are senior execs too busy for spelling and grammar?

A reader writes:

I’ve been working at a small company (~30 employees) for almost a year. I am the lowest on the food chain, just above the interns. We have a few offices, and I work in the same office as the COO and work closely with him often. He is easily one of the busiest people I have ever met and is constantly either in meetings or on the phone.

I’ve noticed a pattern in his emails and other documentation that he types up: he often misspells words or, more frequently, leaves words out altogether. I know that in most instances I have no standing to correct him (and even if I did, I usually see them after it’s too late), so that isn’t really my question. But I am wondering, for somebody with such a busy schedule high up in an organization, do spelling and diction just … not matter? I’ve seen this happen in emails that go out to clients or others who we would generally want to have a good professional relationship with. I’ve even seen it in his out-of-office messages that anybody could receive. I can’t tell if this is sloppiness or if he truly just wants to get the message across as quickly as possible and skips the proofreading. For what it’s worth, he’s a big guy (ex-pro athlete) with large hands and I’ve seen him type, and I know it’s not natural for him and his fingers often hit more than one key just because of their thickness.

I am not too far out of college and throughout my entire education, errors like this are a pretty big deal and could cost you letter grades. It comes across as unprofessional to me to see these errors in his communications. Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of this, I don’t know. What do you think?

Well, how sloppy are we talking about? If the errors are so extreme that his emails are difficult to read or understand, or if the errors are so numerous that they distract from the overall message, that’s a problem.

But if it’s more minor then that, well … It’s true that messages with misspellings or missing words will come across as less polished. It’s also true that in some contexts, that just doesn’t matter as much.

If you’re a busy senior executive who’s known for being good at what you do, and you send emails that aren’t perfectly polished, people are going to get that you’re a busy senior executive who’s known for being good at what you do and in most cases won’t care too much about the somewhat sloppy emails, as long as it’s clear what you mean in them.

It’s not that there’s not still a negative to it; there is. It just doesn’t matter as much compared to other things.

The value that this guy is bringing to his role isn’t that he writes beautiful emails. It’s presumably that he’s good at something bigger-picture.

That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t care about their writing once they attain a certain professional level. But it’s very possible that the time he’d need to spend proofreading and polishing means that he’d spend less time on significantly more important things, and that he’s making the right trade-off.

Early in your career, it’s more important to ensure that your emails are polished because you don’t have the factors above to act as a counterweight and you have less of a track record for people to contextualize your work in. (And if you get in the habit of it now, it’ll serve you well later on, when it might not be quite as important but will be a useful element in the overall impression you make.)

{ 465 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on*

    The number of execs who can’t spell boggles the mind. Never will I ever run out of time for good grammar or correct spelling and punctuation, no matter where I go in life. I hate to be judgy, but I lose respect for people waaay up the corporate ladder who can’t be bothered to spell correctly.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Alison is right though–it doesn’t seem to matter too much, presumably because they are so good at (whatever).

    2. Ann Nonymous*

      Corollary: I was shocked, SHOCKED watching a CEO eat at a dinner where he grasped his fork in a clenched fist while he sawed his meat with his knife. My respect for him fell many notches.

      1. JessaB*

        Are you sure he doesn’t have a grip issue? Kids who learnt to eat that way often had problems holding utensils the traditional way and by the time they might have gained the control it’s a little late and they’d have to be specifically corrected to a different grip. Even if he’s healthy now, if he had grip issues when he was younger. I guess my point is my first go to is not lack of respect, but okay he needs to eat that way. I just have too many friends who hold things that way because that’s how they were able to eat properly as kids.

        Now if he was eating with his mouth open or acting rude and talking with his mouth full and all that’d be different

      2. finderskeepers*

        I can’t tell if this is parody or serious. Because thats how you’re supposed to cut and eat a piece of meat

        1. A*

          I’m trying to imagine another way of doing this and coming up with some really comical mental pictures.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            “Bip the meat onto the floor, then watch the puppy eat it.”
            -Falling’s kitten

            (This has happened to shampoo, the TV remote…)

            1. Nonnon*

              I used to hold the fork in my fist as a child, put it into the bit I wanted to eat, and then rip it away from the big part with my knife. Until I accidentally flung a giant battered fish lump on the floor. My dog thought it was the greatest day ever. I’ve gotten better since, although I’m still a somewhat messy eater compared to other adults.

              (If I were CEO of someplace, I’d probably just take my clients to a food place that encourages casual eating, like a nice pizza place. Or someplace with chopsticks, because I’m surprisingly competent with those and any messes I do make won’t stand out among other, more inexperienced chopstick users.)

            1. RabbitRabbit*

              Rather than in a fist like a little kid latched onto a fat crayon, about to scribble with all his might, it’s a good comparison.

                1. Sylvan*

                  It’s a response to this: “I can’t tell if this is parody or serious. Because thats how you’re supposed to cut and eat a piece of meat.”

                  Anyway, little etiquette things are interesting to some people.

                2. Valprehension*

                  Sorry. To be clear, two people expressed confusion about what was ‘wrong’ with the op’s description, or how else meat could be cut. I was just clarifying, not intending to be prescriptive or anything. Just helping with the confusion. Or trying to, since i apparently just created more, instead (oops…)

                3. Anion*

                  Yes. Several people expressed confusion, actually, and some people find that sort of thing interesting, and Valprehension was simply providing the requested information; she certainly didn’t seem to be trying to insult anyone or tell them how to do things.

                  I think etiquette is very interesting, personally, and I do not think Valprehension deserved to be put down or to have it implied that she’s being pushy and elitist simply for providing requested information.

            2. Penny Lane*

              Why is it not helpful? Yes, in American society, that’s how we cut meat. We don’t grip the knife in a clenched fist. (Obviously an exception if someone has a physical disability, oh dear god.)

              There’s nothing remotely classist or problematic or unhelpful about this.

              1. Valprehension*

                It would have been unhelpful if it was *unsolicited* information, which I believe Sabine thought it was. It is classist to assume everyone cares about doing things the way the higher classes have decided is proper, and it is classist to assume that someone not doing things that way is doing so because they are ignorant of the ‘correct’ way.

                1. Penny Lane*

                  Cool. Feel free to chew with your mouth open and wipe your mouth on your sleeve because you’re just so woke or whatever.

                2. Raine*

                  This is to @Penny Lane. I think Valprehension was saying that it’s classist to assume that everyone learns proper ettiquette, and ettiquette with utensils can be such an arbitrary thing that it seems a bit trivial to assume someone is lesser in some way because of the reasons that can explain why someone uses improper utensil technique (e.g. grip issues, physical disability, lack of exposure). Basic things like hand position on a utensil are difficult to relearn, especially after 8 years old because of how the brain develops. Valprehension, correct me if I’m wrong.

      3. Sabine the Very Mean*

        I’ve never appreciated dining manners police. I was very very food insecure and I judge folks with this ability to outcast food sawyers with high intensity. How utterly non-important.

        1. LouiseM*

          Yeah, this does not matter at all. How does the boss treat you? Does he compensate you fairly? These are things you should care about. I hope Ann Anonymous comment was a joke.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            When I was in college, we had a guest speaker who told us a story about a man who did not get an exec-level position because his interviewer–the CEO–couldn’t believe he didn’t know how to each an articjhoke correctly. They had ordered them as appetizers (The CEO first, and the interviewer following suit) and it cost the man the job. Now, this isn’t fair but it does happen and does absolutely does matter.

            1. WillyNilly*

              Early in my career I was an admin, lowest on my team’s totem. The next up from me was Rose.
              We were US based but ultimately it was a European company and most upper management was based in Europe; they came to the States once a month.
              During these visits there would be fancy dinners out, various team members invited each time. Being young and poor a free meal was as valuable to me as hobknobing with the higher ups, so I always coveted an invite. As time wore on, I consistently got invited, others not so much.
              Having a casual lunch with Rose one day I had occasion to see her utensil handling. The topic of “formal etiquette” came up once as well, where she said she found the idea stupid and snobbish… but it seemed pretty clear to me, she wasn’t getting invited to dinner because she didn’t utilize the subtle etiquette of how to hold utensils, pausing a moment to see which is the proper fork to use if in doubt, using the wrong bread plate, etc.

              And all my dinners paid off in perks, like a 3-day trip to Europe for one 4 hour meeting I easily could have called in to.
              Rose had a chip on her shoulder about how I was the favorite, but her work was solid, it was our table manners I believe that tipped the scales.

              1. Le Sigh*

                See, I read that and cringe not at Rose, but that she got left out over it. While I was raised to have good manners and grammar, I’ve had to learn some of the more subtle stuff on my own and I’m not sorry I did. But sometimes these apocryphal tales rub me the wrong way, because so often they don’t account for things like different cultural customs or norms, learning disabilities, or how someone may have grown up and what access they had to these things, etc. That’s not to say it isn’t wise to learn and people aren’t *capable * of learning — I am! people are! — but we all have to start from somewhere. So if, especially early on in their careers as people are still learning and honing their workplace knowledge, it seems, I dunno, a little gross, with a likely dose of classism.

                Now, if she’s chewing with her mouth open or something gross, sure, that’s just not polite to dining companions and I don’t want to eat with that person. Some etiquette is just there to help us all be courteous of those around us. But pausing over a fork? Which bread plate to use? (How many bread plates are there by the way?) Hell, I still do that at 35 and you know what? Oh well. I do great work, I’ve risen in the ranks despite my inability to identify the shrimp fork (is there a shrimp fork?). And maybe if I went into a field in which that stuff mattered more, I’d dig in and really learn to make sure I looked the part. But to just quietly exclude someone over it? Yuck.

                1. WillyNilly*

                  I think the leaving people out bit, at least in this case was, Rose had chances to learn. I paused and watched, and thereby learned. She just forged ahead with the wrong bread plate dinner after dinner until she was no longer invited to dinner.

                2. Le Sigh*

                  That’s fair.

                  I think at the end of the day, the whole thing just raises my hackles because there are serious class overtones on this, and just…I dunno. Yes, people should observe and learn, but some etiquette (like bread plates) exists to exclude people and I frankly can’t find it in me to give a damn about bread plates. I like hosting and I like making people feel welcome and at home — this stuff feels like the opposite of that.

                  Plus, we talk all the time about how managers should proactively point out things they think might be obvious to their younger staff. Sure, she should be observant, but did anyone just point blank say, “Hey, this stuff actually matters Rose–you’re good at your job, but I’m letting you know you need to add this polish! Now that I’ve pointed it out, it’s up to you to take it from there.” If they did and she blew it off, *that* I can understand much more.

                  But really, one day I’m going to die, and no one is going to write “Here lies Le Sigh, she never hesitated when picking up a fork.”

                3. WillyNilly*

                  Fair point, it was perhaps not obvious to Rose or ever made obvious that she would do well to polish up.

                  But in defense of bread plates (there’s an odd thing to write!) they keep the table operating smoothly. Bread plates are to your left. If you grab the one to your right, the person to your right now has to ask around for a bread plate.
                  This always messed me up as forks, knives, spoons and water glasses all follow a number of letter rule: fork (4) left (4), knife (5) water (5) right (5). Bread (5) to the left (4) bugs me.

                4. Le Sigh*

                  That’s a fair point on bread plates (also an odd thing to write). I know a chunk of this stuff is rooted in keeping serving and eating running smoothly and allowing the dinner to proceed without constant interruptions. And sometimes it’s nice! When I’ve been to a nice restaurant and everything flows well, it really can add to the night.

                  But I think that actually gets back at what I was saying earlier — I want people to feel comfortable, so if done well without pretension, it can be a good thing. When it gets into hall monitor territory, esp. given its roots in a class-based society and the stakes for people trying to make it in the world, well, that’s where my good feelings end and my indignation starts. I’ve also eaten in nice restaurants where the server was kind of obnoxious to me over not knowing the forks or plates or whatever, and well, eff that. Now I’m being made to feel anxious while eating a nice meal, and quite frankly, it made me want to loudly laugh with a mouth full of crackers. Or just not come back (the more mature option).

