Great Writers Who Flunk Grammerly

Grammar isn't style. Bad style is what you witnessed on the now-defunct reality show Duck Dynasty.

I'm talking about improper noun-verb agreements, fragmented sentences, wrong word usage, dangling modifiers, ad nauseam. Bad grammar is absolutely everywhere.

Honey Boo Boo. The Kardashians. Even Anderson Cooper, for Chrissakes. There are many examples of celebrities and politicians with bad grammar in the media.

So, why the heck does it matter?

Really bad grammar is a problem. People with good grammar get promoted more and are even more likely to find true love.

Businesses want to hire writers who can write grammatically because they think being grammatically correct is good.

But, sometimes, being ungrammatical is perfect.

Examples of  great (ungrammatical) writing

James Joyce is considered one of the "most influential writers of the 20th century." (Source: Wikipedia). I ran a random paragraph from his masterpiece, Ulysses, through the online grammar checker Grammarly. There were 23 grammar and punctuation errors within one page.

Ernest Hemingway's "perfect paragraph" from A Farewell to Arms has 18 errors plus two punctuation mistakes.

Then there is the short article, Fear & Loathing in America, by the father of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. Dr. Gonzo had 11 errors in Grammarly.

How about John Caples, possibly the greatest direct response writer of all time? His legendary "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano" had 30 Grammarly errors, including one misspelling.

One of the most famous headlines ever written by adman David Ogilvy (“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”) is missing a comma after "hour."

"Think Small" (Julian Koenig's landmark 1958 campaign for Volkswagen) and "Think Different" (Craig Tanimoto of  TBWA Chiat Day's 1997 slogan for Apple) are both ungrammatical – and both became marketing beacons.

All of the following are ungrammatical or nonsensical, and all of them are great slogans:

  • Got Milk?
  • Built Tough.
  • A Diamond Is Forever.
  • Subway, eat fresh.
  • Leggo my Eggo
  • We got that.

Sometimes, mistakes are just mistakes.

I am really bad at proofreading my own work. I suspect this is the case for many writers.

You’d be surprised how far you can go without catching every typo. I’m come to accept the fact that there’s always a few that go out when I publish. Even with spellcheck and plenty of editing, I always miss a couple. One time, I even had a super obvious typo within a CTA for an email that went out to 100k+ people. How (sic) people mentioned it? Two. And how did it impact conversions? Not one bit. – Lars Lofgren

Sometimes, I hate it when I don't catch typos and regret it even more so when a client doesn't hire me because my proposal has a few random mistakes. C'est la vie, if I have to, I'll build in the cost of a proofreader.

What This Means To You

Copywriters all are about brand voices and selling. They are also the most highly paid tier among writers.

If you do not need a brand voice or sales power, you'll save money by hiring a grammatically correct writer who knows how to communicate clearly.

If you need to sell a brand, product, or service, you will be better off with a solid (but sometimes ungrammatical) copywriter.

Julie Ross Myers, Brand Trust Builder
January 5, 2019
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