The fastest way to look like an fool is to make simple mistakes. And, it won't matter how original your insights are if your audience turns off because
you look like one. Thought Leadership hinges on credibility which can be smashed in seconds. Learn how to avoid the top 7 traps that expose the Fools.
It’s a fine line between Pleasure and Pain
Mistakes in your written or spoken words demonstrate your ignorance, and ignorance is a tough handicap when you’re trying to reach, teach or preach to
people. Small slips can make your targets opt out of your email list, unsubscribe from your blog or vow never to visit your website again.
One of our former Prime Ministers – we’ve had a few lately - talked about fixing something ‘in one foul swoop’. A minor slip perhaps, but for many voters
it reinforced the suspicion that the PM wasn’t quite up to the job. ‘All great leaders are great readers’, an old saying goes. Donald Trump is a current
example of a leader who doesn't read. He watches TV instead and in place of writing, he tweets. Enough said.
Here are the most common mistakes that can sink your credibility:
- Mixed-up Apostrophe’s
From cappuccino’s to haircut’s - how often do you see that mistake, most of all in businesses advertising products? The grammar is really simple: apostrophes are never used to form a plural. Full Stop. The main job of apostrophes is to indicate possession: that is Frank’s car, not Karen’s. Their second use is in abbreviations: don’t tell me that you won’t help me. It’s 10 o’clock.
The it’s and its issue is related, and it’s even simpler: the kitten is cute; its eyes are so big it’s hard to believe. Its fur is softer than velvet. It’s true! ‘It’s’ is a contraction of ‘It is’; ‘its’ indicates possession.
2. The Less you know, the Fewer Mistakes you make
You wouldn’t think that two simple words could cause so much confusion, would you? Even journalists and newsreaders talk about less people, less trains and less players on field. Yet it’s quite simple: less applies to collective nouns like meat or food or tax; fewer goes with nouns that have a plural: She paid less tax since she had fewer assets; there were fewer birds than we’d expected, and they made much less noise.
3. Australia have lost the ashes
It looks like we’re losing this battle, even if it makes me cringe with pain. We hear it even on the ABC: The Brisbane Symphony are playing at Angel Place tonight. England have beaten Wales; Westpac have put up their interest rates; to raise their rating in the poles, the opposition changed tack.
An orchestra is a singular entity as is a country, a political party or a business. The Sydney Symphony has a new conductor; Australia is committed to an action; Westpac is a bank that has raised its interest rates. Simple, isn’t it? It’s different when the Tigers beat the Rabbitohs, of course.
4. More Singular Plural Confusion
Even tougher for most people is what follows the word NONE; most tend to say: ‘None of them were questioning this.’ Yet, whether referring to people or things, none means no one or not one. So the correct form is: ‘None of them was questioning this. None of these choices appeals to me. I’m sure none of these folks has ever heard this story.’
We have another mix-up, which looks like plain laziness: ‘There’s not many better Merlots made in this country,’ wrote a wine reviewer who tends to have a good grasp on the lingo. You hear it all the time now: there’s lots of cheap wines made in Australia …
And how often do we hear people say: they picked up their bat and ball and went home? Or: they have other things on their mind. They're all sharing
one bat, one ball and one mind, presumably.
5. Past Perfect – Anything but Perfect
I think this is an Australian thing, adding a gratuitous ‘have’ where it doesn’t belong. I hear it all the time on radio: 'If I had have worked harder, I would have passed that exam'...'If I had have known what I know now, I’d be a millionaire.’
The correct form is: ‘if I had worked harder' and 'if I had known.' Where does that stray ‘have’ come from? The Americans have trouble with the conjunctive
form as well. Some of them say: 'If I would of, I could of'. Good grief.
6. Herself, Himself and I Myself Personally
These filler words add nothing to our understanding of a sentence; they just make it longer and harder to read, but they're popping up more and more often - even if I say so myself. Examples: 'Actually it was Bernstein himself who conducted the first performance of Candide’ … 'that duck paté was made by Maggie Beer herself' … 'I myself personally prefer my whiskey straight'.
I’m struggling to think of just about any situation that needs these words. There are some: 'He hurt himself' ...'she pulled herself together'...I told myself'...'I was by myself'. The difference is clear: in these examples, we have to identify the object; in the previous examples, Bernstein is already identified by name so 'himself' is superfluous. Same with Maggie Beer - there's only one Maggie who makes duck paté down under.
7. Also too causes problems as well
This is another unique Aussie twist on the English lingo: I often hear people saying ‘also too’ when they add something to a conversation. ‘Also too, we’ll be in Melbourne that weekend, so we won’t be able to come.’ Or: ‘Also too, I have soccer practice on Thursday afternoon.’ Or: 'Also too, did you remember to bring some of that wine you love so much?’
These folks seem oblivious to the fact that ‘also’ and ‘too’ mean the same thing. So does ‘as well’. The only difference is that also is usually found at the beginning of a sentence, and too near the end (like as well).
Another Aussie special, I suspect, is the current shop assistants' habit of speaking in the past tense: ‘Did you have a Bunnings card?’ ...‘What was your name?’ ....‘What was your phone number?’... ‘Did you want another coffee?’... ‘Did you want fries with that?’ And so on.
On occasions I’ve said to the perpetrator, ‘Why are you talking about me in the past tense? I’m not dead, not yet anyhow!’ That usually elicits a puzzled look or a vacant stare, but never a glimmer of understanding. A bit like my occasional answer to a Aussie shop assistant’s greeting ‘Are you right?' which is: ‘To be honest, I’ve been wrong a lot lately.’ More vacant stares.
When I did my research for this post, I came across this paragraph in a Business Insider Australia article headed The 11 Most Common Grammatical Mistakes And How To Avoid Them. This is one paragraph that caught my attention (it's an exact copy):
‘This rule seems a bit counter-intuitive, but most plural subject takes verbs without an “s.” For example, “she types,” but “they type.” The pronoun agreement comes into play when when you add a possessive element to these sentences. “She types on her computer,” and “they type on their computers.” As a caveat, the pronoun “someone” requires “her or his” as the possessive.’
All clear now? And contact us if you'd like to be sure to win the War of Words. Our clients tell us we're pretty good at it.
Essential Reading: The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.
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