                5. Penny Lane*

                  Have any of you ever read Hillbilly Elegy? The gist of it is that this young man, from an impoverished Appalachian background, gets himself to Yale Law School (against all odds). While he is there, his professors clearly see that he is a person of potential, etc. He goes to a formal dinner and has no idea what to do, runs to the men’s room and calls his girlfriend for pointers, etc.

                  It’s a great discussion of unspoken white-collar norms he didn’t know about, but there’s another point to be made. The people who get ahead in life are the ones who may come from backgrounds where they don’t knew things — but they sit back, they observe, they learn, they take it all in and adapt. The ones who get all worked up that “it’s classist!” and refuse to take on these norms seem not to get anywhere in life.

                6. Le Sigh*

                  I agree to a point. I’m not saying people shouldn’t observe and learn (and people are plenty capable of learning). But I am also pointing out that it’s also on others to pause before judging, especially over stuff that isn’t incredibly consequential (like bread plates). It would have behooved Rose to observe and learn; it also might have been something that — if that important to her future — a good manager could take 10 minutes to point out to her. It’s the potential for quiet exclusion that didn’t sit well with me.

                  These rules have a lot of roots in class (not eating with your mouth closed–I mean stuff like forks and bread plates), so I do think that if you grew up with this kind of stuff and just assume learning forks is the norm, then cutting people out of economic opportunities over it despite other qualifications they have, there is classism at play. It’s the kind of thing someone could learn, but you can’t assume it’s obvious to everyone. I’m not crying, “it’s classist” because I want to be mad or I’m defensive about myself (I’m in pretty good shape here), I’m pointing it out because I think people often don’t question these kinds of “givens” and it’s worth examining your thinking on it to make sure you’re acting in good faith and not just based on “norms.”

                7. Le Sigh*

                  And to be clear, it’s worth examining because so often we don’t intentionally exclude people with that kind of thinking but we do. It doesn’t have to be obvious and nefarious to have the same impact.

                8. MM*

                  The cultural stuff can be big too. It’s perfectly normal in some places to pick your bowl up and bring it close to your face, to facilitate ferrying bites to your mouth. That’s considered bad manners in most of Western Europe and the US, unless you’re eating finger food. Exclusions upon exclusions, when it comes to formal etiquette (the major purpose of which has always been to create signifiers of exclusivity and wealth anyway).

                  My father was the manners cop in my house growing up, and he always used to say “What if you get invited to dinner at Buckingham Palace?” Finally one day I just snapped “I’M NEVER GOING TO EAT AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE, DAD.”

                9. Kate 2*

                  It’s not really classist though. I grew up in a low-income (really poor) blue-collar community, with parents who were lower income/low middle blue collar.

                  Some kids came to school with clean clothes and manners, some didn’t. Some kids who didn’t have parents teach them were willing to learn from their teachers and peers how to behave, some didn’t. And none of the unwilling kids had families any nicer or better off than those who learned.

                  A used etiquette book is about 60 cents at a used bookstore, which even my community had. Having the smarts to watch how other behave and emulating them is free.

                10. Traffic_Spiral*

                  Gonna agree with Kate 2. Like my Mama says – manners are free and priceless. What’s more, we now have youtube instructional videos, so it’s not really like you have an excuse. It’s simply a matter of do you want to spend a few 20-minute intervals learning it or not.

                11. Pickled Beets*

                  I have to agree with Kate 2 also. I grew up poor and rural, and it resulted in a “this is the way things are and ever shall be” attitude about certain things. That included dinner settings for the precious, barely-afforded, secondhand china, only pulled out for special occasions and washed by hand. The ancient, near-original, passed down through generations edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook had a whole section on place settings, and woe betide those in my family who deviated from it in the slightest. If you didn’t know, you were sent to look it up.

                  None of my mom’s siblings cared in the slightest, and was treated as being snobby. Bread plates were constantly stolen or ignored. My mom was determined to have manners, learned them (sometimes oddly) on her own, and drilled them into her kids. Yet “executive polish” is still something I struggle with even understanding, let alone obtaining.

                  Going back to the original issue of spelling, my grandmother was an English teacher, and I was also the little obnoxious kid who would correct people’s grammar. I’m in a fast-paced management-style role now, and I just don’t have the time to make sure everything is perfect.

                  It’s a matter of prioritization, though; I try to ensure emails to seniors or customers are good, but a chat message to a peer or subordinate is probably not going to have capital letters. I learned pretty quickly in my first week that I couldn’t spend three hours crafting the perfect words, especially when the response will be “Sounds great :)” with no punctuation (yes, this really happened).

                12. Michaela Westen*

                  I suppose I could learn all the nuances of bread plates and forks – but I would never want to be around the kind of people who would judge me on such meaningless things!

                13. RUKiddingMe*

                  Yes there is a shrimp fork…asparagus tongs too (not even joking). Apparently (according to Miss Manners) sometime in the 19th century creating all kinds of cutlery kept silver smiths in business or something hence all the odd assortment of eating utensils that most of us have never heard of.

                  It’s still happening to a degree though. The other day I bought a “lasagna server.” I actually bought it because it will do nicely to serve square pieces of cake and after a lifetime of trying to balance slices of cake on a knife without breaking it…I deserve this. :)

              2. Marcel*

                If you were low on the totem I would mean you were in a place of honour. That saying doesn’t mean what you are trying to stay and invokes something that is scared to many people and tribes. Low on the totem does NOT mean lowest in the hierarcy. Quite the opposite actually.

                1. aNon*

                  This is such a common saying that I honestly really appreciate you pointing out that it is incorrectly depicting a piece of Native culture. There are so many words and sayings that are such a mainstream part of how we talk that have bad or incorrect origins that I really appreciate the posts you’ve been making to make people think about the saying they are using and whether it’s appropriate.

              3. Elsewhere1010*

                Are you sure the table is correctly set? Your bread plate should be directly about your forks, and is the closest piece of china to your dinner plate (or charger, if you’re talking really formal). In order for someone to place their bread in their neighbor’s-to-the-right bread plate, they would have to reach over their own wine and water glasses, which perform the function of being a protective wall between you and the food on your neighbor’s plate.

                BTW, American and European techniques and etiquette are quite different one from the other, the main difference that American formal etiquette has pretty much disappeared. If you have ever had to consume an entire formal dinner using the American zig-zag method of using your knife and fork, you can easily understand why.

            2. Kelly L.*

              It wouldn’t surprise me if it was apocryphal. I remember the same scene being in a novel I read as a kid. I forget the backstory, but the protagonist was trying to impress somebody and had no idea what to do with the artichoke.

              1. WillyNilly*

                There’s also the urban legend about the candidates for [major corporation] not getting the job because they salted their food before tasting it.

                1. misplacedmidwesterner*

                  When I was told that one in college, it was that Carnegie would take people out to lunch and not hire anyone who salted their food before tasting it.

                  Semi-related. In my mom’s house growing up, you added salt and pepper to the scrambled eggs at the table so each person could add to their own preference. In my dad’s house, you added them while cooking. They had some strange breakfasts at first where my dad thought my mom made these horribly bland eggs with no salt/pepper and my mom was eating super over seasoned eggs as she added more to eggs my dad had already seasoned. They eventually got it worked out.

                2. Slightly Lions*

                  Ha! My husband and I had a similar thing with mashed potatoes; his family adds butter at the table, mine puts it in while cooking.

              2. Hills to Die on*

                Perhaps so! It was a story passed on by a college professor and possibly anecdotal. The point still stnads, in my opinion.

              3. Nana*

                I was married to a man who’d never seen an artichoke…so he watched our hostess pick off a leaf and dip in in her little butter bowl. So he did the same, except that he put the whole leaf into his mouth. And chewed, and chewed, and finally [quietly] spit the whole thing into his napkin. Top exec in his field now.

        2. Temperance*

          FWIW, I had an intern with abysmal table manners. I’m not talking about not knowing which fork to use at which time, but things like chewing with his mouth open, talking while eating, etc. It was off-putting and gross. It had nothing to do with food insecurity; he came from a rich/connected family, which is how I got stuck with him.

          1. LSP*

            My son is 4 and my husband and I are already teaching him not to speak with food in his mouth and to keep his lips closed while chewing. It’s tough to convince a 4 year old of that, but I’d rather start that training now, so he doesn’t get all the way to a college internship not understanding that those habits are gross.

            1. Temperance*

              It was super strange. He came from an upper class, business-owning family and my toddler niece and nephew have better manners.

              1. Le Sigh*

                I put these sorts of bad manners up there with picking your nose or sneezing all over someone. Some etiquette exists to help us be courteous of the people around us (and their stomachs and immune systems). It’s pretty gross when anyone does it, but really bad if they’re hitting puberty and still can’t.

                But some etiquette exists to deliberately exclude the “have nots” from the higher rungs on the ladder, and that’s what I can’t be bothered to get worked up about.

                1. tired anon*

                  Yeahhh. A lot of things about how people interact with food – what they like to eat, what kind of preparation they prefer, and yeah, table manners – is strongly rooted in class, and if you don’t grow up with certain rules, you may not even know they exist, let alone how to follow them. Making hiring or promotion decisions based on etiquette is basically making those decisions based on the person’s class background, which is going to be a barrier for people who didn’t grow up with that particular background.

                  I grew up poor and rural – think “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” – and I still get really self-conscious eating meals with friends who grew up well off. And they are friends! Not judging me for work things! Despite now “passing” in terms of table manners, I would be absolutely horrified to discover coworkers using class markers as a way to decide who should get hired or promoted.

                2. Hills to Die on*

                  Yes, I have spent time with trusted friends who had an upper class upbringing learning things like this–they absolutely make a difference! If you don’t know, you don’t notice but if you do know, it jumps right out at you.

                3. Not a Morning Person*

                  The etiquette exists so that people have a standard, not in order to belittle others with that standard. It’s not the standard that is the problem, it’s people who choose to use it as a weapon that is the problem.

                4. Let Sigh*

                  I don’t disagree, but a lot of people seem to forget that there is no one standard. Standards vary by region, culture, country, etc. And this comments section is a pretty good example of how people assume their standard is the only right one and use that against people. You’re right that the problem is ultimately still people, but because that’s a pretty consistent problem, it’s worth everyone’s time to examine our thinking and ask ourselves where it’s rooted, why we care, and whether it truly matters in context.

                5. Genny*

                  Thank you, Le Sigh, for your kind, thoughtful comments about this. I’ve really appreciated your nuanced approach, especially in the above thread about Rose.

            2. Anion*

              Yep. My girls have had that stuff taught to them, and modeled for them, since birth. They also know that you don’t start eating until the hostess–or Mom, as is usually the case–has started (or has otherwise indicated that they should go ahead and eat).

              1. Penny Lane*

                Well, that’s supposedly classist as well, because poor folks just start digging in as soon as the food is brought to the table because if you don’t get it while it’s hot, you might not get it at all.

                I don’t understand all the resentment of middle to upper class going on here.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  Why would you “not get it at all?” Do other people take more than their share before everyone gets some?

          2. phedre*

            That’s how my roommate is – he talks with his mouth full, eats ridiculously quickly, and makes the most disgusting noises while he eats. Noises are inevitable when eating, but his chewing/slurping is so gross that my husband and I leave the room while he eats. If he took smaller bites (he takes GIANT bites of food) and ate a little slower I bet 90% of the noises would disappear. I’ve had dinner with his upper middle class parents, and their table manners are impeccable. I have no idea how he ended up like this!

            1. Le Sigh*

              My spouse is generally fine in public (so *ahem* he clearly knows his manners), but sometimes gets a little…regressive with this stuff at home. I have pointed out to him that if he wouldn’t subject other people to the sounds of his chewing, he shouldn’t do it to me, the person who has to put up with him for another 20-30 years.

              1. Former Employee*

                “… the person who has to put up with him for another 20-30 years.”

                Or less, if he doesn’t shape up!

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              Because only the rich can have manners – it literally costs money to not chew with your mouth open, or to click on a youtube video to learn about forks.

      4. Eye of Sauron*

        I’m with you on this one. I was raised by the table manners gestapo. There is a right way to use a utensil and everything else is wrong*.

        I judge table manners.

