P.S. Learn to Write

“Bad writing is killing America. Learn to write well.” ~ @petershankman

Recently on Twitter, I ran across a Livestream link to Peter Shankman speaking at a conference; heard him speak at Social Fresh last year and loved him.  Peter is funny, gets social, wrote a book called Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World, and just makes you feel good.  So I listened to him while doing other things, but when he got to his rule: Learn to Write, I clicked over to watch the Livestream.  He had written down some of the classics:  Your vs. You’re and Their, They’re and There, etc.  Decided then I’d write a blog post titled P.S. Learn to Write. (Get the double entendre? Ooh, I’m funny, n’est-ce pas?)  It actually took a few more things to make it happen, but first, my English teacher impersonation:

Your:  Indicates ownership or possession, e.g. “Put your shoes where they belong.”  Meaning:  Those shoes belong to you, but they sure as hell don’t belong there!  (See English can be fun!)

You’re:  Contraction for you are, e.g. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.”  Meaning:  Flattery will get you everywhere.  (See English can be fun!)

Their:  Indicates ownership or possession, e.g. “Their yard is amazing, isn’t it?”  Meaning:  “Why doesn’t our yard look that good?” (wife) or “Jeez, I wish our yard looked like that!” (husband)  (See English … OK, you get my drift!)

They’re:  Contraction for they are, e.g. “They’re spending the summer in the south of France.”  Meaning:  Um, they’re very lucky!

There:  Usually a place, e.g. “I’ll see you there.”  “Put them over there.”  “I would love to go there!”

The one that’s bugging me enough to write this post (before the mishaps below) is how people caption their photos on Facebook and Twitter.  A basic rule of thumb for when to use I or Me:  Say it without the other person and you’ll instinctively know the right grammar!  For example, “I’m going shopping.”  “T and I are going shopping.” “T invited me to go to the south of France with him.”  (Yes, please!)

So for pictures:  Let’s say we’re at the beach, the caption would read, “T and me at the beach” or simply, “T and me.”  It’s never “T & I at the beach.”  If T weren’t in the photo, I wouldn’t write, “I at the beach.”  If it’s a picture of me alone, I can write, “Here I am at the beach,” or “Me at the beach,” or simply, “At the beach.”  Most photos I see have captions that read, “Dick, Jane, Spot and I.”  Correction:  “Dick, Jane, Spot and me,” because if you remove Dick, Jane and Spot … it’s just me (not I)!  Unless you write something like, “Dick, Jane, Spot and I went to the park and had a blast!” because removing them would still result in proper English, “I went to the park and had a blast!”

OK, so while that has made me want to go all Grammar Police, the following things happened in May:

1.  A friend posted this headline from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper to his Facebook profile.  I immediately spotted the mistake and commented, “Where have all the editors gone?”  The headline was published with the word ‘Politically’ spelled wrong.

2.  An agency advertised a freelance social media position, so I checked out the website where I found the word ‘Article’ spelled ‘Artcile’ and the hyperlink didn’t link to the intended article.  It immediately made me question the agency’s quality of work.  When I recently rechecked it, the entire segment was gone.  Not linking here though because my copywriting skills could help them!

3.  Someecards posted this picture to Facebook yesterday and while I liked the sentiment, I couldn’t help but correct the grammar before reading the other comments.  Turns out half of the comments related to the grammar!  Affect = influence, effect = result; sign should read, ” …. affect me … affect you.”

4.  The coup d’état of grammatical/editing errors occurred on Mitt Romney’s mobile app where America was spelled ‘Amercia.’  Either Mitt was giving a big shout out to the role the CIA will play in his government, or somebody working on his mobile app clearly wasn’t paying attention!

So, does any of this concern you?  Is it just the overzealous English major in me?  Or journalist in Peter?  Is it simply that everyone is moving so fast to meet a deadline that no one reads their final version?  Or is it indicative of a larger shift within our culture?  Sure, people’s Facebook pages and Twitter profiles are their own, but these other examples are from major brands:  a newspaper, an agency and the Republican presidential candidate.  What’s really weird is the analyst in me identified that the three examples above all involve the letters I and C … so should we change “mind your Ps & Qs” to “mind your Is and Cs?”

I wonder if in ten years we’ll officially use ‘your’ interchangeably like people already do?  Will it become acceptable for brand documents, websites, apps, etc. to contain grammatical errors/typos?  Am I just being a priss ass?  Or is my brother Jeff right; I should have been an English teacher?  The truth is, I agree with Peter:  We all need to learn to write well!

Please comment below:  Is our country in dire straights when it comes to writing or are we just communicating at such a pace there are bound to be errors?

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6 Comments on “P.S. Learn to Write”

  1. Don’t forget… How much you love that!
    Your going to have to teach people how to use they’re spell check!
    Great post!

  2. Jeff says:

    LOVE it and sharing it! Unfortunately it is all too common for people to either not know or not care. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish, but I feel they should both care and know.

    A classic example, and one that makes me cringe, is a friend of mine who touts herself as a WRITER (she uses all caps, indicating and pontificating this is her JOB; she gets PAID TO WRITE). I have a PhD in physics, not generally known for grammar and spelling, but also have a strong liberal arts education. I find her ‘typos’ in all of her articles and posted reviews. When I mention them to her, she calls them ‘typos,’ although it is clear ‘there/their/they’re’ are not clear in her mind and ‘your/you’re’ are not distinguished. Her response is, “My job is to get the thoughts on paper; the editor/copywriter’s job is to make sure the grammar is correct.” WTH?? A self-proclaimed writer who has decided poor grammar and ‘typos’ are OK because it’s not her job? The world may be coming to an end.

  3. Karen Baglin says:

    The following sentence reminded me of something I wanted to include in this post: “These forces converge to bring a rapid working of “fate”, swarming us with all the karma that needs to be cleared …” My beef is with the punctuation around the quotes; it should be: “These forces converge to bring a rapid working of “fate,” swarming … ” For everyone (in America anyway) here are the rules: http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/quotes.asp. Why do I say in America? Read on: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-to-use-quotation-marks


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