Monday, September 20, 2010

Twitter's Grammar Police

Guest post by Dr. Sandra Folk

Real Estate Company Tweet:"Fantastic 3 brdm condo available if you act qwik"

Grammar Police Response: "Fantastic lack of interest in anything requiring 'qwickness'."

Believe it or not, there really are "grammar police," people who spend their time pointing out the spelling and grammar mistakes others make on Twitter. They have Twitter names like Grammar Hero and TwEnglish.

Since Twitter only allows sentences that are 140 characters long it lends itself to shorthand and odd spellings, but the "grammar police" don't think that's an excuse for improper use of the English language. This is true even (or maybe especially) when it involves someone famous.

Take actor John Cusack, for example. Cusack's Twitter feed has been attacked by these self-appointed guardians of grammar for misspelled words, for instance his spelling of the word "hypocrite." (In one tweet he turned it into something sounding like a relative of a well-known African mammal - the "hippocrite.") As for Mr. Cusack, recently he became so annoyed by the constant jibes about his careless spelling that he started deliberately misspelling words, just to bait his critics.

From a distance it's pretty amusing. But if you're using Twitter for your business, or you're an employee tweeting for your company, being attacked in Twitter is no joke. It makes you look bad to others in your industry. Perhaps more importantly, poor use of grammar and spelling mistakes may convince potential customers to go elsewhere.

Of course whenever there is a new method of communication inevitably there are attempts to redefine how language and grammar are used. We've seen that with email, texting, and now Twitter. But just because Twitter is fast and fun, when you're using it for business purposes it doesn't pay to get sloppy. So here are a few things to avoid:

  1. Don't write in CAPS. As with email, it is the equivalent of shouting.
  2. Use recognizable industry shorthand, (such as bdrm. for "bedroom" in a real estate tweet), but don't invent words. They may strike you as amusing, but they may also confuse your reader. Remember, the function of grammar is to clarify communication.
  3. Don't misspell words. Spelling mistakes indicate a lack of attention to detail, and attention to detail is what we all want from those with whom we do business.
  4. When it comes to using the latest fun Twitter jargon be judicious. Signing off by saying "Tweetcha' later," might be funny to you, but there's a fine line between funny and cutesy, and being cutesy in business communication is probably not something you want to chance.
  5. Remember, Twitter is a kind of conversation. Don't write something in a tweet you wouldn't say in person, or communicate in an email.

It really all comes down to this - do you want to risk alienating people by playing fast and loose with spelling and grammar? I'm pretty sure the answer to that question is a resounding "no," not unless you want Twitter's grammar cops (excuse me, I mean police) coming after you.

Dr. Sandra Folk is a Toronto-based educational consultant and award-winning university lecturer. She set up The Language Lab specifically to help business executives and employees write and express themselves more effectively. Find out more at

1 comment:

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