        I disagree with a poster down thread that table manners is ‘rich thing’. The people I learned manners from didn’t have a lot (Mom was raised until HS without running water or an indoor bathroom in a coal town). What was drilled into me from day 1 was that manners were free and everyone has the same opportunity to learn and use them.

        *Unless you are eating in a different culture, then your way is probably wrong and it’s incumbent on you to figure out the local ‘right way’

        1. Temperance*

          Same. I grew up in a lower-class household, but we were taught basic politeness and how not to act in public.

        2. Thursday Next*

          But your mom had access to that cultural information.

          My dad also grew up without running water or electricity. In India. He ate off a banana leaf, with his fingers, sitting on a floor. When he came to the U.S., he of course sat at a table and used utensils, as was culturally appropriate, but a lot of the nuances of utensil usage and napkin placement were not things he or my mom learned quickly. So they, in turn, couldn’t teach us normative, middle class, Western table manners when we were growing up.

          The amount of shaming I was subjected to as a 9-year-old, when I started at an elite private school that served lunch family style, was heartbreaking. I was shamed by adults, who insulted rather than instructed. My experience isn’t universal, but I raise this to point out that “manners” are culturally encoded in ways beyond class, and the penalties for not knowing the code are disproportionately borne by marginalized people.

          1. Thursday Next*

            @Eye—just to be clear, I’m running with your last thought, about eating in a different culture, and considering the ways in which “different” is more complicated than, say, an American eating in China. I’m not contradicting you, just expanding.

            1. Thursday Next*

              Nope—see my comment above. I saw your nod to “different cultures.” I was just reflecting on it and expanding on it.

          2. Elsewhere1010*

            I’m sure you’ve realized that the “adults” who tried to shame you were crude, vulgar people who had no manners at all. In fact, they weaponized “manners”, which is the last resort of the cruel and the prejudiced.

            1. Thursday Next*

              Thank you—I did, but not before a lot of hurt and distress (as a child). I try as a result to be wary of judging people even silently on “manners,” which can be really context dependent.

            2. PlainJane*

              This. Above all else, good manners make people feel welcome and respected – which is why it’s usually considered more rude to correct someone’s lack of manners than to display said lack of manners. Polite people do not shame others.

            3. Ozma the Grouch*

              But those “adults” haven’t gone away. In fact I see modern day examples of them here in this very thread. People who refuse to let typos go, and let’s face it, everyone makes typos. I also grew up with an immigrant father and had to deal with a lot of the prejudices and cultural abuses that came from both adults and children. In his country (at least back then) they never ate with their hands so I used to eat finger foods with a knife and fork, and boy, would the kids have a field day with that. I also eat with my knife and fork the left handed way, so I piss all the militantly-mannered people off with that as well??

              “Weaponized” manners (great term whoever coined that), demanding perfection in grammar/spelling, pretending or refusing to understand my father’s spoken English even though he speaks incredibly well, etc. I have been watching these things take place my entire life. And yet whenever we point out this behavior I always hear people saying “Oh, but I wasn’t talking about YOU. I was talking about THEM.” So that makes it alright apparently? Or, “How DARE you call ME classist.” (Because again it’s about them and not the person THEY are judging harshly?) You can grow up poor and still be classist, this is not some zero sum game. And the reason it’s classist is because people are getting hung up on arbitrary social constructs literally developed for the sole enjoyment of the people that can afford to partake in them. Sure poorer people may partake occasionally, but it’s pretty clear that only people with solid means can regularly eat out at fancy dining establishments that require this type of knowledge. For everyone else these places are either a once in a life-time event or a rare special occasion, or only practiced at home if someone at home has the knowledge and inclination. I was poor and my family had neither, although my mom tried.

              The point is we are judging people too harshly and we need to let it go. We need to stop assuming someone is stupid because they are unaware of a cultural norm, because they sent out 1 of 100 daily emails in a rush, because they have a disability like dyslexia and can’t distinguish between two very closely related words with two very different meanings, because they have ESL and don’t instinctively know the English grammatical structures and need to work harder at it, because the region that person lives in has a different dialect/lexicon than what is considered mainstream/professional and that doesn’t make them wrong just different, because the person is having a sh*ty day and just needs you to cut them some slack. Being a snob about arbitrary manners and spelling/grammar when it’s not your job is just plain petty.

              I fully admit that I am a person who judges people, and I snark about the stupid things people do with my BFF with great joy. But those judgments are based on their actual character, not their education level or upbringing. And I couldn’t care less if someone uses the Oxford comma or follows AP comma rules, because I feel comfortable enough to know what someone does and doesn’t mean. So what if they make a happy word accident.

          3. Former Employee*

            That is awful! One of the adults should have taken you aside and explained how things work, what you’re supposed to do and when, etc.

            Kids are kids – I mean, what can you expect from 9 year old kids. However, adults, especially at a school, are there to teach you. So, not oly were they horrible people, but they were not doing their jobs, either.

        3. Kate 2*

          Agreed! I come from generational poverty and fairly recent immigration on both sides. On one side both of my grandparents were the first babies in their family to be born in America. An awareness that different regions have different manners is all that is needed.

          You can get a used etiquette book for less than a dollar, you can watch youtube, read online, watch your hostess, etc. All you need to do is be sharp enough to realize that different cultures eat differently.

          My mother used to say that there’s no excuse for being dirty. That at least if you are poor and wearing rags they can be clean. A stream, well water, collected rain water and a 99 cent bar of soap were the minimum needed. And she would know!

        4. RUKiddingMe*

          Exactly. My family is heavily Appalachian (read: hillbilly) on both sides but they had table manners and as a consequence so do I. Not being well versed in which fork/knife/spoon for “X” course is one thing (which can be learned if necessary).

          Basic manners and consideration towards one’s dining companions is priceless and not a matter of have/have not or what “class” someone was born into.

          I am personally not Appalachian. I was born and raised in Silicon Valley long before it was Silicon Valley. I was certainly not to the manor born yet manage to be able to break bread across all spectrum of social classes.

        5. Sketchee*

          Yes, manners and different cultures are regional and family specific. There is no universally right and correct way to use utensils. Not even within the United States.

          There are truly common ways among certain groups within the United States. To say that these groups have final say on what is correct ignores large populations and experiences.

          The way your parents raised us applies to ourselves. It’s understandable that we believe our parents to be “correct”. Especially if they strongly believed that they were. As we are not parents to other adults, we often have no standing in our an opinion on their behavior.

          Perhaps if we are a manager we can say “Our clients tend to have this type of background. The behavior that is most universally received is X and Y”.

          One of my favorite podcasts is Awesome Etiquette by the Emily Post Institute. They talk about this extensively. The hosts and many guests are descendants of Emily Post themselves, brought up within the same households and standards of manners. Yet still disagree on points of etiquette.

          And most of us have seen this to be true even within our own families

          The “rules” also change depending on time, setting, and the individuals involved. If a boss or host has a standard, it’s often a comfort to adapt to what they have set up.

      5. Canadian Teapots*

        I’m sorry, is this 1958? These days I don’t think anyone really GAF how someone “grasps” their silverware.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          Obviously there are people out there who do care (hence the posts here). I think this falls under the umbrella of dressing professionally/appropriately. You don’t have to do it, but don’t be surprised if it affects you.

        2. Anion*

          Some of us clearly do. That doesn’t make us some sort of regressive prigs, either; it simply means we care about things you don’t.

      6. Sketchee*

        This is more of a result of specific upbringing and being taught a task in a certain way.

        It doesn’t seem to indicate a lack of respect, kindness, or consideration if he has such minority different knowledge.

        No one has a perfect or ideal awareness of customs. The most polite thing to do is to excuse the behavior if it doesn’t truly impact you, imho.

        I’d say the same for most spelling and grammar errors, especially in email compared to say a printed official executive letter where it’s more important.

        My favorite manners saying is “If you point at someone else, there are three fingers pointing at you.” It’s most useful to reflect on our own behavior than of others. Like to say dinner or spelling manners help me preset myself to the world.

    3. Bea*

      You’ll miss out on truly amazingly talented and wise people letting this bias take such power over you.

      My most proper boss was the worst business man who is quickly circling the drain. Whereas the others have made themselves millionaires despite not being well versed in spelling, grammar and document formatting. I guess they could be those guys who have their assistants do all that too to avoid the few people who are quick to judge but that’s a needless expense in most cases in a 30 person company.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I wouldn’t say it has power over me–that’s an interesting take-away. If someone is brilliant at X, that should weigh heavier by far, but it is noticeable and looks unprofessional. That’s all.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Absolutely this. A lot of policing around etiquette and word choice really comes down to class biases. There are certainly situations in which typos indicate a lack of care or attention to detail when that care is necessary for the company’s success (e.g., communications to clients, polished outward-facing documents). But there are also circumstances in which inattention/lack of detail frankly don’t matter, and I find that folks who get irked/judgy about this stuff tend to be irked all the time.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Maybe that’s it for me. Speaking as someone who came from a much lower class and fought my way up, I know how much these things matter to others and I don’t want my professional image to suffer as a result. Everything I have ever had to type or turn in has always needed to be free of errors, whether it is an exec presentation, an email to a peer, or my wedding invitation. People will absolutley notice and judge the rest of your work accordingly. Maybe not everyone is like this, but many are. I worked hard to get where I am so I am certainly not going to sacrific my hard work for saving 30 seconds to avoid re-reading my submissions before sending.

          1. Mousie Housie*

            Dude, you realize you made two typos in that paragraph alone?

            – “absolutely”
            – “sacrifice”

            It’s not that a big a deal. Really! People are working faster than ever and using technologies like voice-to-text that are less precise. I agree with Allison that big-picture roles get cut slack whereas detail-oriented ones professions are held to a different standard.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              I am really having to repeat myself a lot today…
              Read below–I don’t judge occasional typos. Anyone who never does and judges those who do is in a small and lonely group.
              1. This is not a professional environment.
              2. I am anonymous anyway
              3. It’s the constant emails, documents, and communications shot through with typos that I think make someone look unprofessional.
              People can disagree with me all they want but I am not the only person that considers these things by a mile. I have been judged positively by my good writing and negatively by poor writing. I know it makes a difference. People comment on exactly these types of CEOs all the time–I have heard them multiple times.

              1. Anion*

                It does make a difference, and I do notice such things. Whether I *judge* them for it or not depends on the context, more than anything else, but to me it’s not just about intellect (or perceptions thereof) but also about initiative. I care about being seen as a professional, so I read and find information about looking professional. I care about being a good hostess, making people comfortable, and generally being polite–and I realized early on how many situations etiquette can defuse and how much better you feel about yourself afterward if you’ve been polite–so I read and find information about those topics, and so on. These aren’t specialist subjects, these are basics for getting along in the world.

                To me it’s rather like the boyfriend I had once who, at the age of twenty/twenty-one, did not know how to turn on an oven or stovetop, use a microwave, or use a washing machine/dryer. He didn’t know how to do those things because his mother had always done all of that for him; fair enough, but at some point you have to wonder why someone never bothered to even learn such basic skills. Did he not have any curiosity about it? No basic desire for at least enough independence to be able to heat up his own food or cook some pasta? No desire to give Mom a break once in a while? Really?

                So I didn’t judge him for not being able to do those things per se; I judged him for not caring to learn how to do those things. It was the lack of initiative and thought, the lack of desire for independence and self-improvement, that turned me off. Not the lack of ability. Like, I wouldn’t judge someone who needs spell-check, but I’d judge someone who knows they need it but won’t use it because they just don’t care and it’s the responsibility of others to somehow figure out what they mean, not their responsibility to communicate clearly. (Again, I don’t necessarily judge people for poor spelling/grammar/punctuation, it depends on the situation/context.)

              2. Kathleen_A*

                I am with Hills to Die On. Are there more important qualities in a person- or a boss? Of *course* there are. There are in fact much more important qualities. There also are more important qualities than, say, your default font….or your personal hygiene…or whether you wear an eccentric-looking hat while working…or your snacking preferences during business hours.

                But that doesn’t mean that people who use Comic Sans or Mistral in a lovely shade of magenta, elect not to bathe or brush their teeth regularly, wear cartwheel hats in their offices or eat a grape Popsicle during a client meeting can reasonably expect to not be judged for those things. We *all* judge people, including for fairly superficial things; the only difference is that we don’t all judge them for the same superficial things. Maybe the purple Popsicle won’t bother you, but it would sure bother me. The only way to stop judging people is to become a robot instead of a human being.

