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TODD SMITH'S SPIN CYCLE — The five most common grammar errors that aren’t in the digital age

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

If you spend anytime in PR, you will encounter the self-proclaimed “Grammar Nazi” who wears the dreaded red Sharpie around his/her neck like a nerdy Flavor Flav. I should know, I’m one of those folks!

And despite the mind-numbing changes by the AP Stylebook that sometimes don’t need to be made, it is important to stay current on the latest editing trends.

For that reason, this week’s Spin Cycle will actually dive into some edits that don’t need to be made – to make your writing sharper, clearer and in a more active voice.

It’s okay. Take a deep breath and step away from the Sharpie.

1. Ending a sentence with a preposition. This is an undeniable truth in clarity. Writing has changed because of advertising and the Internet. Sometimes the preposition is best placed in the post. Imagine you’re writing a love note with the line, “You are the woman for whom I have longed.” The sentence looks incomplete, so she splits, never to be heard from again. Unless you want to sound like a stuffy professor, readers aren’t having it. And note the genius witticism by Sir Winston Churchill: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.” Got that?

2. Starting a sentence with a conjunction. If you have blogged, written copy, or even read online news lately, you have noticed something that has my high school grammar teacher pulling her hair out — a sentence that begins with and. Why? Because it works – and it has been a persuasive art form of journalism. And if you want to feel better about it, it’s a fact that no one has been able to find a book or authority that has ever proven the practice is wrong. Nonetheless, old-school English teachers feel this is unacceptable. Conjunctions join clauses. Give them a chance and they may surprise – and inspire – you.

3. Passive Voice. For the scorecard, active voice makes subjects do something while passive voice permits subjects to have something done to them. Active voice shows strength and passive feels less direct. However, the English language still has a need for the passive voice, which is why you shouldn’t kick it to the curb always. The passive voice is an important device for promoting the object of a verb in the case when the doer (the subject) is unimportant or unknown. Besides that, it can work if you use it correctly.

4. Plural Latin. Yeah, yeah. A bunch of doctors and lawyers use Latin and that’s it. Well, not so fast. PR people have the same issue to consider every day. How about the word data? If you are talking about one piece of research, isn’t that datum? Closer to home is the word media. That’s plural. How many times do you say, “Hey, my friend works at the medium.” You don’t, and it’s just fine. Media is plural but treated as a singular noun. And then you get the cat trying to be correct by saying “What mediums are you considering for outreach?” None — if you are asking correctly.

5. The Split Infinitive. The most notorious grammar slip in history arguably comes from Star Trek as we discuss “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” If you are Strunk and White, the answer would be putting that pesky adverb before the verb. People are offended by this sentence structure. They laugh at Captain Kirk. “Sure, he flies at warp speed but he did he even graduate 8th-grade English!”

Here’s the funny thing: No one really cares about the split infinitive any more because it has been used so much. And, well-crafted prose like the Star Trek tagline makes an impact and builds your brand. Feel free to ignore it altogether.

Subway’s controversial Halloween ad  smacks of scary sexism

Subway‘s most recent ad implies that people – “people” meaning “women” – should stay thin past summer because they have to look good in all those “sexy” Halloween costumes like “attractive nurse” or “hot devil.” This is a scary reminder that stupid marketing still abounds in today’s world.

The ads have been called sexist. Subway told the Today show “some people” (also women) are missing the “intended humor of the ad,” which is another way of saying, “We’re sorry you were offended.”

The Spin Cycle proposes the problem here is taste as much as sexism. And no, we’re not talking about the taste of the sandwiches.

Some media outlets are calling it “stupid and lazy,” not just because of what’s in the ad but because of what’s not: men, who also tend to go shirtless on Halloween.

Here we have a case where someone almost certainly saw the controversy coming but decided that generating buzz would be worth it. The brand has always marketed itself as a healthy alternative that can aid in weight loss efforts, á la Jared. And here’s a way, perhaps, to add an edge.

Equally problematic for this ad and others is that far too many people don’t understand the difference between “edgy” and careening into a deep ditch. The act of overstepping prompts customers to question not just a brand’s taste, but its integrity. Not cool to make a joke – at least in ads – at another person or group’s expense.

FYI, the ad has been removed from YouTube.

Buzzed Mic | Michael Phelps is drowning in out-of-the-pool behavior problems

Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history, with 22 medals (18 of them gold) from the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. And although he “retired” after the London Olympics, the guy is used to a certain notoriety. He loves the spotlight. But his out-of-the-pool behavior continues to get him into legal trouble. Recently, Phelps was stopped by police for speeding excessively and crossing double lane lines in Baltimore in the wee early hours. After a DUI and a good amount of public shame, Phelps decided to head to rehab. This isn’t Phelps’ first encounter with the law. He was arrested for DUI in 2004 and apologized for the incident later that day. Five years (and one Olympics) later, Phelps was caught hitting a bong at a college party and admitted he “was out of control.” Last week, he was found to be driving 84 mph in a 45-mph zone with a blood alcohol level “nearly twice the legal limit.” Obviously, these legal troubles and substance issues are a huge PR hit for the Olympic champion. When you compete for the entire United States, people expect more. Regretfully, the man who personifies the Olympics more than any other is not living up to those outsized expectations. For that Phelps, grabs a slightly off kilter Buzzed Mic. The Spin Cycle hopes he gets the help he needs.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

 

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

 

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2 comments

  1. From #5 above: “but he did he even graduate 8th-grade English!”

    Say what?

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