Connect with me elsewhere

linkedin twitter

Latest tweets

Does spelling always matter?

Posted in: Blog, Spelling by Sally Evans-Darby on 12 April 2012

Does spelling always matter?

It’s not like that tiny harmless typo is going to change the world, is it?

The inspiration for this blog is from three public spelling mistakes I saw recently in the same day. I found myself pondering these mistakes more than usual, because arguably they were only minor misdemeanours. Surely the only people to notice them would be people like me – you know, the word nerds, the spelling police – the people who take delight in finding a mistake and correcting it. So if we’re the only people to notice, does it really matter?

To elucidate, I’ll set the examples out below so you can judge for yourself.

The supermarket label

The first was in a local supermarket where I was delving into the freezer section for ice cream. I celebrated with an inward hooray! when I saw that a new flavour of Ben & Jerry’s was on a half-price introductory offer. But then I looked a little closer at the price label.

Half-price for limited period only – higer price from May 2012

Higer. Higger. Hyger. My brain stuttered as it took in the glaring typo. I shook my head in disbelief. (By the way, this is a national mostly respected supermarket chain). But then I found myself thinking, it is just a price label. And it is in tiny writing. And does anyone except me really care?

The train station notice

Later that day I was in a local train station waiting in a queue at the self-service machine to buy my ticket home. As I approached the machine I noticed the following sign typed out on a piece of A4 paper and blu-tacked at eye level:

Due to an electrical fault, advance tickets cannot be retreived from the self-service machines. We apologise for any inconveinence caused.

(It was all typed in caps too, but that particular peeve is another story).

I stared at this notice for a while, my fingers itching to get out the red pen and correct it. The same thoughts went through my head. Sure, I had noticed it, and probably a couple of other nerdy people would too (I could already picture them taking a photo on their phones and posting it on Twitter). But ‘retrieve’ is a difficult word, right? No-one ever remembers if it should be ‘i’ before ‘e’ or vice versa. And the letters switched round in ‘inconvenience’, well that’s clearly just an innocent rushed typing mistake. Again, does it really matter?

The pub toilet sign

Finally, it was the end of the day and I found myself in the pub (don’t we all). As I went to the ladies’ powdering room, I noticed the sign above the door. It said simply, even eloquently:


Loo’s. Why the apostrophe? What had been going through this sign-designer’s mind? What did it stand for? Loo is… what? Or what belonged to the loo? Did the loos belong to Loo? And so on.

Three offensive public sign woes in one day – my head was starting to hurt. But then again I found myself wondering if it really did matter that an errant and uninvited apostrophe had found itself onto the sign. How many other people would notice it?

The answer?

Unsurprisingly (you might say) as an editor/proofreader (and general lover of all things lexical) I have to conclude that the answer is yes, spelling does matter, even in these slightly spurious situations.

We’ve all seen the articles on spelling mistakes that truly do cost millions and those that, believe it or not, change the course of history. But that’s not really what I’m driving at here. In each of the instances noted above, my impression was significantly lowered of the individual service or product being offered – respectively, the supermarket’s wares, the train station’s handling of my rail journey home, and the pub’s interior directions.

Each of these are service providers, their reputations key to keeping their business going. My opinion had been altered about each of these because of the typos. And I know I would not have been the only one.

The fact is, wherever words are in the public domain and where they are representative of a business or company (as each of these instances was), the way these words are presented has an undeniable effect on how people view that company. Letting these obvious typos out into the big wide world without checking them makes the company look slovenly, ill-informed, and like they’ve got too much on their plate to pay attention to the small details.

Small details matter – they make the difference between a company who looks fit and ready to run a marathon and one that can’t even tie its own shoelaces.

What are some instances you’ve seen of small typos that have changed your impression of a company? Or do you think small mistakes such as these don’t really matter in the long run? Send me your thoughts below.


  1. Rebecca

    Rather nerdily, after a couple of glasses of wine one evening, I actually rang Channel 4 to tell them the advert they were putting out on every ad break had an apostrophe in the wrong place. It irritated me more each time the break came on because it was glaring me in the face. Unsurprisingly, the lady on the end of the telephone thought I was completely barking. I feel slightly embarrassed that I did it, but when you are broadcasting an ill placed apostrophe to millions of people every 15 minutes, you are effectively teaching them incorrectly. I agree completely with your argument. It does matter, it shows a level of professionalism, or otherwise.

    Comment by Rebecca on 3 April 2014 at 7:43 pm

  2. Sally Evans-Darby

    Thanks for your comment, Rebecca. The idea of a slightly boozy call to Channel 4 to correct their punctuation is pretty funny. 🙂 Do not feel embarrassed! It’s people like you who are keeping the apostrophe alive and in the correct place…!

    Comment by Sally Evans-Darby on 4 April 2014 at 4:29 am