                And the thing is, like one’s choice of font, personal hygiene practices, headgear and frozen treat choices, sloppy emails are a choice, at least *most* of the time for *most* people. Yes, there are people with learning disabilities or dexterity issues, and even people without those disadvantages will make mistakes, and we should all try not to judge too harshly. But you don’t have to be rich or graduate from a prestigious school or have a big IQ to spell ordinary words, such as to/too/two, correctly, and most of us most of the time have the time to check over our emails before we send them. So I would argue that compared to some characteristics – such as height, weight, economic status, etc. – the sloppiness of an email is actually fairer than some superficial criteria, and the reason is that it is at least partly a matter of choice.

                So yes, I judge on that criteria, and I’m fine with that. It’s not the only thing I judge on, and if I know the person and know they’re smart and competent and so on, it matters considerably less. But particularly with someone I don’t know well, you’re darn right that if I get a sloppy email, my reaction will be “This is a sloppy person.” And that’s not usually a great message to deliver.

                1. I'll say it*

                  indeed! I’m really surprised at how pile-on-y this original comment got. if someone shows up somewhere with a mustard stain on their shirt, I’m going to think they are sloppy. I won’t be agonizing over whether they have muscle coordination issues or can’t afford mirrors or mustard stains just don’t matter to them because of ____. I’m just going to think “wow, pretty sloppy.” and then my life will go on. and so will theirs.

                2. Ozma the Grouch*

                  If I see someone with a mustard stain on their shirt I’m going to think “oh wow, they must be having a sh*ty day. Hope they can get that stain out.” I’m not assuming they came to work like that knowing they had a stain on their shirt and didn’t care. I’m going to assume that something happened between them getting dressed that morning and that moment that I am seeing them with the stained shirt. Now if it’s a “generally stained and unkempt” shirt, sure, that’s different. But being judgy towards someone because of a food accident that may or may not have been their fault is a bit much. And even now that I’m thinking about it more, how many times have I heard my new mom friends tell me their stories of getting dressed in the mornings only to find surprise stains on their clothes they didn’t know about until they got under the fluorescent lights at work.

                3. Anion*

                  Yes! Eleventy. (Although I do agree with Ozma the grouch that one stain, one time, wouldn’t really be an issue for me–again, depending on context. And how many times have we seen things like that discussed right here in this very column? “Dear AAM, I was on my way to a job interview and spilled mustard on my shirt! I don’t want to look sloppy, what do I do?”

                  Alison’s advice is never, “If they think you look sloppy they’re obviously a bunch of classist jerks who should check their inborn clean-shirt privilege, because how do they know you didn’t grow up on a dirt farm wearing potato sacks and eating sand so couldn’t be expected to understand elitist concepts like cleanliness, and they should always anticipate that the person they’re judging might come from such a background and has never been exposed to any other kind of life until that very moment. For that matter only hideous snobs care about not smelling like a barnyard animal or using a knife and fork at all, so a decent person would just hold either their nose or their gorge (or both) as they watch their admin candidate scratch her armpits with a fork and shovel food into her open mouth with her whole hand, dribbling it everywhere as she does,” which seems to be the general feeling in this thread, at least. It’s always something reasonable and common-sense, like, “Apologize for the stain in a friendly, self-deprecating way. If you laugh about it, they probably will, too, and it will be fine.” Life is not a Mentos commercial; you know, if you spill a big blob of mustard on your shirt you can’t just squirt some more on there like polka dots and think that your cocky grin and minty breath will conceal the fact that you look like you lost a bet and reek of condiment.

                  And yes, IMO the sloppiness of an email is something the vast majority of people *do* have control over, which makes it a fairer criteria on which to judge. The idea that being born into a particular situation or whatever means one is incapable of seeing or understanding that other people live differently, and incapable of learning how those people live, is IMO deeply offensive, patronizing, and insulting. Nobody is born knowing how to read, talk, or drive a car, but we all learn to do those things if we care enough; it requires having and taking some initiative, yes, but everyone is capable of that, as well.

            2. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

              There is a big difference between a typo on a blog and in a business presentation.

              And there is an even bigger difference between a typo, which happens because of keyboard dexterity and the fact our brains fill in gaps our eyes miss, and poor grammar, which signals you’re poorly educated or simply don’t care.

              1. Pickled Beets*

                I grew up in an area with a strong dialect. It took until halfway through college for someone to even point out that I tended to drop the “to be” from verbs (“the car needs washed” vs “the car needs to be washed”). My grandmother was an English teacher, and I still didn’t know. Breaking that habit has taken years, and I still don’t catch it every time, 20 years later.

                You can judge me for that if you want, but I’m going to judge right back for your own issues and inadvertent mistakes…or, alternatively, you can ask if I’m from the greater Pittsburgh area. Then we can have a friendly conversation, get to know each other better as I ask where you’re from, joke about each other’s taste in sports teams, build trust, improve our business relationship, etc. See how that can work?

                1. TheFloorisSlippy*

                  ooooh, I’m from the Laurel Highlands – as soon as I saw you dropped “to be” i knew exactly where you’re from. I mostly put “to be” where it belongs now, except when I get angry or tired – and then I get twangy, too. I’ve had people ask me if I was southern. Nope, just Appalachian…

                2. Kathleen_A*

                  Yes, but leaving “to be” out isn’t actually incorrect. It’s a dialectical variation, and no, people shouldn’t judge you for that. In contrast, using “to” when you mean “too” is always incorrect everywhere, as is misspelling multiple words in a simple email. Those are always incorrect, those indicate sloppy writing, and that’s the sort of thing I judge people on. Not ordinary regionalisms but sloppiness.

          2. Jesca*

            I get you. I do. I am mix between very low class, upper middle class, and lower middle class. A lot of things that signal “low class” to me, do irk me. But I realized this is because of my feelings about who I was raised around, and not so much about what is actually important about other people. It took me years to get over the “but what will the neighbors think!” mentality from my upper middle class mother. Just like it took me years to get over “don’t ever do anything wrong or people will think you are like your father” from my lower class side of the family.

            I too had to work very hard. Even though I was raised around both cultures, my direct family line was lower middle class. There was no helping me when I turned 18 and I had to do everything to get where I was. It was such a struggle, but I do not bemoan people who didn’t struggle. No one should have to struggle and no one should be judged on such minor details. That is the the point.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              Of courser they should not be. We should all be judged solely on the content of our character. I am living in this world though, where these things count.

              1. Grammarian*

                Attention to details is part of character. Do you want your airline pilot to be inattentive to details?

                1. Hills to Die on*

                  Exactly. It shows me that you are thinking, that you are putting in effort, and that you care about the job at hand.

                2. Doe-Eyed*

                  I don’t particularly care if they’re inattentive to grammar because I’m not hiring them to copy edit.

                  I work with a bunch of doctors, many of whom routinely slaughter the English language and punctuation. They’re literally world leaders in their field and anybody that judged them as inattentive based on how they write an email is going to be in big trouble medically.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I think that’s where I land, Doe-Eyed. There are some situations and jobs, etc., for which proper spelling, diction, grammar/syntax and whatnot matter. And there are contexts where it doesn’t matter very much. Generally speaking, most jobs don’t require attention to detail 24/7 (there are some that do, but they’re less common).

                  And I get that it’s annoying. I’m a person who gets distracted by typos and errors, and they sometimes throw off my concentration. But I’m trying to get better at letting those things go and focusing on whether those typos, etc., really matter for the specific task at hand.

                  I’m personally finding the description of “attention to detail” as “part of character” a little intense. I suspect it’s a placeholder for thoughtlessness, which is a part of character. But I don’t think attention to detail or meticulousness is (always) the same as a person’s personal character or treatment of others.

                4. Engineer Girl*

                  What silliness.

                  I am an extremely good at noticing details several levels down on a major engineering project. I have a reputation for it.

                  I can not, for the life of me, detect spelling errors. And don’t get me started with grammar.

                  “Attention to detail” is an amorphous term with little real meaning. Certain people can detect certain details, depending on how their brains are wired.

                  An inability to detect certain errors has nothing to do with attentiveness. It is not a character flaw, though several myopic grade school teachers tried to convince me of that.

                  A sloppy person has repeated mistakes. So does a dyslexic. One is a character issue, the other is brain wiring.

                5. Engineer Girl*

                  And by the way, the skill set needed to fly a plane is completely different than the skill set needed to write. In fact, they are located in different parts of the brain. You can have one without the other.

                6. Eliza Jane*

                  Engineer Girl, this has been one of my ongoing frustrations with the way education has changed since I was a kid, because almost everything now is passed through a prism of “but how well can you write about it?”

                  The ability to solve a math problem matters less than the ability to explain the principles behind it, and the ability to draw meaning from written text is inextricably linked to the ability to point to what specific words imply the meaning you received.

                  There’s an assumption that writing is just a default skill that everyone is good at, so introducing it into every workflow doesn’t corrupt the results. But the reality is that writing is a skill like any other, and a weakness in that skill doesn’t imply a weakness in anything else.

                7. Former Employee*

                  “Attention to details is part of character.”

                  So, if a mass murderer pays attention to details in the process of locating and killing his victims, that’s a sign of good character. However, when it comes to the cop who tracks him down and takes him into custody, he is clearly of inferior character because he [the cop] misspells some words in his report about the case.

                  Makes sense to me. (sarcasm)

          3. Say What, now?*

            That’s a great paragraph. It’s really inspiring to hear it framed as “I make sure that I’m giving my best so that you know who I am.” It’s a good way to introduce your professional self and a good way to show you respect your job.

            Mousie Housie, I think there’s a difference between professional and event-related correspondence and an informal writing setting like this. We can deal with typos here because we all know that we’re sneaking a comment in while we’re taking a 15 or while we’re in the bathroom (don’t lie, people, you’re doing it). It’s not as polished as it would be if it were, say, a resume.

        2. Penny Lane*

          So there’s class bias in some of these things. So what? I hate how the refrain “classist” or “class bias” is used to shut everything down.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I don’t think I was shutting anything down, but you’re of course welcome to your interpretation.

      3. Ozma the Grouch*

        Seriously, I had a boss who had severe dyslexia and excelled to the position of Director despite his learning disability. Learning to decipher his emails was an acquired skill. He even had a special app on his computer to try and help correct his grammar/spelling (to a more advanced degree than Word spell check since he couldn’t recognize the correct words himself ). But it really only worked so well. His ability to write perfect emails had little to do with his ability to run his department well. Same with coworkers I’ve had who are non-native English speakers. I’m not about to smirk at someone for rogue misspellings here or there, or a sentence that’s set up grammatically different then the way I would write it. I catch myself swapping words all the time like “there” and “their” or “were” and “where”. I KNOW the difference. Sometime you are just in the moment and typing too fast.

        1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

          Dyslexia, non-native language skills, and so on are special cases. I am talking about healthy native speakers. And yes, I do judge people who confuse “their” and “they’re.”

          1. Ozma the Grouch*

            Except they aren’t:
            “Dyslexia affects 1 in 10 individuals, many of whom remain undiagnosed and receive little or no intervention services. ” –

            “Dyslexia is the most common learning disability and occurs in all areas of the world. It affects 3–7% of the population, however, up to 20% may have some degree of symptoms.” – Wikipedia

            So was that a typo in your answer or did you just misquote me?

            1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

              “Except they aren’t: dyslexia affects 1 in 10 individuals.”

              So in other words, I am holding 90% of the population to a fair standard.

              1. Ozma the Grouch*

                If you think 10% of people is a small number then you are kidding yourself. In an office of 30 people, like the OP’s, that’s 3 people. Most people with dyslexia keep it on the down-low for fear of retaliation or stunted job growth. I don’t know the scope of your working situation, but I suggest you do the math and realize just how many dyslexics you potentially work with.

