Word Crimes: don’t be that person

You’ve probably seen this, as it roars through social media, getting a lot of enthusiasm from word people:

Or watch it here.

Okay, it’s a fun song; it made me laugh.

But it’s a little bit evil.

Because it preys on a weakness we word people have: We think we’re superior to other people. The fact that we pay more attention to language gives us no right to label people who don’t as “dumb mouth breathers.” That’s just churlish. It shrivels your soul and probably makes you a weaker writer.

Grammar Girl says it best at Weird Al’s “Word Crimes” Video:

…appealing to the base instincts that I’m tired to the bone of seeing: The call to feel superior and to put other people down for writing errors. Prescriptivism sells. Encouraging people to rant against the “morons who can’t spell” sells.

“Word Crimes,” like most rants of its kind, makes no distinction between spelling, grammar, or usage errors and pet peeves, like “could care less” (which is not “wrong,” no matter how much it annoys you).

When you label people who don’t use English the way you do as dumb, you isolate yourself into a dreary and lonely fake-ivory tower. Your superiority will make it hard for you to love and respect your donors — most of whom are “morons” by the standards of “Word Crimes.” When you think that way, you have a hard time connecting with donors at a heart level. Demonstrating your superiority (and/or their inferiority) will limit the depth of connection you can make with them.

Beyond that, your peeve-driven beliefs will wall you off from some rich ways of communicating. You don’t want to have emojis or numbers used as words in your resume or grant application — but you might make powerful use of them in an email to your supporters.

So enjoy “Word Crimes.” But don’t be that person who believes it. It’s not good for you, your fundraising, or the health of a free society.

The real word crimes are things like lying, inciting people to hatred, or encouraging ignorance. In fundraising, word crimes are being abstract, sloppy, or self-centered. And the punishment is poor response.


Comments

2 responses to “Word Crimes: don’t be that person”

  1. Ever since I read “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English” by John McWhorter, I’ve lightened up a bit and reminded myself that English is an evolving language.
    Although… “loose” for “lose” still makes me cringe. I don’t know why that one bothers me so much, but I don’t correct anyone on it unless I’ve been specifically asked by them to proofread.

  2. Ever since I read “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English” by John McWhorter, I’ve lightened up a bit and reminded myself that English is an evolving language.
    Although… “loose” for “lose” still makes me cringe. I don’t know why that one bothers me so much, but I don’t correct anyone on it unless I’ve been specifically asked by them to proofread.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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