08 May 2014

Is Bad Grammar Harming Your Brand?

Billy Connolly once said: “There’s no such thing as bad language, only bad use of good language.” Whether you agree with the Scottish comedian or not, bad grammar seems to be increasingly all around us – from office emails to the slogans of multinational companies.

That’s why The Idler Academy runs an annual Bad Grammar prize. The academy, an extension of the quirky magazine, runs courses on diverse subjects from ukulele playing to philosophy.

It has now announced its candidates for the 2014 Bad Grammar award. The Bad Grammar gong was established to draw attention to wrong English use by institutions and groups who really should know different.

Every little grammatical accuracy helps

Heading the “grammar-criminals” list is Tesco – on two counts.

The supermarket giant not only called its orange drink “most tastiest”, it also said in relation to amounts of toilet roll packaging: “Same Luxury. Less Lorries”. This is the second time in recent years that Tesco has fallen foul of the “less/fewer” conundrum. In 2008 it ditched its “10 items or less” checkout sign in favour of “fewer” after complaints from grammar groups.

The Idler Academy’s Tom Hodgkinson invited Tesco chairman Sir Richard Broadbent to attend one of its grammar academies free of charge. The BBC’s Jeremy Paxman, one of the judging panel, accused Tesco of “sheer and clear stupidity”. The NHS features prominently in the “language-crime” hall of shame too.

The Idler Academy also found the NHS scoring two own-goals, for confusing object and subject as well as rogue apostrophe misuse. These came in a letter “Your appointment has now been organised to attend Queen Mary’s Hospital” and “The RDC Suite’s are clearly signposted”. The Army Careers Office was found to confuse “you’re” with “your” in its window recruitment signs.

Possibly most embarrassing of all, however, was the grammatical transgression “Great taste on it’s way”. What compounded this one was that it came from the Apostrophe cafe chain.

Name and shame

But slogans aren’t the only things falling foul of grammatical clangers. Even the brand names themselves include awful punctuation and spelling. Dunkin’ Donuts, Froot Loops and Chick-fil-A are three names that spring to mind. This practice extends to the tech industry with Tumblr and Flickr leading the way, suggesting that incorrect spellings are not only deliberate, but trendy.

Benefits of a style guide

All the above emphasises the importance of having a detailed style guide in situ for consistency’s sake. No decent news website or paper would launch without having one in place, so why should your business?

An effective style guide will allow you to develop your localisation kit – including glossaries and other references for use on your multi-language content.  This will allow you to maintain consistency and keep your costs down. After all, if a huge company such as Tesco can get its grammar wrong more than once in its native language, then think of the potential for pitfalls when translating for overseas audiences with different cultural values.

This is where a tried and trusted translation agency can really help. It can help you develop your style guide, and offer a human approach to getting your grammar, tone and syntax spot-on.

Companies who do business abroad can save time and money by reducing the amount of corrections which have to be made in reviewing procedures and therefore avoid publishing delays. A style guide for your company will help you develop cross-border messages that won’t get lost in translation … or ridicule.


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