                I couldn’t find solid statistics for populations and locations of non-native English speakers in the US. Concentrations are higher in some areas than others. For me, about half the people I work with are non-native speakers. So the thought of including them in a debate like this is not ludicrous. I have a parent who is a non-native English speaker and a brother who is dyslexic. And I see people like you demanding the world of them all the time because they aren’t good enough, for something they have to work so hard for. Because you can’t tell them apart from “healthy native speakers”.

              2. Emma the Strange*

                You think can reliably tell 100% of the time when a person has dyslexia, just by reading their email? Do they have to advertise their disability to every new person they send an email, just so that person won’t judge them?

              3. Sketchee*

                You do get to make that choice to judge based on this. If it’s a priority for you and you’re in a position to be choosey about those you work with, go for it.

                I admit I judge those who are very stuck on grammar when it doesn’t seem to matter to me.

                It’s not part of the service I provide as a designer. Correcting copy and proofreading aren’t interesting to me.

                For the clients who are more invested in copy, I just ask them to proofread. Praise them for cultivating that skill.

                Even many writers I’ve worked with aren’t very invested in grammar as opposed to ideas. That’s why we hire editors and copyeditors.

          2. MakesThings*

            I also judge people really hard for “their” and “they’re”.
            That’s not dyslexia, that’s lack of logic. “They’re” is short for “they are”, so how is it even possible to confuse it? Are you trying to say “They are car” when you type “they’re car?”.
            And yet.

            1. MakesThings*

              By the way, before anyone jumps on me: English is my second language. If I could learn it, so can you (yes, barring learning disabilities, obviously).

            2. Jamoche*

              Things like that are a short circuit between brain and fingers – your brain supplies the right word, your muscle memory goes to the one you use most often. And if it’s something like “viola” instead of “voila”, then just looking may not catch it because studies have shown that your brain will parse words if the first and last letters are right even when the interior ones are scrambled.

            3. Ozma the Grouch*

              Except I didn’t say I mix up “their” and “they’re” when I am typing fast… I said I mix up typing “their” and “there” and “were” and “where”. SMH. I pointed that out to the troll above as well but they chose to ignore it. The exact point is that I know the difference but in the heat of the moment when typing my fingers revert to muscle memory and I won’t catch that I’ve swapped them right away. But please… continue telling me what I didn’t say.

              I am also multi-lingual, my father is ESL and his English is great but still has to work at it writing it. Your (not you’re harhar) experience with ESL is not universal. Not everyone takes on second languages with the same ease, especially when it comes to reading/writing.

              1. MakesThings*

                I didn’t say I judge you, I said I judge people who confuse “their” and “they’re”.

        2. Lynne.*

          This is exactly what I thought when I read the original questioner’s letter. I am a teacher. People with sloppy grammar make verb mistakes, and spelling mistakes on words of specific usage. Leaving words out usually indicates either a lack of proofreading or lack of proofreading OUT LOUD. Many many spelling mistakes and the mistakes described in this letter usually indicate learning disabilities and dyslexia. Such a person might have been hired as a friend or family member of someone in an authoritative position, or is kept on because he is otherwise effective and it may be assumed a secretary can correct his work, OR for internal matters, that others know about his condition, and ignore it because they know about his condition. It’s a type of disability. His thinking processes are probably good and clear, and therefore others who know him are overlooking this disability because his other work is good, or because he got his job through knowing someone.

    4. Glomarization, Esq.*

      One of the most brilliant creatives I know is dyslexic. His e-mails are atrocious; they look like they were typed out by a four-year-old’s fists. And yet he’s managed to find work on multi-million dollar films and work with Oscar-winning directors. You’d never know the depth and beauty of his work, though, if you only judged him on his written communications.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Which is why you should not be judged only on one thing–any one thing. Fortunately, that isn’t what I am saying.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          But the dyslexic would not have occasional typos. Typos would be an ongoing issue. That person is effectively “blind” in that area and training won’t fix it completely.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Out of all the people I have seen do this over the years, I can only guess that a relatively small number of them–if any–have dyslexia.

      2. H.C.*

        But one can also make the argument about how many more deals he would’ve landed if he had someone proof his emails, which it sounds like he can afford, before they go out.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          He’s always busy, but maybe when one person doesn’t hire him he just goes with another gig, so I guess? Filmmakers see his previous work and decide to hire him based on that, not on whether he mixes up “they’re,” “there,” and “their.”

          When you’re at a certain level in your career (like LW’s COO), or when your work speaks for itself (like my pal), having less than stellar e-mail communication skills just don’t matter as much.

    5. Bagpuss*

      I think it is worth bearing in mind that good grammar and correct spelling and punctuation are things which have to be learned, and that they are far easier for some people than for others, so the amount of time and effort needed to ensure that those things are correct will vary a lot from one person to another, it’s not necessarily about being bothered or not. There aren’t many jobs where spelling is critical to the ability to do the job.

    6. Engineer Girl*

      Wow. I see this attitude often on this site. So let’s clear up some misconceptions.

      First, it’s possible that they are typing on a phone. That’s going to increase the probability of mistakes. And spellchecker can introduce mistakes as much as correct them.

      Second, they are busy. Sure, it is important for client communication. It may not be as important if they are whipping a note off quickly so things can move forward.

      Third, some people are word people. Others are number people. Number people are just as smart as word people but in a different area. This becomes more true for people on the autism spectrum. Words and grammar are more difficult (not impossible, but difficult).

      Judging people on your area of strength is wrong. How would you like it if I judged you on your math ability?

      Can the person lead? Can they communicate effectively? How are they at their particular job?

      Spelling and grammar are only one part of a much larger package.

      1. Where's the Le-Toose?*

        Such a wonderful way to describe all the thoughts rattling around in my mind right now. +1

      2. Elemeno P.*

        Yes, this. I am a technical writer, so it would look pretty bad if I sent out something with typos or terrible grammar. It’s also my job to write what other people tell me to write, and they often do not tell me in a very coherent manner. That doesn’t mean they’re incompetent; they are, in fact, subject matter experts that I am specifically trying to reach for their expertise. They’re VERY good at what they do, but that does not mean they have to be good at what I do.

        There is one guy I speak to regularly who actually spoke English as a first language but lived abroad so long that he doesn’t think in English anymore. His emails are difficult to understand, so I just call him. It’s not that hard to accommodate people.

      3. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

        If I’m sending out math equations, you have every right to judge me if they’re wrong.

        The ability to write in clear, concise language is important for everyone. Engineers aren’t exempt, which is why they have to take freshman English. Not all of them may have the eloquence of Cicero, but they should be able to use correct grammar to get their point across.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Even after years of classes on writing I struggle to use good grammar. And as an engineer, I love the passive voice!

          I struggle to write documents. They need extensive review. I love my tech writer when I can get one. I make sure all my papers are reviewed by multiple people

          Emails? Not so much. They do not go through a review process.

          It’s very clear from your multiple posts that you don’t understand engineering. You don’t understand that emails and tech papers have a totally different review process.

          1. MakesThings*

            In your defense:
            The common canard that passive voice is “bad grammar”, is factually and provably wrong, and needs to be retired.
            I’m appalled that people still hear that BS from teachers.
            The passive voice has many uses and has its own place in language, and is often the correct choice for conveying specific meaning. Not everything needs to be dumbed down to 4th grade reading level in order to be “correct”, but sadly the vast majority of writing advice boils down to erasing complexity.

        2. Pickled Beets*

          My organization deliberately pairs engineers and technical writers together because engineers are so notorious about a) bad writing, b) not getting the point across in easily understandable terminology, and c) not even wanting to write, even though if they don’t, their work never gets to the customer, or the customer doesn’t understand it.

          It’s actually led to a severe “engineers are better” culture that my organization has been struggling to fix for decades, with limited success…but the point is, teams make a better product because we all have different strengths.

        3. Valprehension*

          Let’s not pretend that “clear, concise language” and “correct grammar” are even remotely the same thing. Lots of of proper grammar rules can actually create confusion when followed too closely (Churchill’s point about the “never end sentences with prepositions” rule resulting in Yoda-ism like “up with which I will not put” still stands, and although the Oxford comma is officially considered incorrect by all style guides including Oxford, it is still often necessary to properly clarify lists that include complex clauses.

          Moreover, “thx” is both clear and actually more concise than “thank you”, and yet is less “correct”.

          1. Jamoche*

            I can communicate effectively in computer languages. Ask me to describe it with words only – no demo app, no whiteboard? Forget it.

      4. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

        I’ll admit that typos and grammatical errors stick out to me like a sore thumb (so I am the unofficial proofreader of everything in my office) but like you said, it’s not necessarily an indicator of intelligence. I went to two engineering schools (which was a total exercise in futility!) and would be in class with these kids who could do differential equations in their sleep, but could barely construct a sentence in the language they’d spoken since birth. Totally different brain than mine. Which is why I am not an engineer – lol.

      5. Audenc*

        Great comment! I’m a word person, and I think it’s easy to think that writing ability / grammar / and style are something that everyone can/should be good at because there’s so much focus on it in school. But getting beyond the basics is an actual skill.

        One of my best stats guys routinely mixed up “then” and “than” when he first started (and it came up a lot in correlation analysis!), and one of the graphic designers I works with constantly capitalizes common nouns in emails and IMs…that’s why I do the writing and editing.

      6. Gazebo Slayer*

        A bit of a correction – not everyone on the autism spectrum is bad at language and good at math. Some of us, including myself, are the opposite!

    7. PugLife*

      Also, spelling and grammar just… don’t take that much time. I proofread my emails before I send, mostly to make sure my message is clear, but occasionally I catch typos. But that takes MAYBE 30s extra.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        That’s because you have the ability to detect it. Many autistics and dyslexics will never see the error because they are essentially blind to it. They won’t even see the error if you are pointing it out to them!
        You must have the ability in order to make the corrections. Some people, because of their brains, can’t even develop that ability. Training only helps a little, but never fully corrects it.

        1. Ozma the Grouch*

          Don’t forget people who are non-native speakers who may also be “blind” as well and are trusting things like spell/grammar checks to guide them in the right direction. Also, this whole notion of proof reading your own work is a little uppity. There is a very good reason that in the publishing world you don’t edit your own work!!! People tend to be blind to their own typos until they have at least a little distance from it. This is just human nature.

        2. Jamoche*

          There’s also the truism that even if you’re an excellent proofreader on other people’s work, you can be blind to your own mistakes because you see what you meant to put, not what’s actually there.

          1. Ozma the Grouch*

            Yes! I work in publishing and you NEVER proof your own work for exactly this reason. You always have someone else, or if possible a few people, review your work for you. Emails of course are not important enough to be peer reviewed. I only seem to catch my mistakes after I hit send/publish/submit/etc. and then your editing options are pretty limited.

        1. Gimli Glider*

          So does math. Should we excuse engineers who mess up basic arithmetic, resulting a bridge collapsing?

          1. Ozma the Grouch*

            Engineers will ALWAYS have someone checking their work before something gets built. That’s what codes are for. It’s kind of a big deal.

          2. Engineer Girl*

            Arithmetic errors do not cause bridge collapse. Systemic errors do. And it would have to happen after multiple reviews.
            As Ozma noted, engineers ALWAYS have someone check their numbers.

            1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

              They sure caused the Gimli Glider incident.

              IIRC they also caused the JAL Mt. Fuji crash following an incorrect repair.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  Math errors BY THEMSELVES have not caused failures. You need multiple breaches to have a disaster.

                  And by the way, not a single one of the errors referenced in the article was a math error. They were a SERIES of system errors.

                2. Ozma the Grouch*

                  Engineer Girl: I hear you AND I totally get you. SMH… Some people just want to see what they want to see.

          3. Bagpuss*

            But getting the math right is of fundamental importance to the job which the engineer is doing, in that case. In most cases, spelling is not of such fundamental importance for the average letter or email.
            If you are drafting a legal contract, for instance, then accuracy is very important because an error may change the meaning of the document. In most e-mails etc that is not the case.

            1. Lawyer*

              “If you are drafting a legal contract, for instance, then accuracy is very important because an error may change the meaning of the document. In most e-mails etc that is not the case.”

              If it is worth writing, then it is worth getting the meaning, including the spelling, right. Oh, and you’re introducing a false dichotomy between “legal document” and “non-legal document.” You can form a binding contract by e-mail. In discovery, *everything* is a legal document. I’ve done litigation document review. You quickly learn who is a sharp thinker and who is not; and you learn who uses good grammar, and who does not. You also learn those two distinctions overlap considerably.

