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Confessions of a grammar Nazi

I have to confess I am a bit anal-retentive when it comes to spelling and grammar. Typos just seem to leap out at my eyes (as long as they're not my own), and grammatical errors and loopholes make themselves known to me constantly.

I was reminded of this recently. A friend of mine works for a Very Large Company. Their most recent "rah-rah" in-house poster calls for all employees (I'm sorry, "team members" to "Make every customer's (Very Large Company) experience an outstanding one."

Two things immediately spring to mind:
1) "Outstanding" is one of those words like "exceptional" that have come to have positive connotations, but are in fact neutral. Something can be outstandingly good, outstandingly bad, outstandingly surreal, or whatever -- it just means very far from average. If every single customer's experience is a nightmare for them, then the poster's goal has been achieved.

2) If one interprets the poster to mean that every single customer experience is an outstanding one, then they have defeated the purpose of the poster. It's much like the ironic tag line of Garrison Keillor's stories of Lake Wobegon -- "Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." If all the experiences are outstanding, then by definition each is average. It will be the mundane, humdrum customer experiences that will be the ones that stand out.

Now, I understand the sentiment behind the poster, but this kind of flagrant grammar abuse is NOT the way to do it.


Comments (20)

Umm, Jay? I understand you... (Below threshold)
Mark A.:

Umm, Jay? I understand your point, but I thought you should hear what the Oxford dictionary lists as its first definition:

"Exceptionally good: The team's outstanding performance."

American Heritage list its second definition as follows:

"Superior to others of its kind; distinguished."

I think I'd back off this one if I were you. ;-)

Besides, "We hope that empl... (Below threshold)

Besides, "We hope that employees will act in such a manner as to maximize both corporate revenue and customer satisfaction" rolls off the toungue so much more easily...

I think you missed a comma ... (Below threshold)
John:

I think you missed a comma in the first sentence and a closing parenthesis in the second paragraph.

Ah yes. Teams. Corporate ... (Below threshold)
Dan Patterson:

Ah yes. Teams. Corporate life. The place where your only job is to make the boss look good, so if a poster is what they want a poster is what they get.

"We are comited to quality" (we are NOT committed to spelling)

"Customer service is our FIRST responsibility" (Well...That and kissing the bosses butt so I don't get canned.)

"Let me ask you this: In other words, what I mean to say is this...Hopefully we can have our customer interface/response/feedback compliant with the expectation level consistent to the customer need-base". Uh. Blah blah blah?

I guess if one is presented with nothing more substantial than cotton candy and bullsh%$, a slow but sure starvation can be predicted. Nice.

Dan

Perhaps they mean what they... (Below threshold)
Michael A:

Perhaps they mean what they say and truely desire each 'team member' to find a unique facet of thier customer dealings to make 'outstanding'?

"Adjective Diversity" is the new goal of VLC.

Not that I would defend cor... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Not that I would defend corporate motivational posters, but come on Jay. Words change over time. That is the nature of language. We would call this change in "outstanding" semantic amelioration (I believe "awesome" has gone thru similar changes). The opposite of course would be pejoration, in which a word acquires a more negative meaning. For instance, in English, the word "wench" used to simply mean woman, then gradually came to become an insult.

It is interesting that you say you are anal when it comes to spelling and grammar, since this is neither. It is rather semantic or linguistic conservatism, the belief of which is that language must remain static in order to remain understandable or have currency. All of human history tells us otherwise, but nevermind that.

The poster was probably the... (Below threshold)

The poster was probably the brain-child of someone from marketing. And that explains everything.

I agree that this usage wat... (Below threshold)
Vie:

I agree that this usage waters down the meaning of the word. One that I simply can not stand is the overuse of the word "revolutionary" in advertising. It seems anything new or slightly different is now "revolutionary", from coffee to cosmetics to cushiony toilet paper.

Btw Jay, I wonder how you b... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Btw Jay, I wonder how you became a "grammar nazi" without studying linguistics.

