Being literate without being judgmental: the wordsmith’s challenge

By 12th August 2013Company Blog

You may find yourself rolling your eyes at those who use language more lazily than you do, but the chances are you also get annoyed at those uptight prigs who judge you for being sloppy with your own punctuation too.


The art of the wordsmith


The challenge to all those would-be wordsmiths in the communications industry is to be literate without being too judgmental.  We all need to have a certain amount of patience with those who play loosely with language; but on the other hand we must realise that in certain circumstances traditional rules do still apply.


Let’s be clear here, this isn’t about phrases or words getting lost in translation, or even regional pronunciations such as ‘holding down the fort’ or ‘erbs’; it’s about things that are likely to make you look foolish in front of clients, or lead to cases against you for crimes against the English language.


Below are some of my favourite examples to be aware of:


Irregardless: regardless of context, irregardless is not a word. You just mean regardless.


Loser and looser: go to any Internet message board and you’ll see some sledger ridiculing a rival as a ‘looser’.  This person is in fact the true loser


Antidote vs. anecdote: you share an anecdote with someone if you’re chatting. You only share an antidote with them if they’ve been poisoned


Specific and Pacific: one relates to something identified or particularized, the other, to a large body of water separating the US and Japan


You’re and your: this one is so common an error that I can almost imagine it becoming acceptable English. The former is you are, whereas the latter refers to something belonging to you


Its and it’s:  its/it’s is viewed even less negatively than your/you’re, mostly because auto-correct is more likely to be your accomplice in the linguistic delinquency


Mixing up adjectives and adverbs:  If you say, “I feel badly for you,” this suggests you’re not very good at feeling people. The use of badly arises because, ironically, some people think that it sounds more polished and that it thus must be correct.  In most cases, though, people use adjectives instead of adverbs out of laziness: “you run fast” being a typical example


So there you have it; there’s a subtle line to tread between sounding like a wise arse, or simply an arse, but for those in the communications sector it is an important one to be aware of and negotiate with care!

James Ash

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