              1. Lasslisa*

                It’s just not true that everything worth writing is worth polishing. Not all tasks have equal priority, and sometimes you just need to get a piece of information across and move on to the next task.

                Spelling and grammar come very easily to me, and I would once have said (based on my school experiences) that it was all just part of general “smarts” and precision. But I’ve since worked with several brilliant leaders and engineers who can’t spell to save their lives (I’m especially tired of seeing “the roll of” where it should be role, it’s like nails on chalkboard for my brain). My predisposition to discount them was proven very, very wrong.

              2. Bagpuss*

                Yes, you can form a legal contract via e-mail, but not every e-mail is a contract. You can form a legal contract verbally, too. It doesn’t mean that every conversation should be conducted in the kind of formal, technical language you would use if you were making submissions in court.
                The fact that a document may be legally disclosable or discoverable doesn’t mean that it is a legal document.

                My experience is that someone’s spelling or grammar is an extremely poor indicator of their intelligence, or their ability in any area other than spelling or grammar.

                There are plenty of things where minor errors in spelling or grammar really don’t matter at all. And plenty of other situations where errors in spelling or grammar are not critical, and where other things (speed, for example) are *more* important.

            2. Penny Lane*

              “But getting the math right is of fundamental importance to the job which the engineer is doing, in that case. In most cases, spelling is not of such fundamental importance for the average letter or email.”

              It’s not that it’s important (in the sense that the communication will be impaired if a word is spelled incorrectly). It’s just … why not do things well? Like an adult with standards, as opposed to a child who just doesn’t wanna put in the effort?

              1. Bagpuss*

                As a lot of other commentators have pointed out, it doesn’t necessarily have anything at all to do with ‘putting in the effort’ or not having standards.
                You might as well ask why someone with impaired vision doesn’t just make the effort to see clearly, after all, why not just do things well?

          4. Eliza Jane*

            If you are that bad at math, you probably shouldn’t be an engineer, or another career that requires math. If you aren’t good at spelling and grammar, you should… what, never write emails?

            We live in a world where basically everyone needs to write to be a functional adult. People can build their entire lives around avoiding needing to communicate in writing, and they will still wind up sending emails to someone who is eventually going to think they’re an idiot for screwing up spelling and grammar.

      2. Sylvan*


        Unless you are dealing with a disability that makes this difficult for you, giving your writing a once-over is a very easy, basic way to show respect for your reader.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          The problem is that people (rightly) hide their disability because of fear of being limited.
          You can’t tell if someone is writing poorly because of sloppiness or disability. Someone lower on the food chain would never know. That’s why judging at such a shallow level is problematic.

          1. PlainJane*

            Another +1. I’m very nitpicky about language, but language also comes easily to me. Other people are good at things I will never be able to do well (like anything that requires visual/spatial ability). We get better work and more innovative ideas from diverse groups, and that includes diversity of talent. You’re going to miss out on a lot of good colleagues if you judge their worth by a single ability.

      3. Bagpuss*

        Puglife, spelling and grammar may not take *you* much time.
        They may take others a lot longer. I cannot see errors at all easily. I will check what I write, but that doesn’t actually help, because mostly, a correct and incorrect spelling will both look equally plausible to me, unless the miss spelling is so bad that it makes the word a completely different shape. Mostly it doesn’t register as wrong at all. I literally cannot see it.
        For instance, take the word ‘accommodation’ . I know how to spell it because I learned it.
        But if I see it written down, accomodation, acommodation, accommodation and acomodation all look equally good. Or accammodation or accommodtion.
        If I’m typing, I can check to see which ones have the red line under them, or in print I can go through the word letter by letter to check it against the spelling I have learned, but I cannot tell by looking which one is right.
        I do make a lot of effort to get it right, in formal, work communication, and I but I can completely understand that if the job or the persons particular role doesn’t make it essential that it may not be a necessary or efficient use of their time.

        I think that it is one of those things that if it is easy to you, its very hard to imagine that it isn’t easy to others, because it feels so natural.

      4. Where's the Le-Toose?*

        It’s all about volume for a CEO. If the CEO sends 200 emails a day, that’s an hour and 40 minutes a day simply spent on proof reading emails, some of which may be a 1 out of 10 on an importance scale.

        I think most boards of directors and shareholders would rather have a CEO in a high profile meeting that’s going to give the company a 10% profit this quarter as opposed to being holed up in their office reviewing emails for typos.

    8. Teapot Tester*

      Others have cited examples of dyslexics who are brilliant in other areas and my husband also falls into this category. I’ve been proofreading and editing his emails and documents for 20 years. The more he concentrates and takes his time, the better his writing is, but it’s still not great. Spell check only catches so much, and he likes to capitalize random words or throw in inappropriate commas.

      1. AK*

        An odd statement. English speakers use it and other English speakers know what they mean by it, so I’m not sure what criteria you’re working with. It’s not something you see used in a formal register, but that hardly means it’s not a word. Fldafdhsfaodh is not a word, “Judgy” certainly is.

    9. nep*

      I get what Alison says here and I reckon she’s right. Still my regard for someone in the work world goes down when I see sloppy writing in work e-mails. It just does.

    10. AlexDiMarco*

      Completely agree! Spelling errors and typos jump out and spoil whatever message was supposed to come across. I find it also disrespectful to the recipient(s). I am a mid to high level exec (mid for praise high for flak) and I make sure my emails have no bugs, so to speak.

      1. Penny Lane*

        Have you ever seen someone present a slide with typos? How can you concentrate on the substance of what they are saying when there is a big fat juicy typo? It’s nearly impossible.

  2. Penny*

    It was SO common at my previous job with many execs to get sloppy emails with lots of textspeak or one-word replies like “Thx.” Now I aspire to be powerful enough to get away with it.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I don’t come down too hard on that one, but really, is it so much to type out the word or use auto-complete to hit ‘enter’ or the space bar? By the time you type ‘th’, your phone should pick it up so it will actually save you a keystoke to avoid typing an ‘x’.

          The point is, I can’t imagine anyone’s time being that valuable that they can’t be bothered to communicate well. Typos happen to everyone and I don’t think anything of sporadic typos, but beyond that it just makes them look unprofessional in my opinion.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            But if the purpose of an email is to communicate, doesn’t “thx” communicate the person’s meaning?

            1. finderskeepers*

              I guess the same reason you don’t use “What up bro” as a salutation when meeting someone in a business setting?

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                But how is signing off with your initials overly casual? I don’t think “Thx” is anywhere on the level of informality as “What up bro!” or “lol.”

                But I also think professionalism is a continuum. Certain situations require a greater degree of professionalism/polish than others. In many circumstances, internal emails with abbreviations like “Thx” are totally ok and may be adequately professional/appropriate, depending on the context and the culture of that office.

              2. Naptime Enthusiast*

                I could see myself greeting my department head like this today, but not when I first met him!

            2. Hills to Die on*

              It does, but it doesn’t look as professional. Like I said, that’s not really a typo in the true sense of the word. You can type many thing’s that get meaning across but they wl loook odd and takeaway from the topick at hand.

            3. LouiseM*

              Yes, thank you. Instead of wishing that execs were judged on their grammar and spelling as harshly as underlings, shouldn’t we wish that NOBODY was?

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                I judge it harshly in a context like a published article, where I shouldn’t have to stop and think about what was meant. Also billboards–if your message to me is being conveyed in 3 foot tall letters, it needs to be spelled correctly to have the desired effect.

                Not in rapid fire back-and-forth email. And a rule of blogs is that any comment correcting someone’s typo will have a grammatical error on which the hordes can descend like cats on a red dot.

                1. LouiseM*

                  Yes, of course. A published article is nothing like a quick email probably written on a phone. Especially because the error belongs not just to the author but to their editors.

              2. Coalea*

                Personally, I would not want to live in a world where no one was judged on their grammar and spelling. That is my idea of hell.

              3. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

                shouldn’t we wish that NOBODY was?

                No, we should not wish that. Good grammar is a sign of attention to detail. Do you also say it would be “judgy” [sic] to criticize engineers who make mistakes in their math and are responsible when a bridge collapses?

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  This is a false equivalency. A bridge does not collapse because of a few mistakes. A bridge collapses because of multiple widespread systemic errors. And these would have to get by multiple reviews by multiple people.
                  A bridge collapses because of MANY errors and we have every right to criticize.

                2. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

                  Once again, was the Gimli Glider reviewed by “multiple people”? (For those who are not aviation buffs, the Gimli Glider was an Air Canada 767 that ran out of fuel because someone forgot that metric liters were less than imperial gallons.)

                  Review by multiple people is all the MORE reason to point out grammatical errors, rather than ignoring them to get along. You don’t want to risk Central Park Jogger syndrome, where everyone just assumes Someone Else Will Point Out The Problem.

                3. Engineer Girl*

                  I can see at least 5 errors with the Gimli Glider, and that’s a quick analysis. It wasn’t own.

                  I also want to point out the false equivalency of your logic. Preparing and aircraft for flight is no where near the same as shooting off an email.

                4. LouiseM*

                  I think “I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar” is a parody of some of the other out-there commenters on this thread. There’s no way anyone serious would compare a GRAMMATICAL ERROR to a brutal r*pe. The “judgy [sic]” was (I hope) another joke because I didn’t use that word.

          2. whistle*

            How is “thx” not “communicating well”? Is there confusion about what “thx” means?

            I personally only use “thx” when the “thank you” is a stand in for “confirming I received your email/IM,” but I just don’t understand the sentiment that this widely recognized abbreviation is not communicating well.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            I have killed autocomplete except on my phone, because it is WRONG about what I’m trying to type.

            I usually spell out words. However, on reading that Kids Today don’t use punctuation in their texts, I looked back through my texts with my children and it was true! And I had never noticed before, because in that context their lack of periods didn’t matter. Both are perfectly capable of using periods in history papers and grant applications.

            1. peachie*

              Phone/internet dialects are so interesting to me! I definitely have “better” grammar in some formats (like work emails) than in others (like friend texts), but it’s not because I can’t be bothered to use “proper” grammar when texting. (Well, sometimes it is. :) ) But, like, when you say “Kids Today,” that’s different than “kids today,” and that’s so fascinating!

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                I asked them about it, and periods seem over-emphatic. Like a little foot stomp at the end of their texts. So they and their friends don’t use them. (Well, my older child uses them to break up a long block of text, and my younger sends lots of short texts so as to avoid the conundrum of texting a period.)

          4. Penny Lane*

            Just be aware that it seems as though you rely on the auto-complete function. Lots of people don’t use that function at all.

        2. finderskeepers*

          I think writing “thx” in business email is one level above “lol” and one level below signing the email using your initials

          1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

            And I have a coworker who does all three. He’s genuinely obnoxious.

            Although, I also have a coworker who writes beautiful emails. Elegant. Immaculate spelling. Perfect grammar. They are no shorter than 4 lengthy paragraphs. I also want to club him on a regular basis.

            There’s a fine line in email.

          2. Ophelia*

            I find this so interesting, because it is so specific to office culture – where I work, having internal communication move into a more casual set-up typically denotes that a senior staff-person is engaging you as an equal and/or that you have whipped through a topic rapidly and can now forgo a measure of formality. The more formal the correspondence, the greater the perceived distance between you. I totally understand that this isn’t the case everywhere, but I’d just bear in mind that there are times when having someone sign off with their initials is a positive thing.

            1. finderskeepers*

              I find the more familiar I am with someone, the more I don’t even bother signing the email. I just find it weird when people spend the time to sign it, yet only have just enough to write one or two letters.

              1. Hills to Die on*

                I have an automated signature, so it actually takes less time to leave it there than to remove it.

              2. Jamoche*

                I only sign it when someone has repeatedly left off the second half of my double first name :)

            2. Akcipitrokulo*

              If I am *really* annoyed with you, the email I send will be very formal and the grammar will be impeccable ;)

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        It really depends on context. I use ‘thx’ Mostly via IM with peers or juniors but will use in email too (same audience). Those above me will generally get a full ‘thanks’ or ‘thank you’.

