Does Speling Madder?!
“[I don’t] give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.” Bold, and surprising, words coming from one of our country’s most famous writers, Mark Twain.
With all due respect to Twain, we disagree. In business, spelling is more than the correct ordering of letters on a page – it’s your credibility, your professionalism, and your brand on the line.
In early February, The U.S. Department of Education was reminded of those stakes. Fresh off a controversial nomination of Betsy DeVos, the agency got itself in hot water with not one, but two successive misspelled tweets. The first, a misspelling of famous black writer W.E.B. Du Bois’s name (“DeBois”) in honor of Black History Month, the second offense extended their deepest “apologizes” for the original misspelling. Twitter erupted and overflowed with criticism that questioned the credibility of the DOE – not a great look for the department put in place to oversee our nation’s education system.
But, why does spelling matter? In a historical sense, the reliance on spelling is relatively new. A preoccupation with spelling did not begin until the Enlightenment, a time in which thinkers sought to pin down truths of the world, like the “right” and “wrong” ways to spell a word. Pre-Enlightenment writers, including Shakespeare, did not live under such constraints, as he manipulated spelling to fit his verses and peppered prose with invented words.
After all, language is alive and constantly in flux. English has been evolving, adding and subtracting prefixes, suffixes and meanings for centuries. Critics argue that English should do the same. Instead of adhering to arbitrary rules, we should allow it to evolve to meet our modern uses.
Theorists of Newcastle University think that evolution is already here, in the form of SMS or “text” language. It is a language most 21st century professionals are fluent in that arguably saves time in business communications with abbreviations and informalities. If abridged language communicates the same message and conserves time, then what is the point of taking time out of a busy day to triple-check spelling? Plus, there’s always spellcheck and autocorrect, right?
Well, maybe. If you’re comfortable communicating with your colleagues this way for the sake of the time, go for it. But, do so cautiously. The Newcastle University theory doesn’t always hold when it leaps off the page of a dissertation and into the real world of business. Spelling can directly impact your career; 64% of hiring managers said they respond negatively to even a single spelling mistake from job applicants. And, those strikes against a candidate can be the difference between a job offer and a ‘better luck next time’ email.
Incorrect spelling can inadvertently suggest laziness or lack of intelligence to an audience, harming credibility with business partners and clients. Studies show that the brand behavior that annoys social media users the most is incorrect spelling and grammar. In fact, online retailers report losing millions due to spelling mistakes. In a digital world, online appearance matters now more than ever.
Regardless of your audience, it’s clear that spelling matters – both to your personal brand and your company’s brand.