Spelling. Who cares wins

March 9, 2011

I was driving through a notoriously rough area of South Bristol a few months ago when I saw a sign by the side of the road, with the words LOOSE WEIGHT. Beneath this headline were the contact details for a slimming class.

This made me laugh, as it was a spelling mistake that was also, unintentionally, correct – those who need to lose (verb, action word) weight are carrying loose (adjective, descriptive word) weight…as in wobbly, drooping, flaccid, limp, baggy.

Since then I’ve seen the same mistake (loose instead of lose) repeated in a number of different contexts – it’s obviously a word people have difficulty with.  This then begs the question – does it matter?

Spelling blunders are bad for brands

If the mistake is on a poster in a particularly rough area of south Bristol, and is for a class being offered by an independent slimming person, then no, it doesn’t matter.  Many of those in that area of the city probably won’t notice (whilst this may appear be politically incorrect few who know the area would argue) and the poster was not for a recognised brand.

If, however, the poster was in the city centre, and was promoting Weightwatchers, then the mistake would matter – there would probably be a higher proportion of people who’d notice, but more importantly there is a recognised national brand whose carefully constructed image would slip a couple of notches in the estimation of the literate public.

Work with words? Get it write*

If you go the website of your local builder and spot a spelling mistake it probably won’t bother you – they are paid to construct extensions and fix roofs (or should that be rooves?!  Spell check says rooves is incorrect, but I looked it up and it is a “disputed plural”, ie both spellings acceptable).  So, in this instance, an inability to spell is unlikely to bother potential customers.  The same probably goes for the local car mechanic, locksmith or hairdresser.

But what about a solicitor?  A very prominent firm in the South West (I’m not going to name them – they make a living from litigation!) ran a series of full page ads in a local business magazine – with a prominent spelling mistake.  I rang them, spoke to a rather embarrassed but unfriendly partner, and discovered the ads had been produced by a design agency client of mine (oops!).  In this instance spelling matters hugely.  Points of law hinge on the words, and attention to detail is crucial, so any mis-spelling will put a major doubt in your mind as to their professionalism and competence – and hey, when you are paying £200, maybe £300 an hour, is a basic level of literacy too much to ask?

OMG – I don’t believe it!

Then there was the copywriting agency I occasionally do work for (did).  They are industry leaders.  On the home page of their website the headline is “it’s all in the…detail”.  A while back, in their monthly newsletter, they featured their proofreading service.  As soon as I saw the article I made a little wager – I bet myself I could find a spelling error.  Amazingly, I won – and the piece was only about 50 words long!  Does it matter in this instance?  Silly question.

0/10.  Must try harder

My 15 year old son, reading this post over my shoulder, reminds me that the most recent example of “loose abuse” he spotted was in the leaflet from the district council explaining what behaviour was expected of him on the school bus…with a reminder not to loose his annual pass.  Just what you need when you are trying to persuade your kids to take their homework seriously.

What do you think?  And what’s the most damaging or hilarious piece of

mis-spelling you’ve spotted recently?


*NB, if you notice any in this post, that’s entirely intentional – I just want to see who is an attentive reader (best get my excuses in early!).

  1. Anna-Maria March 10, 2011 Reply

    greetings, awesome website, and a fairly good understand! just one for my book marks.

    • Jim March 11, 2011 Reply

      Hi Anna-Maria, glad you like! keep in touch, Jim

  2. Simon Loveday May 3, 2011 Reply

    Jim - great articles. Where did you get the SOTP from??? Nice balance of pragmatic and ethical. I'll keep coming back for more!


  3. Simon Loveday May 3, 2011 Reply

    PS - only error I've noticed so far is the lack of spacing before and after the ... . However, I'll have another look!


  4. Jim May 7, 2011 Reply

    Hi Simon, sorry for slow repy. Image was from istock. Cheers, Jim

  5. Andy Neilson June 2, 2011 Reply

    Here's a great mis-spelling I saw recently in Birmingham (link below), doubly amusing because of the sheer scale of it.

    Simply astonishing that no-one thought to check this message for spelling before putting it on a 20-foot banner and hanging it on the very building they're trying to sell property in!


    • Rob Wright November 5, 2012 Reply

      Even the apostrophe in 55's is incorrect - but how many people would know these days.

      Rob Wright

  6. Jim June 2, 2011 Reply

    Hi Andy,
    That's brilliant! Also, I get the impression that the over 55s (no apostrophe - that's another mistake!) are pretty hot on their spelling, so given that target audience it's even worse.

    Many thaks for that,

  7. Rob Wright November 5, 2012 Reply

    My favourite misspellings are these.

    On Thursday mornings, clients at our seniors' village can enjoy carpet bowels.

    We open the commercial with a shot of a young (25) lady pulling back the curtains and peeing out of the window. (Should've been peering - I guess).

    (Name of famous golfer) dropped his second shit in the water and ended up with a double birdie at the fifth.

    Non were spotted by either writer, editor or proof reader - assuming there was one.

  8. Rob Wright November 5, 2012 Reply

    Andy. Sorry to be a pain but no apostrophe in 55s is correct but why the apostrophe in it's? It's - with an apostrophe - means 'it is.' It's the exception to the rule

  9. Rob Wright November 5, 2012 Reply

    Andy. Ooops! You're right. I'm wrong. It's late in Perth WA right now and I admit to misreading your contributioin. Sorry.

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