        I’ve been told that I have a formal way of writing and I use big and unusual words. So for me this is a way to remain approachable. Yes, I do think as you gain rungs on the ladder you can and probably should lesson the formality in your writing. It can help to keep you from coming across as out of touch or stuffy. Obviously this is for internal communications. External communications will be more formal.

        Oh… and I developed my signature too…


        1. Pickled Beets*

          +1000. Yes. This.

          (This example is as casual as I get…the running office joke is how formal I am.)

    1. NicoleT*

      Okay, so with the textspeak – not wanting to type much is understandable. You can set your keyboard up to autocorrect things (I have “u”, “thx”, “srsly” and my kid’s name programmed in mine, as well as my email addresses).

      I also have my phone email signature include “Sent from my phone – please excuse any typos!”.

      YMMV – my phone also recognizes names and context now… so all the (uncommon and common) names of the Cub Scouts show up in my autocorrect suggested text bar.

      1. Bea*

        Now signatures on phone correspondence that’s where my pet peeves start kicking up. I’ll take txt speak all day long over “sent from my ipad” notations. Those get shut off after purchase.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          I like the ‘sent from my idevice’ I started off disliking them, but I’ve found it gives context.

          If I receive a ‘sent from my iphone’ email, I’m pretty sure the quick often curt response is because of the device. I also know not to send back heavy image or expect someone to open an attachment. I’ll know they are probably glancing at it and to include the big points in the body (A good idea anyway, but for various reasons this isn’t always done).

          1. MsMaryMary*

            We had a huge argument about “sent from my device” notes in our office, with one account exec insisting they were unprofessional. I like them because it hints to my client or coworker that I’m not in the office. I don’t use text speak in email and I try not to typo regardless of where I am. But it is helpful to me to let a client know that, for example, I can answer question A but need to look into question B and get back to him tomorrow because I’m not at my desk.

      2. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

        But, like, people don’t always use “u” or “thx” purely because its 2 milliseconds faster, they use it because it’s a common styling of words and communicates the exact same thing, just as clearly. Why should anyone think that’s a problem?

        1. PugLife*

          It’s outdated to me. I’ve never seen a person close to my age (mid 20s) use “thx”. To me, it says “I learned to text when phones lacked full keyboards and never bothered to update my skills.” Because when you had to press one button multiple times, shorter words made some amount of sense. But now that phones have keyboards and easily accessible punctuation, abbreviations like “thx” seem outdated.

          I’m not saying young people never use abbreviations – I think things like lol and lmao, which I see frequently, entered the lexicon because they have distinct meaning. Thx is just a short thanks, but it’s not any more difficult for most people to type out the full word, and seems unnecessarily casual.

          1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

            My ex-boss’s initials were TH. If he ended an email with thx I’d think was blowing me kisses…

          2. Penny Lane*

            “I’ve never seen a person close to my age (mid 20s) use “thx”. To me, it says “I learned to text when phones lacked full keyboards and never bothered to update my skills.” Because when you had to press one button multiple times, shorter words made some amount of sense.”

            In other words, you’re dinging older people for being early adopters. I’m going to call agism!!!

        2. pleaset*

          Along those lines, I got an email from the former president of a country yesterday. It was to my boss, CC’ing me. It was a thumbs-up emoticon. That’s all.

          I get emails all the time from a guy who was a senior advertising executive for some of the biggest brands in the world (Fortune 100 companies) and who charges thousands of dollars a day for his time, that close with “thx.”

    2. OP*

      I know that this ended up being a whole thread about text speak, but I do want to clarify that text speak was not the type of thing I was asking about. I think text speak is fine when used infrequently or when used, well, in text messages!

  3. epi*

    Yeah, I would say the short answer to this is “yes”. The email burden for senior people can be unreal. IME if they don’t need to send me an attachment or something, they are often responding from their phones.

    1. finderskeepers*

      “The email burden for senior people can be unreal.” They don’t get paid the big bucks for nothin’

      1. RG2*

        Sure, but there’s also a finite amount of time in the day, so it’s not a question of how much they’re being paid, but the trade off of spending more time or attention on one thing versus another.

      2. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

        They don’t get paid the big bucks for nothin’

        Correct. And they should be getting the big bucks (bux?) for developing and implementing strategy, not responding to e-mails.

        1. finderskeepers*

          But if those emails are specific to them, as supposed to generic inquires that can be passed onto a subordinate, then it’s simply part of their job and they should do it or gtfo

    2. KTZee*

      Even mid-tier people… I get 100-200 emails a day and I’m at the project manager level, on the verge of moving to the lowest supervisory/management level. I used to fastidiously reread and recheck my emails before pressing send but now I save that level of effort for client responses and sensitive email conversations. I just have to triage if I’m ever going to get any substantive work done in my day.

  4. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

    Honestly, caring about spelling, grammar and the like is something I’ve been trying to get away from. Most of the time, it really doesn’t matter; language is used to communicate, and if you’re communicating what you want to and the message is being received, your goal is accomplished. Everything else is bias.

    At it’s worse, it’s pretty classist to care deeply about stuff like typos (not saying OP or anyone else is, I’m just saying this can be). “Proper English” is something constructed by power and institutions, and can easily be used to code who is in the “in” group (in some cases, meaning white, or middle-class or better, or native English speaking, pr attended college, or whatever) and who is part of the rabble.

    I don’t begrudge anyone wanting their communications to be polished, and OP could perhaps offer up their proofing services as a favor to this exec (like, “Hey, I know you’re really busy all the time, but I would be happy to help out with writing or proofing client correspondence sometimes if you like” or something, if there’s a way to do it fairly naturally), but I would personally let it go. It’s not uncommon for people to not care as much about typos and whatnot the higher up the ranks you get in a lot of orgs. I worked in media and our internal stuff had typos all the time; it wasn’t a symptom that anyone was bad at writing or anything, it’s just that it wasn’t worth the time it would take everyone to be vigilant about it. We had better things to do!

    (This is also why I’m an advocate of letting minor typos go when you’re a hiring manager evaluating candidates; unless the job actually requires clean writing, you’re filtering out people who might be really great at the job and just have typos. There are _tons_ of people like that, as OP has found!)

    1. A*

      Unless OP works closely with the exec in question, I would NOT suggest offering to help with proofreading. I can’t think of a way for that to just “come up” and it risks coming off petty and condescending rather than helpful.

      1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

        Yeah, that’s why I would let it go. Though OP notes that they DO work with the COO rather closely, and it’s a small company (30 people) so it’s reasonable to assume that they might not have a built-in method for proofing things generally, so I could see an ambitious OP offering to set something like that up, if they were so inclined.

    2. Penny Lane*

      “At it’s worse, it’s pretty classist to care deeply about stuff like typos (not saying OP or anyone else is, I’m just saying this can be). ”

      That’s like saying it’s classist to care deeply about whether one believes 2 + 3 = 5 or 2 + 3 = 6. Some things are just correct and some other things are incorrect. (And, of course, one can break spelling or grammar rules for creative purposes and that’s totally cool, and yeah, I get how grammar evolves, blah blah blah).

      But this overall concept – that there is no right or wrong – is why we have science-deniers today – because people believe everyone’s opinion is equally valid.

      I don’t have a problem with quick text or email communication between peers devolving into “thx” or “u,” though.

      1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

        I don’t think that math is a matter of opinion. I think that believing that 2+3=6 is a lot different than not caring if I used “than” or “then” in this sentence. We could change all “than”s to “then”s in every dictionary and, like, everything would be fine? Whereas if you magically changed 2+3 to equal 6 in math everywhere, I presume that all computers would stop working, and like satellites would fall from the sky?

        This false equivalence is wild to me. There’s a reason it’s called “language arts.”

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Yes… fundamentally, language evolves continuously, and math does not. (To be clear, our understanding of math may evolve, but the underlying structure is the same whether anyone understands it or not, just like physics.)

          These are completely different fields, and there’s no accurate comparison to be made when true/false assessments work in the one and not in the other. The rules of math and science exist whether we know or can accurately describe them or not — those rules are completely independent of the human ability to perceive them. Willow bark helped ease headaches even before we knew what acetylsalicylic acid was. The rules of language are decided by humans — they are dependent on what humans think they should be. If you say there is “right and wrong” in language to dismiss dialects, then there’s no reason why there isn’t a “right and wrong” regarding whole languages… and then I could easily argue that you are “wrong” because you’re writing in English instead of Farsi or Xhosa.

          Saying that one set of arbitrary, human-chosen rules is better than another has been classist historically, and it still is today.

        2. nep*

          I don’t really think correct spelling and grammar is a matter of opinion. Though, sure, more matters are up for debate in this domain than in math. (Example — I would say it should be different to or different from, not different than.)

        3. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

          “I don’t think that math is a matter of opinion. I think that believing that 2+3=6 is a lot different than not caring if I used “than” or “then” in this sentence. We could change all “than”s to “then”s in every dictionary and, like, everything would be fine? Whereas if you magically changed 2+3 to equal 6 in math everywhere, I presume that all computers would stop working, and like satellites would fall from the sky?”

          I haven’t the foggiest notion what you are trying to say here. But if your point is that computational errors can have catastrophic consequences in engineer projects, yes, then can. Google “Tacoma Narrows Bridge” or “Gimli Glider.”

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Stop. Please. You’re exposing that you don’t kmow anything about fault analysis

        4. AK*

          Indeed. Or “linguistics” on the science end of the spectrum, where the math argument would also be considered silly.

        5. She's One Crazy Diamond*

          This. I am a grammar nerd when it comes to my own writing and things I read recreationally but I do NOT police other people’s writing. If I can’t understand what they mean I will ask them to clarify, but if the general point gets across so what if they spell something wrong?

      2. A Teacher*

        It matters–sometimes–because it changes the meaning of what you are trying to get a across. Word choice, spelling, and grammar impact the message received in some cases. My students and I are talking about barriers to communication now and this is one that comes up regularly. Try reading 75 essays where 60 of them have major issues with spelling or grammar and you’ll see why in the educational field we still stress those components.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Thank you! I teach languages and, while I know I’m taking this a little too personally, it feels really hurtful and dismissive to hear that part of what I work hard to teach is “classist” and not important enough to merit attention. To be clear, I don’t expect linguistic perfection in most contexts, but there’s a difference between a true typo and errors that become a barrier to communication.

          1. Pickled Beets*

            It can definitely be learned, and is super important to clear communication! This is also one of the hardest things to teach. I work in technical writing & training, and trying to get engineers to explain things clearly has often proven quite difficult.

            Language studies are also where grammar really comes into play as hugely important. Russian grammar, for instance, is insanely tricky, which is why I only know a few phrases. Farsi always makes me write in passive voice in English due to sentence structure – might be different if I had a higher fluency level, but it’s quite a flowery, poetic language.

            Good luck, Humble Schoolmarm, and more power to you!

          2. AL*

            Just popping in, as someone who was a teacher and was raised by a teacher, and because I think your post deserves a thoughtful response (recent reader, commenting for the first time), Humble Schoolmarm. I don’t believe anyone here is saying that language arts/reading and language in general are wholly classist or unimportant. I believe that educators have generally moved beyond the idea of the teacher as the holder of the red pen, cruelly slashing through their students’ papers. I hope that we as a society can move past that as well.

            Language arts and English class (in the US) aren’t classist, but, as you know, our educational system is; regardless of all of the individually wonderful people working in the field, education has fundamentally always looked different depending on the skin color of the students in the school building and the tax brackets contributing to school funding. Add to this non-native speakers and folks with dyslexia, etc., and I’m not willing to make assumptions about people’s character based on things that are this heavily impacted by factors wholly out of their control. Additionally, sometimes it just doesn’t matter! I remind myself of this actively, as someone who was raised with an inability to send even a text message that I know has grammar or spelling mistakes. Just because I can do that doesn’t mean it makes a difference if my boss or coworker doesn’t as long as it’s intelligible. The OP’s original post and the majority of the posts here aren’t about writing that isn’t intelligible – at least I think the OP’s post would have read differently if it was about someone whose writing could not be understood, vs. consistently has errors that don’t impede OP from knowing what they were trying to say. The folks talking about classism and looking past grammatical errors when writing is still understandable are attempting to address people who take errors and extrapolate them into referendums about others’ characters and abilities to complete unrelated tasks.

