name it — rife
with errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax.
The widespread use of texting and email has fostered a
tendency toward sloppiness, the former through its use of abominable
abbreviations (“Hpe UR w/me on ths, K?”) and the latter by its disdain for
proper punctuation, e.g., the lack of capital letters at the beginning of
sentences and of periods when bringing that sentence to a full stop.
Instead, we like just run our thoughts together kind
of like this and i hope you’re following
what i’m sayin OK because i havent got a lot of time to be treating this like a
letter i mean after all its just email right? hey see you later ‘K? bye
email, particularly a business email,
be accorded the same treatment as a conventional letter, typed or hand-written?
Should a blog post be checked for spelling, grammar and
punctuation before sending it into the ether?
Should your tweets and Facebook posts convey the same
conscientiousness as your other communications?
Yes, if your personal brand is that of a professional
Do you recall hearing the radio spot for a learning
product called Verbal Advantage? It began: “People do judge you by the words you use.”Why? Because it’s true. They
The famous direct response copywriter Maxwell
Sackheim made a fortune selling the mail-order Sherwin Cody English
Course through clever newspaper and magazine ads that
grabbed readers with the headline: “Do You Make These Mistakes in English?”
Considered one of the top advertising campaigns
of all time, the Sherwin Cody ad ran (largely unchanged) for more than 40
years, because it pulled in business. And why? Because most people make mistakes in English!
That doesn’t mean you and I have to do so. But we
can’t fix something if we don’t recognize it as broken. So let’s look at some
of the most common errors, with a view toward eliminating them in our
advertising and correspondence.
* ITS vs. IT’S
It’s is a
contraction of “it is,” whereas its is
the possessive form of the neuter pronoun. If in doubt, remember that there
should be consistency with its masculine and feminine counterparts. Think:
“his, hers, its,” or “he’s, she’s, it’s.” See how nicely they fit?
* DON’T ABUSE THE
Confusing possessives with plurals.
This is a close relative of the previous problem. I
alluded to it in the title of this article, writing “Mistake’s” instead of “Mistakes.”
This problem is so pervasive there are websites (e.g., www.apostropheabuse.com) dedicated to
exposing it. This more than any other error in punctuation makes the offender
look like … well, a hick. There, I said it. I’m sorry. But it’s true.
Honestly, if this needs further explanation, a class
in remedial English may be worth considering.
* THERE, THEIR, THEY’RE
One’s a place, one’s a possessive, one’s a
contraction. No reason to confuse or misuse them.
* ACCEPT vs. EXCEPT
The former means to take; the latter means to leave
out. Accept no exceptions.
* AFFECT vs. EFFECT
When used as verbs, the former means to
influence, the latter to bring about a result. Both also can be nouns with
distinct meanings of which you should be aware.
My words may affect your next blog post but their
effect remains to be seen.
* PRINCIPAL vs.
Principal means main or first in importance;
principal is also the title given to heads of schools or business partnerships;
it can also have a financial meaning. Principle is a rule, proposition or
* OF vs. HAVE
I would have preferred not to bring this up, but
whenever I see something like “I would of come to your party if I’d known about
it,” I want to throttle the person who wrote it, bless her heart. Need I say
* DIFFERENT THAN vs.
This will be a bone of contention in some
quarters but I side with the purists. Technically, one thing differs FROM
another. It does not differ THAN another. Therefore, my opinion will be
different from the opinions of others who don’t see the problem.
* PHRASEOLOGY 101
Beware mangled and
“one and the same” rather than “one in the same.”
Say “by and large” not “by
in large” (although if you’re giving somebody shopping instructions, as for
clothing, “buy in large” might fly).
intents and purposes” is correct; notice the symmetry between intent and
purpose. There’s no such thing as an intensive purpose.
So please don’t say “for all intensive purposes,” okay?
“one of a kind.” Literally (another much misconstrued word). Unique is not a
comparative. It is not a superlative. It is an absolute. Therefore, it is
incorrect to say that something is “more unique” or “one of the most unique …”
* JUST IN CASE, NO
When used as the subjects of a sentence, personal pronouns
are “he,” “she,” “I,” “we” and “they.”
When used as objects, direct or indirect, they are
“him,” “her,” “me,” “us” and “them.”
Be careful, if combining pronouns in a sentence,
to keep the cases consistent. For example, you might be inclined to say, “They’re
going to meet Sheila and I after work.” But it should be “Sheila and me.” Nor
should we say “Me and Sheila are going there after work.”
An easy technique to avoid these mistakes: Leave
Sheila out of it.
You wouldn’t say, “They’re going to meet I after
work” or “Me am going there after work.” It sounds stupid. Adding
“Sheila and” to the sentence won’t make it any less so.
We say “They’re going to meet me after work” or
“I am going there after work.” You can insert “Sheila and,” and these will
still be right.
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE
I keep quite a few resources on hand when I sit
down to write. Some, like my 30-year-old “Songwriter’s Rhyming Dictionary”(which, after the 1987 fire that
gutted the radio station, I had rebound) might not be useful to you unless you
are writing poetry or a radio commercial.
But I can recommend without hesitation two excellent
and accessible volumes:
“Eats Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne
Truss is an engaging read and a valuable guide to proper punctuation.
“Common Errors in English Usage”
by Paul Brians, a former Pullman resident and Professor of English at Washington
State University, is a gem. It will enable you to avoid the most common
pitfalls in spelling, grammar, pronunciation and usage.
Words, whether spoken or written, are the currency of
communication. Invest them wisely; spend them well.
Rod Schwartz, a 40-year radio advertising sales
veteran, is owner and creative director of Grace Broadcast Sales, a firm
providing short-form syndicated radio features, and an administrator at RadioSalesCafe.com,
a specialized networking site for radio advertising sales professionals. Reach
out to Rod: email@example.com.