I'm normally pretty easygoing. But grammar and style errors to me are like nails on a chalkboard…they're beyond irritating; they're almost excruciating. Or like those wonderful MasterCard commercials where the carefully synchronized shopping experiences in a deli or a garden center are ground to a screeching halt by someone writing a check or using cash. Grammatical or punctuation errors literally stop me in my tracks when reading.
I actually found myself sending an e-mail last week to a team member who was the first I'd seen lately correctly spell the phrase, "sneak peek." I'd seen a whole flurry of notes that described a "sneak peak" or worse yet, "sneek peak" e-mail. Those who cherish language know that "sneak peek" is the accurate usage — and that something that's a peak would have a hard time sneaking anywhere at any time!
Another is that an idea needs to be "flushed out." Now I've seen rough concepts or ideas that need to be "fleshed out," as in we need to put the meat on the bones of a thought. If you're "flushing" something out, that means you've got a lot of, er, stuff to get rid of.
The misuse of "its" and "it's" is huge. "Its" is the possessive, as in, "the dog lost its ball." The contraction "it's" means "it is." But this misunderstanding is very pervasive. I actually work with someone here at Quixtar who changes the correct usage into the incorrect use — as in "The company is changing it's relationship with it's customers." You and I both know that sentence should read "its."
I was in a presentation of ad concepts the other day with placeholder copy that had a number of errors that I couldn't let stand — I had to fix them on the spot lest they find their way into another presentation. Why? Because they distracted me.
One of my favorite gifts to high school grads is a copy of Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style." The "White" is E.B. White, author of "Charlotte's Web." The "Strunk" is William Strunk, a Cornell professor who first privately published his musings on style in 1918. White later resurrected the work after Strunk's death with some of his thoughts and passion for proper style and usage. It's a slim, readable primer on grammar and an indispensible guide. Those who want something more contemporary might like "Eats, Shoots & Leaves," by Lynne Truss, a witty look at punctuation errors. The cover alone is hilarious. And if you don't get it, you need to read the book!
Another is Richard Tobin's "Tobin's English Usage." This one is a sentimental favorite of mine as Dr. Tobin, in addition to being the nephew of Ring Lardner and a writer who graced the pages of The New Yorker and other pubs, was one of my journalism professors at Indiana University. Your best bet for getting a copy is a used bookstore in a university town.
The arbiter of usage and style in Quixtar Communications is Marsha Hoffman, our esteemed copy editor. Marsha is our style cop and truly an expert in matters of punctuation, style, grammar, and usage. While Marsha is willing to discuss and debate the merits of the serial comma or the preferred or colloquial usage of certain words, she literally has the last word as she's the final pair of eyes to consider just about everything we do.
Nobody's perfect, and we all occasionally make mistakes. While I'm a fan of the serial comma, I'm not always consistent in my use. Sometimes it's a rush to get something out, or in the case of an e-mail, the feeling that a communication is fleeting or temporary. Our team is lucky to have Marsha as our guide for the communications destined for public consumption. As for the rest of the world, there's Strunk & White!