Truly Spellbound

April 6, 2015

If you're like any respectable, God-fearing American who worships all things reality television but can't seem to find Minnesota on a map of the world, you get spellbound easily.  I mean, you get spellbound over the following:

  • How "Jersey Shore" managed to even be popular

  • How Oprah Winfrey gets eye-strainf from reading all the 0s in her bank account

  • How obsessed people are with bacon

  • How much taller can President Obama's older daughter can possibly get

It's okay to be spellbound by these things, I guess.  It's not okay to be spellbound over some embarrassing grammatical mistake that you made or that you stumbled across in your everyday reading.  (You do read every day, right?)


So here's the deal:  Grammar and spelling do matter.  You just can't write how the hell you feel like you want to write.  Well, actually, you can, but you'll end up being more embarrassing than Shaq trying to be a cop.


You have to pay attention if you want to keep a shred of credibility in your professional life.  I see this all the time in the work that I am reviewing.  Some of the errors are understandable:  You're moving fast to get something done, and you mix up a word or two.  Gotcha.  Other errors are just opportunities for me to take a screen shot and. . .wait.  Never mind.  Some of my clients are probably reading this blog.


So now it's time to list the top-three errors that come across my desk that leave me spellbound.  Try to keep your composure here.  You're a professional, remember?


#1:  Your versus You're


You don't want to make the distinction in a text message to your drug dealer?  No worries.  But make this mistake when you're writing a financial analysis for your employer, and you're pretty much guaranteed to lose credibility, not to mention screw up something royally for your company.  #UnemploymentLine.


Here's an example of how these words are confused and misused:

  • "You're attention to this matter is required."

  • "I know that your the only one who can create these complex formulas in Excel for me."

The only attention that is required is to the horrific grammar in the first sentence.  And the only thing that'll be complex for you is the unemployment form you'll have to complete when you're fired from you're job for clearly having lied about you're educational background during the interview process.  Liar.


Let's get to business.  "Your" is a pronoun and a possessive one at that.  What that means is that you use it when you want to show possession of something else.  In complex usage, it's used before a gerund.


"You're" is a contraction, meaning that it actually is "you" and "are."  Basically, at some point in the evolution of the English language, people got so lazy that they got sick of the strenuous labor of putting an "a" in "are."  So they decided to save time by removing one character--the "a"--and replacing it with another character--the apostrophe.  Apparently, there's an impressive efficiency gain in writing one character that takes one second to make versus another one that takes 1.0000001 seconds to make.  [Insert eye roll here].  Anyway, you use "you're" when you need a subject--"you"--and a verb--"are" or " 're."


Simple enough. 


#2:  Who versus Whom


The reality is that "whom" is dying and should be deprecated by this generation.  (One can only hope.)  So why in the hell are people trying to use it in everyday and business language?


If you must use it, please use it correctly.  If you don't, you will sound completely, utterly dumb.  I mean, following-a-GPS-off-the-cliff dumb.  In simple terms, "who" either connects one sentence to an incomplete sentence, as in, "That's the man who is going to the prom with her," or functions as the subject of a sentence, as in, "Who wants some food?"  It actually gets much more complicated than that, but we'll stop there. 


Yet this is what I'll often come across:  "I am the one whom will lead the meeting."  Seriously?  You couldn't even lead yourself out of a can of alphabet soup.  Just stop.


My suggestion:  Just use "who" all the time.  You'll save face.  If someone corrects you by saying you should have used "whom," you have my permission to call the person a pretentious douche, followed by punching him/her in the face.  [Insert legal disclaimer here].


#3:  Inappropriate Use of Reflexive Pronouns


I get it.  You want to sound super professional in the business world.  So instead of saying, "He'll give the proposal to Tameka and me," you instead say, "He'll give the proposal to Tameka and myself."  Yeah, no.


A reflexive pronoun is a word that reflects back on itself, as in "myself," "yourself," etc.  If you are the subject of the sentence and you want to direct the action of the sentence back to you, use a reflexive pronoun.  For example, "I gave myself a headache from all the screaming I did today."  "I" is the subject of the sentence.  "Gave" is the action of the sentence.  "Myself" is the word that catches it before it flows throughout the rest of the sentence, and it's the word that lobs it right back to the subject--hitting it smack-dab in the face.


So obviously, the usage in the first paragraph is just all out wrong.  My thought is that people think that reflexive pronouns sound regal, so they want to be a king or queen for the moment.  We already have enough of them in world.  We don't need pretenders to the throne, thank you.


That's the top three.  But trust me:  There are many, many, many, many more issues that I see that come to my desk, like missing transition words, adverb abuse, illogical writing, and run-on sentences.


The gist of this posting is to absolutely, positively, most definitely (superfluous language) make you feel self-conscious about your writing.  While we will always make mistakes when writing simply because language changes all the time and we won't always be up-to-date with the changes, let's still try to pay attention as much as possible.  You're paycheck will thank you.


I just saved your career.  Your welcome.

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