July 21, 2008

Grammar Matters

Every time I see a miserably misplaced modifier, a comma splice, or "every day" written as one word, I think about publishing my own advice column regarding language. Then I close the newspaper or magazine or sales flyer or business letter, and the urge goes away. Today, though, I found such an egregious error -- such a flaming fistule of an error -- that I can't overlook it.

Citi Smith Barney (the people who handle large sums of money and want people to trust their expertise) sent me a form I need to fill out, a Written Statement of Unauthorized Use because somebody I don't know has been putting charges on my card for something I can't identify and am not receiving. Near the bottom of the form is a declaration for me to sign that states, in part, "I understand that Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. and it's [sic]Smith Barney Division... may refer the same to the appropriate law enforcement agency."

The correct word there isn't "it's."

It's "its."

What is to be done about such errors? There's little to no recourse for those of us who are crazed by them. Have you ever called a company to report a spelling or grammar error on one of their forms? You can almost hear them rolling their eyes over the phone. (No, I'm not talking about Smith Barney. I'm talking about companies in general.) It's as though they're not taking me seriously, which is a bit unkind. I'm quite sensitive in this area; I don't even buy Real Simple magazine, because every time I see it on a shelf I get annoyed. Would it have killed them to name it Really Simple?

Any enterprise that begins in bad grammar can't possibly end well -- or it wouldn't if there were any mercy in the world.

To get back to Smith Barney, you'd think a major financial empire could afford a proofreader and would also understand the value. Our numbers -- we, the proofreaders of the world -- are legion, and we are a frightfully earnest folk. Perhaps we need a national crisis line that people can call to report misspellings, typos, and grammatical abuse. While we're fantasizing, let's imagine that the hotline staffed is well-paid, that they get stock options, and that one of their number sits on the corporate board.

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