The importance of the small stuff

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Cork is a city in which new cafés, bars and restaurants seem to spring up each and every day, particularly in the last few years, so I tend to keep my eyes peeled as I cycle through the city for the latest hotspot. Last week, a new café caught my attention; very cute and cosy, and right by my house too! Interest piqued, I pulled up onto the path to have a proper look inside, and was greeted with the following sign in the window:

“Delicious homemade cakes, artisan coffee’s and refreshing tea’s. Open Monday to Saterday.”

Call me a language snob (it may not be too far from the truth), but I’m sure some of you will understand all too well why I got right back on my bike without a second glance, and haven’t been back there since.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” – It may well be a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It’s extremely important, especially in a highly competitive environment, to never underestimate the power that language can have, for good or evil! As a potential customer, when I see content littered with mistakes, I find it hard to trust the related product. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. Think about it; if you can’t be bothered to get your content right, it doesn’t say much for your attention to detail elsewhere, does it? Nor does it bode well for how professional you are in general, or speak to any real pride in what you’re selling.

While my personal bugbear is the possessive apostrophe (you don’t have to drop them in every time you see an “s”, people), there are plenty of little things that can make the difference between attractive content and content that makes potential customers keep on walking.

How about the humble comma? As you may have noticed, I’m quite the fan! Many of you will have heard the standard “Let’s eat, Granny/Let’s eat Granny” example plenty of times before (the comma constituting the difference between a lovely family dinner and something far more sinister), but there are many other examples of text where a comma can drastically change meaning; how about:

CAUTION

BE CAREFUL OF PARASAILING

HORSES AND BUGGIES

ON THE BEACH

Any ideas as to how a few well-placed commas could improve this beach-side sign?

Or the now infamous magazine cover on which a US celebrity was described as finding inspiration:

IN COOKING

HER FAMILY

AND HER DOG!

Hyphens are another “small” thing, best known for keeping myriad copy-editors awake at night. And, while it may seem silly to talk about the difference between a “man-eating shark” and a “man (who is) eating shark”, what about the self-conscious business people you could alienate by talking about “small business owners”? Or, at a more practical level, think about the difference between “twenty four-hour shifts”, “twenty-four hour shifts”, and “twenty-four-hour shifts” – not a confusion you’d like to migrate to your pay packet!

And now for the really exciting bit: wait for it… prepositions!

No longer the remit of second-language learners, native English speakers too are becoming increasingly unsure of the difference between “than” and “from”. “Walking into the house” is not the same as “walking in the house”, and applications are hosted in the cloud, not on it! Equally, though neither statement is likely to end in cuddles and hugs, not caring for someone’s opinion is a very different prospect to not caring about it.

This is just a whistle-stop tour of the little things that make a big difference to your content. One of the first, best, and easiest ways to market your product is to show pride, professionalism, and attention to detail in the content you create. It’s not just about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s anymore; it’s about embracing the comma, understanding the hyphen, and, for all our sakes, mastering the use of the possessive apostrophe.

Valerie Healy
Creative Translation Lead