Typos and grammatical errors in public places spell trouble

"New York suffers in an era of error: Typos in signs are a scourge of the city." Catchy, isn't it? I wish I'd written it, but alas, it's the headline of a guest opinion piece I read in the New York Daily News on September 3 written by Jeffrey Deck.

"New York suffers in an era of error: Typos in signs are a scourge of the city." Catchy, isn't it? I wish I'd written it, but alas, it's the headline of a guest opinion piece I read in the New York Daily News on September 3 written by Jeffrey Deck.

Don't let the headline make you think this is just a Big Apple dilemma, either. It's nationwide - careless mistakes on store signs, billboards, menus, and the like. The kinds of errors you probably notice, but ones that only elicit a chuckle or shoulder shrug. Well, my dual role at PRWeek of industry observer and copy czar place me in a position where I feel compelled and confident to say: "That ain't write!" (I did that on purpose. Feel free to giggle.)

Deck offers some examples of store-window signs he's seen in Manhattan that highlight product offerings such as "incens" and "batterys." He continues by discussing a greeting card he came across that included the touching line, "Your very very special."

As someone who deals with copy every day, I find these errors not only embarrassing, but indicative of a general deficiency in the art of communications. My colleagues will surely back me up when I say I've seen one - or a thousand - too many press releases with ridiculous misspellings or errors in grammar. It's representative of the same lack of attention to detail that causes major chains and small shops alike to sell "microwave's" or "avocado's." (I must have missed the memo that possessive is the new plural.)

People make mistakes. Errors have even found their way onto the pages of this publication from time to time. I assure you, however, that every page of this magazine is proofed fanatically to ensure as few such gaffes as possible. I'd certainly hope that anyone responsible for crafting a document for wide viewing would take the time to ensure its accuracy, especially if millions of people might see it.

Am I making too big of a deal out of this? You could say that, but PRWeek readers represent the biggest PR agencies and corporations in the world. These simple, avoidable snafus can just as easily be found on a billboard on I-95 or the street-level window of a major retailer's one and only location in Small Town, USA. The local owner might have made the mistake, but he or she is representing the giant brand, thus making it the company's mistake.

The art of communications is evolving every day, but most of us would agree - last month's Gloves Off not withstanding - that good writing remains the backbone of PR. Unfortunately, such avoidable mistakes don't instill a sense that the written word is appreciated enough by those who should champion it. That is a serious error.

Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at gideon.fidelzeid@prweek.com.

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