The following post first appeared in 2010:
Yesterday was National Grammar Day — “March Forth” is the punny slogan/mnemonic — and while the well-ordered, fastidious nationwide observations should have tipped me off, I missed it. Notwithstanding, here’s my short meditation on the enduring utility and necessity of speaking and writing well.
Many logophiles and armchair grammarians of a certain age have a special affection for the old Reader’s Digest feature “Toward More Picturesque Speech.” As a child, for me it was not just a vocabulary building exercise to spice up my school essays, but also the start of a lifelong adventure, in the way that all serious collectors and connoisseurs relish the search for, discovery and display of rare and exquisitely crafted items.
Yes, there was some adolescent know-it-all-ism in there too, but over time I came to realize that grammar — like manners — is ultimately about making people feel comfortable. So even now, in the age of 140-character, thumb-typed communication, attention to spelling, usage and grammar are valuable because they make for clear, easy and enjoyable reading, and they inform the way others perceive your personal and professional brand.
- Sloppy writing conveys inattention to detail. What does that say about the quality of the product or service you’re selling?
- Glaring mistakes trip the reader or listener, and distract them from your message. A few days ago I was reading a post by a relatively well-known law marketing blogger and encountered the phrase “for all intensive purposes” — and that’s all I remember about it.
- Tolerances vary widely. Even if some — or even most — friends and business associates don’t care about spelling, punctuation and the occasional mangled sentence, some will. Is irritating or alienating even a small fraction of your clients due to lazy communication an acceptable loss?
For the record, I don’t profess to be a grammar expert or master prose stylist, and I am certain that martinets in the gotcha brigade could pick this post to pieces. Rather, for very concrete business reasons I am advocating vigilance and continual improvement in written and oral communication. Presentations and writing are products. Regardless of the power of your ideas, the color, fit and finish also matter, because they differentiate and distinguish your brand.