Does good English matter in business?

Mar 14, 2016
It’s perhaps predictable that as a writer I believe that brevity of expression and the correct use of language are important. I frequently bore friends, relatives and colleagues alike about the sloppy use of the apostrophe, the ‘Oxford’ comma and compound adjectives.
I fume when I see public notices with glaring errors, especially when so-called professionals (writers, designers and printers) have been paid handsomely to produce them. And the modern compulsion for business people to write in meaningless marketing and management speak, in the belief that this somehow makes them appear more intelligent, drives me to the verge of insanity.  But is it only grumpy old pedants such as me who really care? Does it matter if traditions of punctuation, spelling and grammar fall into disrepair?

The English language is the most successful in the world. It is the language of choice for the Internet, international business, air traffic control and maritime navigation. Most of the four billion or so people who do not have English as a mother tongue are learning it as a second language. This dominance has come, at least in part, from the English language’s ability to assimilate words from other languages and adapt to fashion and linguistic trends. Surely, therefore, it could be argued that, if the wish of the masses is to do away with the straightjacket of accepted tradition it must, in the long term, be good for the language. Some might say that English is the only language that could accept such radical change and survive.

But I’m not quite ready for such a revolution. I might be more sympathetic if I thought that the appalling level of English I see, often from so called ‘well educated’ people, is intentional anarchism. Unfortunately I’m sure it’s just plain old ignorance. Very sad!

Of course, there is another dimension: social media. If writers fail to use The Queen’s English on Facebook or Twitter, does anyone mind? Clearly not. In fact Twitter was set up to accept only a handful of words at a time so linguistic niceties have little place there. And as this type of communication becomes increasingly important it is, perhaps, inevitable that the structure of the world’s favourite language will change.  

However, we are not there yet. Until it becomes acceptable for literature to be written in ‘text speak’, I shall continue to believe that the way a person communicates, both in the written and spoken word, is important.

If a company doesn’t care about its customers enough to make sure that its website and printed material are written clearly and correctly, they certainly won’t be getting any business from me.  It says, perhaps shouts, that they don’t care about detail, that near enough is good enough, and their customers will have to put up with theirSteve Jordan, Managing Director, The Words Workshop products and services being just ‘all right’, not ‘excellent’ as they purport.

Getting it right says that they care about detail, that quality matters and they have sufficient respect for their fellow man to make sure they are clearly understood. Isn’t that the image your company would prefer to give?

Steve Jordan
Managing Director, The Words Workshop