I have stolen this image from the Chicago Tribune’s online page, but I have only done so because it is the most effective image in illustrating my point. The image accompanies an article about two young men who travelled around the country correcting the typos made on professional and public signs everywhere. (The article is Here. I suggest everyone pop over for a quick peek.)
Their story is one that makes me laugh a little but also makes me realize how ignorant we are about the mechanics of the English language. It’s fine to admit you never memorized all the rules about when and where to use apostrophes. It’s fine to admit that maybe you never really learned “i before e, except after c.” Not everyone is expected to have perfect grammar. I know I don’t. But–yes, here comes the but–I do believe you should at the very least research the correct grammar and punctuation for messages you want to plaster across billboards, brochures, in instructional manuals or training guides, on advertisements in magazines or online (you are a business, after all.)
But recently I’ve noticed that I’m surrounded by bad grammar and punctuation. What puzzles me the most about this is the simple fact that I’m in an educational environment. (I’ve just started a new job at a community college.) As I walk down the halls, past the bookstore, into the union and cafeteria, I am bombarded by misspellings and typos that I only wish I had the nerve to correct. (Vandalization not really being an accepted form of improvement.) These are signs made by advertising companies, by the professors who teach here, by the staff who are there to provide tutoring and extra help. Even the catalog has numerous typos.
This is a fine institution, and so I wonder: Why all the errors? Are proofreaders so hard to come by? Or are they missing these very noticable mistakes themselves? I have physically cringed while reading some of the flyers that are distributed by the faculty here. As teachers, I expected something more from them. But when conference is spelled as it sounds: confrence; and when capitalization is occasional and punctuation nonexistant (except for periods,) I start to think maybe the problem is worse than I realized. These are the educated and professional members of our society. Couldn’t they use a dictionary to maintain their “intelligent” images?
P.S. For a fun look at how other countries mangle our language, stop by Engrish.com and have a laugh or two.