An editor's pipe dream: businesses using correct grammar

Antonia Morton, writing in the National Post, bemoans the poor grammar, mis-spelt words, improper sentence construction and missplaced apostrophes that seem to confront her in every example of commercial communication: wall poster, neon sign, menu, newspaper insert, or assembly instructions.

... What can be done? Some us [professional editors] fantasize wistfully that public opinion could force companies to smarten up. Perhaps the entire body of the Editor's Association of Canada (supported by an army of annoyed readers and consumers across the nation) could fire off snippy letters to offending presidents and CEOs: "I was shocked by your misspellings, your frequent subject-verb disagreements, and the complete lack of structural coherence in your text. I will never buy your products again unless you hire a decent editor."

... Not only would big business re-discover its grammatical self-respect, we editors would rediscover ours. We'd be vaulted to our proper place as guardians of linguistic propriety, and occupy positions of power, privilege - and wealth: clutching our style guides all the way to the bank." (not online)

What she doesn't seem to understand, either from professional irritation or subconscious elitism, is that most business owners do not have graduate educations in literature. They don't have on-staff editors. The furthest extent of their pre-publication quality control process is to ask the night guy at Kinko's: "What do you think?"

More importantly, businesspeople understand that, in some instances, grammatical inaccuracy can be forgiven if the price is right: $35 per room for carpet cleening is alright by me.

Any language evolves - particularly as it is buffeted by technological change and cultural evolution. For a small business owner, there is no need for an extraneous apostrophe, especially if it will mean another $25 added to the bill for the sign.

And really, where do consumers really expect accurate grammar? The library, a bookstore, or maybe Starbucks.

PR folk know Antonia's pain. We wage a battle on the plains of grammar almost everyday. But we don't fool ourselves into thinking our writing accomplishes anything more than pushing consumer goods, manufacturing processes, hi-tech toys, or government policies.

Luckily, we get paid well to acquiesce to irrational spellings, poor sentence structure and hyperbolic descriptions.

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