Episode 67: July 20, 2007
by Mignon Fogarty
Grammar Girl here.
Today I'm inspired by a couple of listener questions.
Hi, Grammar Girl. This is Katie, and I was wondering if you could touch on your and you're. There's not a day that goes by that I don't see this grammar mistake. Thanks a lot.
Katie called in a while ago, but recently Bill Mills made me aware of a weird ad campaign that seems to misuse the word your, so I decided it was a good time to tackle this topic.
Your Versus You're
First, I think people get these two words mixed up for a simple reason: they sound the same. You just have to remember the difference. Your, Y-O-U-R, is the possessive form of you. Does this belong to you? Is this your strangely worded ad campaign? Your: Y-O-U-R.
You're, Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E, is a contraction of two words: you are. Remember that an apostrophe can stand in for missing letters, and in this case it stands in for the missing letter a. It doesn't save much space, but it does change the phrase from two syllables—you are—to one syllable—you're, so I guess it serves an honorable purpose. You're the best listeners ever! You're: Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E.
Now that we have that squared away, you won't believe the ad campaign Bill pointed out to me. The company is Seagate, and the new tagline for one of its products is Your on—but not Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E on, as you would expect, but rather Your on—Y-O-U-R (possessive) on. I'm not making this up.
Bill thought it was a typo, but I've worked in marketing before and I know how many people have to sign off on something like this. So I figured the marketers must be trying to do something funky such as make the word on a noun. As in, Here, I have this on thingy for you. Wow, thanks! I've always wanted an on.
Not wanting to unfairly malign Seagate, I asked them what they were thinking and someone named Forrest Monroy was kind enough to reply. Here's his response:
"Your On" is spelled this way to indicate that Seagate is your (possessive) access to being "on." In essence, Seagate = On.
This version ties the connection more closely to Seagate (as your access to being 'on') as opposed to the more traditional spelling of "You're On," which places the emphasis more closely on the consumer and away from Seagate itself.
At which point, all I could really think was, “Huh. Really? OK, if you say so.” But, there you go, Bill. It's not a typo; it's intentional.
Marketing Speak and Grammar
Now, because I'm Grammar Girl, I feel as if I should get riled up about this twisted use of the English language, but I found that I couldn't muster up much angst. Sure, Seagate might further confuse a few people who already get these two words mixed up, but I think they are much more likely to just elicit a bunch of quizzical responses from people who know the difference.
Still, I felt guilty that I wasn't upset—that is, until one of my Twitter friends, Christiana Ellis, of Nina Kimberly the Merciless fame, called in with this comment: Getting upset about marketing speak is like getting upset about the finer points of pig Latin. Ha. That's it. It's just marketing speak, and we all know it shouldn't be held up as a model of good language. It's the equivalent of expecting sports stars to be good role models for kids. You can argue that they should try harder, but get real: it's not going to happen. Marketing people are trying to get attention, and one way to do that is to push language past genteel limits. It's like getting upset about misspelled graffiti.
Web Bonus: Fun with Marketing Speak
Here are a few more comments from some of my Twitter friends. The assignment was to complete the following sentence: Getting upset about marketing speak is like getting upset about __________________.
Madpoet bad drivers. You just have to learn to deal with it/them.
CathleenRitt Bill Robertson's presidential run?
Susanreynolds weather. It'll be different tomorrow, so just let it pass on to the next new thing.
cherylcolan corporate greed. You're sick of it but you can't change it. Or can you?
ChefMark 4 year-old picking his nose. They'll do it no matter what.
Add your response in the comments section, or join the fun on Twitter.
Thinking about marketing speak got me thinking about neologisms, or words that are made up or assigned a new meaning. Marketing people do this a lot, but most of us make up words every once in a while or hear a new word that we like.
Some of my favorite neologisms are blogosphere, which means all the blogs in the world, and McMansions, which refer to the cookie-cutter, super-sized houses that you see a lot in new subdivisions. They're both so evocative.
I put a call out on Twitter to see what neologisms other people like and these are some of my favorites:
TeeMonster Podosphere, podfading, and podiobooks.
You can add your own to the list in the comments section, or on Twitter.
Don't forget about my audiobook, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips to Clean Up Your Writing. If you're a teacher, a nice thing about having the audiobook is that you can use the lessons in class and not have to deal with the ads and announcements.
Thanks for listening.
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