March 20, 2012

It’s/its how “shoot me now” errors kill

I was just in an online discussion with other brand naming professionals, and one participant misused “it’s” for “its” … twice.

I concluded he was a nincompoop and stopped reading what he had to say. Was I being unfair? Not really. This was a group of language professionals discussing issues, not a bunch of knuckledraggers blathering on some football blog, or trolls fulminating against a politician.

No, “shoot me now” errors identify who wasn’t paying attention in elementary school: it’s/its, there/their/they’re, to/too/two. You’re expected to nail down those homonyms by your 11th birthday. By your 12th you should have ditched the apostrophe plural. By your 13th, add in lose/loose, peak/peek/pique, accept/except. (And remember them until your 99th.)

Few people bother to edit themselves when they get in Ol’ Spontaneous Me mode, assuming everyone will accept a little grammatical sloppiness. That’s probably true for misusing a semicolon, but not for using “alot” or “irregardless” as real words. Use them, and you’ll be condemned to nincompoop city by some percentage* of the readership, guaranteed.

Hey. Typos happen. Nobody’s immune. But if you make some effort to proofread and edit, at least you should avoid the Shoot Me Now sins, so people will read what you’re saying without stopping to marvel at mistakes. It will keep you out of our Cover Letters From Hell, too.

If this is less than crystal clear to you, then you need to turn to the great (if hilariously rude) explainer of such matters, The Oatmeal.

*What percentage of people will cringe if you confuse “less” and “fewer”? A smallish number. What percentage will sneer at you for unpunctuated ramblings? A larger number.

More important: what percentage of your audience can you safely ignore as grammar crazies or ivory tower purists? None of them. Why give yourself permission to be careless? What if, among those you dismiss as curmudgeons, there is one person who might be important to you?