And also, I thought using the Nazi language was out, no? Or is that only for political discourse? In any case, I don't see anyone here jumping on Santorum for comparing Democrats to Hitler.

This reminds me of the old ... (Below threshold)

This reminds me of the old joke about the politician who promises that everyone will have an above-agerage income if he is elected.

You committed a grammatical... (Below threshold)
robboe:

You committed a grammatical error. If your friend works for "A Very Large Company," it's singular. You can't (properly) then write "Their latest poster...."

An outstanding post.... (Below threshold)

An outstanding post.

My company has signs that s... (Below threshold)
Governor Breck:

My company has signs that say we're "Obsessed with excellence" which makes me think that we're following excellence home, going through its trash, calling it late at night. Excellence is going to take out a restraining order compelling us to stay 500 feet away at all times. Dammit, if only excellence would realize that it *loves* us! Then we can be together with excellence forever! If we can't have excellence that nobody will!

I am known to my students a... (Below threshold)
goddessoftheclassroom:

I am known to my students as the Grammar Goddess (and the Goddess of the Classroom--hey, if Athena could be goddess of more than one thing, so can I).

I call the lcoal paper to point out errors in text (especially ads--I even call the business).

I've taken a red pen to Wal-Mart to corrct signs (especially using apostrophes to create plurals).

I can deal with "outstanding." I flip out over adverbs with "unique," i.e. "more unique."

Maybe I should offer my consulting services to Fortune 500 companies before their next campaign...

That's not really grammar, ... (Below threshold)

That's not really grammar, its vocabulary, Mr. Language Nazi. I'm the same way about people who misuse words, sorry ;)

Grammar error? No. In the ... (Below threshold)

Grammar error? No. In the example you cite, "outstanding" was used properly as far as grammar considerations are concerned. You are confusing the ultimate goal of language—the clear communication of meaningful content, or semantics—with structural considerations, grammar. (Spelling and typos, the other orthographic problems you say disturb you are problems of phonemes and phoneme analogs).

"Now there abide these three: phonemes, syntax and semantics; and the greatest ofthese is semantics."

While it is true that accurate spelling (orthography in phoneme representations) and good grammar (clear syntax or structure) do help communicate meaning (semantics) more clearly, conflating syntax and semantics signals fuzzy thinking about (and use of) language.

heh

This reminds me of when I w... (Below threshold)
SheriJo:

This reminds me of when I was a working for what is today one of the world's largest software companies. The company ran a campaign named "Quality First" for which we "team members" begrudgingly underwent quality-education training. The idea was to encourage us to work toward a goal of "zero defects."

To reinforce our training, cork message boards sporting a giant purple "Q" -- the Quality First logo -- were placed throughout break rooms, meeting rooms and common areas. The boards went mostly unnoticed since they were just more wall clutter added to the copious, crookedly hung motivational posters.

Then, a few weeks after the Quality First message boards had appeared, I noticed a note pinned to one that said "What's wrong with this logo?" Somebody had noticed the logo was printed backwards. The irony of the misprinted logo for a "zero defects" campaign was not lost on management. Each board dissapeared almost immediately, just like Quality First training, and was never mentioned by management again.

Always a problem to put you... (Below threshold)

Always a problem to put yourself out there like this when William Safire could be reading. But the critics above are correct.

Jay Tea, Feel free to corre... (Below threshold)
Zsa Zsa:

Jay Tea, Feel free to correct my errors anytime! Thank You
Love Zsa Zsa 000ooox

I must say i got here by mi... (Below threshold)

I must say i got here by mistake, but now i know it's destiny. Great site! Con Steal Bet - that is all that Boy is capable of: http://www.spongebobmovie.com/ , Standard Grass becomes Curious Tournament in final Steal Double Win - that is all that Mistery is capable of , Con Roll Forecast - that is all that Girl is capable of Lazy is feature of Central Circle




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