Tuesday, June 28, 2011

But for the apostrophe, it was a perfect lunch

Any student in the Creative Communications program at Red River College, where I teach PR, will tell you we're a little bit nuts about accuracy and grammar in writing. Whether you're majoring in journalism, advertising or public relations, it's pretty tough to build a successful career if you can't write properly.

Misspell a proper name in our program and your assignment gets an "F," no matter how brilliant it is otherwise. Sound harsh? Maybe... but not if you're a working communications professional. I've thrown more than one resume/cover letter into the recycling bin after seeing the company name misrepresented: if you can't spell the name of the company correctly in that high-stakes document, I'm guessing you're not that careful on the job, either.

In the PR major, every typo or glaring grammatical error costs you 10%. Guess how long it takes PR majors to dramatically cut down on the number of grammatical errors in their assignments in my class. [Answer: not long.]

Why does it matter so much?

In our business, credibility is vital, and clean writing contributes to credibility. Whether you realize it or not, errors in grammar and spelling send a message to your audiences, and that message is "I'm not really polished, and maybe not as professional as I should be."  A journalist who commits grammatical errors will raise the ire of his/her editor (if the editor is worth his/her salt, that is); a newspaper or news site containing more than the occasional error will be harder to believe than one offering accurate, polished writing.

In PR, our employers often count on us to write and to be the last set of eyes on organizational documents before they're released to the public; if our writing is strewn with errors, the company's image takes a hit.

Today's lunch

Today, I was treated to a delicious lunch at one of Winnipeg's finer restaurants. I had only been there once before, years ago, shortly after it opened: it's a high-end steakhouse, and as I remember it, featured a staff member at dinnertime offering guests "le tour du boeuf," a platter displaying the impressive cuts of beef on offer that evening, complete with a full explanation of their exceptional quality. It was pretentious, but then, pretentious can be fun (especially if you're in what Oprah calls a chi-chi-poo-poo restaurant with a gift certificate). 

It was a lovely environment, and my husband and I were both very much enjoying our little taste of the high life for an evening.

But then, it happened.

As I read the menu, I noticed glaring errors in the French, and the spell was instantly broken. As I remember it, it was like the needle being dragged across a vinyl LP mid-song: what had moments ago felt like a special evening in a special environment now had the feel of little kids playing dress-up in their parents' formal clothes.

Fast forward a decade or so, to today, at lunch.

I had recounted this story to my friend when we made the date, and we'd laughed together about it (she's a PR guy too, and an excellent writer). Today, we sat on the beautiful terrace on a gorgeous day, and enjoyed a delicious lunch together. A duck and her ducklings waddled along the grass past the terrace. And the menu didn't contain a single error (that I noticed, anyway). I greatly enjoyed my lunch, and vowed not to wait so long before coming back the next time.

Shortly before we left, I walked to the ladies' room laughing at myself for having been so anal about the typos in the French.

And then, having reached my destination, I stopped and stared at the engraved brass sign on the door.



  1. Speaking of wrong accents, check out this correction in yesterday's Free Press:

  2. I know the attention given to proper writing while in CreComm definitely made my writing improve. It may be sink or swim, but those who stay afloat at the end will reap the rewards of being recognized as a professional.

    DM, I had to use the "Report Error" button on the WFP website a couple of weeks ago when a writer had spelled, "Leo Mol," using tow "L's" in his last name. I found it hard to comprehend how that error slipped past the gate.

  3. Be thankful it was only an apostrophe that was misused! I think the situation would have been much worse had they misused quotation marks - particularly on the menu. Imagine if you had opened the menu and had to choose from items like a Porterhouse "Steak" or a Grilled Ahi "Tuna". Scary!(I'll never forget the class you dedicated to telling us what not to do in our writing!)