Language is as instinctive to us as breathing and pumping blood around our body. Mostly, we just do it. We don’t even really know HOW we do it, just that we do. In all the millennia we’ve been grunting and communicating, we have really only thought about the brain behind language in the last 100 years or so. Sure, we know about vocal chords and how they operate, and we know we have universal grammar and a need to speak, but how the hell all this cacophony came about is still up for debate. Stephen Pinker and Noam Chomsky offer lots of interesting theories.
Because we ‘just do it’, many people assume everyone can ‘just do it’. Not only that, they assume that they can ‘just do it’ in public and as a profession. Universities ask them to ‘just do it’ and there’s an expectation that in this age of almost-universal literacy in the UK, that everyone should be able to ‘just do it’.
Oh but it tires me to see the consequences and have people think I can ‘just do it’ and so can they!
My main bugbear right now are translated sites. French websites are APPALLING. Like, really, really bad. Kind of like websites were in the early 2000s. Hand-made. Cluttered. Clumsy. All in tiny font with nasty blue underlining for hyperlinks. Too much information and confusing layout. They look like I made them ten years ago. And I mean that as an insult. I’ve got a working knowledge of html coding, fairly basic knowledge of CSS and I can add a < B > here and there in my coding if I want to or need to.
Not only do big sites like the government sites need something doing with them, but local sites too. By and large, the internet still isn’t a way of gaining business in rural France. The English-speaking residents are in fact the pioneers in this world.
But their English is SOOOO bad it hurts my eyes. It offends my sensibilities. And I know I’m not the only one. Grocer’s apostrophes litter the text. Sentence fragments that make no sense leap off the screen and slap my face with their wanton disregard for useful grammar. Spelling mistakes scratch at my eyes and their offensive nature is as repugnant to me as fingers down a chalkboard. It’s like someone got into my brain and filled it with velvet and felt. And velvet and felt give me the creeps. I can’t touch them.
Not only that, they then go on to use a translation site for their ‘multi-lingual’ needs. I know we laugh at foreign errors in translating into English. How I laughed at the Greek menu that offered ‘spaghetti with cock’ – I’m hoping that was chicken and not some Celebrity-Junglesque nightmare. How I chortled over ‘fishes (from fishermen)’ on the same menu. How I smirked at the sign in Japan that said: “DO NOT appear to a veranda.” We applaud their desire to communicate in other languages, but we really, really wish they’d asked someone to check it over.
But we accept that Johnny Foreigner will make mistakes with their translation and we applaud their efforts. What I don’t like is that Jilly English-speaker thinks that she can put together a website, even paying for a web designer, and it’s just as gibberish. It’s unprofessional, crappy and it OFFENDS MY EYES!
It offends me that Jilly doesn’t even think of outsourcing. She just assumes she can speak English therefore she can write it and therefore every single rule of sense is automatically imprinted on her brain, a bit like Neo when someone plugs into his brain in The Matrix and he says ‘I know Kung-Fu!’ – like someone’s come along and plugged into your brain with everything you need to know about English.
Sometimes in the past, I have tentatively broached the subject with the Jillies of the world. Would you like someone to write the text for your website and make it look fabulous?
No. They’re alright, thanks.
Is it that my meagre 0.05€ a word is too much? Would 30€ be too much to ensure your website is written in beautifully-constructed, professional English by an expert linguist?
They’d rather butcher it themselves, thanks.
Butchery is quite a useful analogy here. To the skilled meat-cutter, be they chef or butcher, they can joint a pig, do those racks of ribs with frilly bonnets on them. They can slice steak so thin that it’s almost transparent. I do it and the plate looks like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, except not quite as elegant. But just because I can wield a knife and I’ve been cutting my own carrots since I was three does not mean I am a master butcher. No. I still cannot slice a turkey. I can kind of do two or three bits, but no more. If I de-bone a fish, it looks dreadful.
It’s not so much the money but the savagery that’s important to me. I like my language to be aesthetically pleasing. I’d like my steak to look neatly cut and my carrots to have been through a mandolin if I am in a restaurant. I don’t expect it to look like someone’s mum chopped my food up on my plate because I’m too special to manage a knife myself, thanks. I’d write them for nothing, if I could, just to make it all beautiful.
Some people write with natural talent – unpolished finesse. They write beautifully because they can, just like some people are natural artists or musicians. The rules make sense to them. Spelling is easy. The cadence and rhythm of the words comes naturally to them. Some people are great functional writers. Writing serves a greater purpose – to communicate – and they do that just fine.
But to everyone else, outsource to someone else, for God’s sake, before I end up removing my eyes because they offend me!
And know that, if you don’t, other people are casting aspersions on your professionalism. If I can tell you didn’t hire a specialist web designer or writer, so can others. And if you’re too cheap to do that, then what else are you too cheap to do? I’m not the only one to think if you buy cheap, you buy twice.
If you’re too cheap to pay for a writer for your gite website, are you too cheap to get good linen or mattresses? Will that 30€ you’ve cut from your web budget have been spent elsewhere or will there be other 30€ cost-cuttings here and there? If you’re too cheap to pay for a writer for your restaurant website, are you too cheap to buy the good cuts of meat?
Not only that, it looks like you don’t care. Like ‘making do’ is acceptable.
Not a one of us goes into a primary business wanting to create a bad image. Few of us start off a business with a lot of money. It’s understandable why people would want to do something themselves if they can. Few of us are web designers AND marketers AND writers AND advertising blurb writers AND able to run front-of-house and behind the scenes on whatever business it is that we’re running. If we’re sole traders, it’s only us and whilst we might be experts in one thing or another – usually our main business – we don’t profess to be experts in everything.
That’s why it’s important to outsource your image. Whether that’s your website, your marketing materials, or how you present yourself, your image – like it or not – is what gets people coming to buy whatever product it is that you have on sale. People buy through recommendation and reputation after those first few have dipped their feet in.
So if you’re trying to start a new business in a new area, trying to attract new customers through adverts, websites and image, why on earth would you want to give the impression that you’re cheap and unprofessional? Marketing is the last thing you want to skimp on. If you buy images from shutterstock or hire in a professional photographer and web designer, why on earth would you do the writing yourself?
At some point, people think ‘I know I can point-and-click with this here basic digital camera, but I know I can’t take a professional-standard image… I’ll leave that to the professionals’ so why do they think ‘I know I can write with this here laptop, so therefore I must be able to create professional-standard text… I’ll do it myself’
And just to clarify, it’s not word or grammar snobbery. It’s just sense. If I think it looks cheap, others will too. If I think it doesn’t read well, others will too. Just because I can tell you it looks like a six-year old’s writing doesn’t mean it will slip through other people’s nets. You don’t need to be a professional photographer to know a photo looks home-made, and the same is true of writing.
End of rant.
p.s. If you have some writing you want me to polish, feel free to send it my way!
p.p.s. This isn’t intended to be me drumming up business. I market better than this!