            And, Humble Schoolmarm, what you do is really important. As someone who works in schools but left the teaching profession because I couldn’t handle the long hours and stress and whose mom was thrilled by that decision for my quality of life, I really appreciate you.

      3. Valprehension*

        Nope. 2+3 = 5 is an objective truth (assuming standard definition are being used for 2 and 3, etc.). Spelling and grammar are arbitrarily-agreed-upon standards. They’re not just correct or incorrect; they’re things that some people arbitrarily decided at some point, and that other people can just as arbitrarily decide otherwise about later. Hence why spelling and grammar standards can and do regularly change. You can’t compare these things, not even a little bit.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          But it’s not entirely arbitrary. If most of the English speaking world agrees that “pear” means the fruit that grows from a tree, and you write “pare,” that’s a completely different word! It completely changes the meaning of what you’re trying to say! “Pear down these files” – does that mean you want pears to be added to them? “Paint this room like a pare color” – does that mean you want a silver like a paring knife’s blade?

          Obviously in the above example, you can tell by context what the intended meaning is, but words are words for a reason, and precision in writing and speaking is absolutely important.

          1. LouiseM*

            It’s telling that you chose these ridiculous examples where nobody would plausibly misinterpret the speaker to mean “pears in files”–because there are so few situations where a minor mistake like that would actually cause confusions.

            1. essEss*

              I have a real example. I was in a store that had a handwritten sign on their register…. “Checks not excepted.”

              As written, this means they take checks. To “except” something is to not include/allow it. Checks “not” not allowed = checks are allowed.

              I assume that they meant it to mean “Checks not accepted” which means checks aren’t allowed, which is the complete opposite of what they had posted. I was very tempted to write a check and get a manager involved if they refused to take it since they had it posted that they do take them.

              1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

                But, like, even in that case, you still knew EXACTLY what the sign meant. You didn’t have any actual doubt.

                Look, one of my biggest pet peeves in applications is when people use ‘apart of’ instead of ‘a part of’ because they mean literally the opposite thing in a sentence. But it’s an academic point, because I absolutely know what they’re saying.

                Not to mention that people aren’t really dumb? If they get a command from their boss saying “make this a pare color” then they can ask a clarifying question.

                We can come up with minute, rare examples all day. But thinking ill of someone (in a meeting, in a job application, in a relationship) because they used the wrong word in a situation where you still know exactly what they’re saying comes up ALL THE TIME. It’s a much more pernicious impulse than the aggregate effect of the rare times a wall gets painted beige instead of green because someone didn’t ask an easy follow up question.

                1. essEss*

                  However, the point I’m making is they have a publicly posted written policy that says the opposite of what they intend. It is still a posted policy that specifically says that they take checks and invites problems because of it.

              2. LouiseM*

                I don’t consider this a real example. I mean, yes, they should have proofread their sign. But you knew they meant checks not ACCEPTED…because that is a set phrase one commonly sees in shops whereas checks not EXCEPTED means basically nothing. This is just pedantry.

                1. essEss*

                  However it invites legal complications since they have a posted sign that states that they take checks.

        2. Penny Lane*

          There is a difference between standards that are evolving (for example, the use of “they” as a singular pronoun, the use of emojis, the split infinitive) and just deciding to throw spelling and grammar rules down the drain because classist.

          1. Foxtrot*

            Your responses are getting unnecessarily hostile and attacking. Good grammar is a social construct. The primary purpose of language is to convey your message. If the message gets through, it doesn’t matter if there was a double negative or a then instead of than. Getting bogged down on that is not going to make friends.
            And a lot of this *is* cultural. Like, the California Valley is going to speak differently than them southern folk who ain’t from the Northeast.
            It’s about being able to handle people just being different around you or insisting everyone has to live by *your* rules.

        3. raktajino*

          Perhaps a better math comparison would be *how* you got at 2+3=5. Your approach–memorization? fingers? adding 2+2 and then +1?–will depend on your school’s approach, your personal mental habits, etc. And yet, as long as you arrive at 5 as the answer, it’s ultimately moot.

          Similarly, if the audience is understanding your message in the way you intend, does it matter whether you put all the commas in the right place and used the right homophones?

          Sidenote: Yes, you may have been told by teachers to use a specific approach, but that’s probably because your teacher was trying to teach you how to use that strategy. And the more strategies you know, the better a mathematician you’ll be. Like mathematical code switching.

      4. fposte*

        It’s completely different from math, though, because correct math is the same regardless of class or nationality. I’m an editor and my PhD is in English; I’m not saying this because I’m bad at English or because I let my writers make up rules. But understanding that grammar rules are codifying the speech of particular classes as correct and that those rules change over time is part of advanced understanding of English and grammar; there’s a reason why writers and scholars generally get less dogmatic about grammar the more they know and the higher they go. It’s not the same as science deniers at all, because we’re talking systems that do work and do exist even if they’re not the ones the office wants employed there. It’s more like a dress code, where the reasons certain approaches are preferable in offices are laden with race, class, and gender issues but that doesn’t mean we get to wear what we please with no blowback, either.

        1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

          “It’s more like a dress code, where the reasons certain approaches are preferable in offices are laden with race, class, and gender issues but that doesn’t mean we get to wear what we please with no blowback, either.”

          This is a PERFECT analogy, fposte. And none of that means that, say, stylists are always inherently and personally classist in their jobs (which is what the level of defensiveness on this thread would imply I was saying), but it does mean that a good stylist should be cognizant of those biases and perhaps let that recognition reflect in the way they evaluate others.

      5. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

        That’s like saying it’s classist to care deeply about whether one believes 2 + 3 = 5 or 2 + 3 = 6.


      6. AK*

        “…and yeah, I get how grammar evolves, blah blah blah…”
        “But this overall concept – that there is no right or wrong – is why we have science-deniers today – because people believe everyone’s opinion is equally valid.”

        Curious statements. Did you know there’s a whole field dedicated to the science of language? One which you are contradicting? Because linguists would not agree with your statement that not caring about typos is the same as not caring if “one believes 2 + 3 = 5 or 2 + 3 = 6”.*

        And I’m not sure you do understand how grammar evolves – people who say that often give lip service to the idea with some vague notion of it happening over centuries then act absolutely shocked and appalled when they see evidence of it happening in their lifetimes.

        Personally, I like grammar more than most – that’s why I went and got a degree in the science of it. If you’d like some suggestions on reading material to improve your understanding please let me know – I’d be happy to suggest some titles.

        *To be fair, typos have little to do with the science of language in general, unless you’re looking at them as evidence of re-analysis/shifting usage. I can’t image what science has to do with typos in general, aside from perhaps medical conditions that might make them more likely and which are irrelevant to this discussion. Typos = math is deeply confusing to me.

        1. Scratched*

          So obviously I’m not the person you were responding to, but I would actually love those reading material suggestions if you don’t mind sharing! I’m not much of a linguist by any means, but it’s always been a fascinating subject to me.

          1. AK*

            Absolutely! Though I immediately run into the problem that linguistics is a very broad field – if you’re looking for recommendations on a particular topic do let me know!

            Lighter Reading:

            Hornsby’s “Linguistics: A Complete Introduction” and Aitchison’s “Linguistics” in the Teach Yourself series both give a nice quick overview of key concepts – they’re often what I recommend to those curious about the field. David Crystal has written a ton of pop linguistics books that are usually quite good and he’s probably the only author you’re likely to find in an average bookstore. The language log site ( is good for light linguistic miscellanea.

            Heavier Reading:

            If you want to go beyond basic introductions then an introductory linguistics textbook would probably be helpful. We used O’Grady’s “Contemporary Linguistics” in my first year course, but Fromkin’s “Introduction To Language” is probably more widely used – either is a fine choice.
            Pullum and Huddleston‘s “A Student’s Introduction To English Grammar” is a great book that gives a linguistic analysis of English grammar contrasted with non-linguistic explanations, though it doesn’t deal with a range of dialects. Carnie’s “Syntax” is a good introduction to syntactic theory. If you’re looking for more information on dialects I’d recommend Siemund’s “Varieties of English : A typological Approach” or Wolfram and Schilling’s “American English: Dialects and Variation” (assuming you’re interested in American dialects).

            1. Scratched*

              I don’t know enough about linguistics to even try to pick a more particular topic, ha! But these are great, thank you so much! I’ve saved all this info, and went ahead and ordered the two Teach Yourself books – looking forward to reading them!

                1. Johnny Tarr*

                  I’m late to this party, but you might enjoy knowing that I’ve just emailed these suggestions to myself as well. I’m a lawyer, not a linguist, but I think the science of language is fascinating and I’ve been looking for a intro to linguistics.

    3. Yolo*

      I do think that, since workplaces are typically institutions of some kind, it is worthwhile to most workplaces to expect that their communications reach a standard of correct language, spelling, and grammar. While I absolutely agree that there are problematic biases in evaluating people and groups based on characteristics like how “proper” their speech and writing appear, I also worry that the internet is making it so easy to publish any given piece of writing that many of the actual flagship institutions are either not concerned or not adequately staffed to follow a consistent set of rules for web publication. And that does not bode well for language, generally. However, this is more of an external, public-facing concern; when internal emails aren’t perfect, one should just focus on the sender’s intentions rather than nitpick execution.

      Related but pet-peevey: oh, how I long for a return to consistent, correct use of plural possessives or possessive pronouns!

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        Certainly, but I think it’s worth pointing out that there is the Chicago Manual of Style, AP Style, I’m sure a bunch of others that I’m forgetting at the moment, plus I’ve worked for places that had their own house style. None of these are actually more correct than any of the others. I’m pretty sure that the editorial staff at U of C Publications doesn’t throw down with the AP over this. Styles are more about being consistent than correct.

        1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*


          If you work at a place that uses AP Style, AP Style is correct, and Chicago Manual of Style is incorrect.

          If you work at a place that uses Chicago Manual of Style, AP Style is incorrect, and Chicago Manual of Style is correct.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            Bwuh? This is simply a more contentious and hostile version of what I said, with the added bonus that if we’re supposing for the sake of argument that there is a “correct” and an “incorrect” in linguistics, all styles cannot possibly be correct within the same language. In other words, styles are about consistency (within a publication or organization), not some universal Proper English “correctness.” You know, the thing I said in the first place.

            I don’t know why you felt I need to insist that I’m wrong when you’re simply restating my point with less nuance.

    4. tired anon*


      I am a lot pickier when I’m reading resumes/cover letters, because those should be showing off things like attention to detail – but in general, I don’t see the point in snarking about anyone’s spelling or grammar or typos. It took me awhile to grow out of that and realize that written communication comes naturally to *me*, but it isn’t fair to judge other folks based on it, as long as they’re clear in what they’re communicating. Focusing on *what* people are saying is way more important than focusing on *how* it’s said.

      1. Penny Lane*

        My spouse is a terrible speller. Therefore, he does the *smart* thing, which is — if he has an important letter to communicate — he dictates it and I smoothe it out. He doesn’t whine that it’s “classist”; he addresses the problem head-on by having someone who is more skilled go over his work. That’s common sense, really. What’s the alternative? Send important letters and memos out with typos all over the place?

        1. Pickled Beets*

          I’m an office of one. There’s no budget (or time) for an editor. Who exactly am I supposed to find to review my emails and memos? I can ask a coworker maybe twice a month to sanity check me on a topic or wording (not spelling, though if they catch something, great) before they get annoyed. They have their own jobs to do.

    5. NW Mossy*

      I’m going to push back on the idea of letting typos go in resumes and cover letters, because I think they do say something important. What they say isn’t “this person can’t write” – it’s “this person didn’t take the time to polish a very important document that they know is going to be scrutinized closely.”

      For many of us, our resume is among the highest-stakes pieces of professional writing we will ever be called upon to do. It’s the primary tool we have to get a company to open the door to talking further with us about a job we’d really like to have. A resume is one of the few pieces of the hiring process that the candidate can control, and when a candidate doesn’t leverage that control, hiring managers are left to wonder if that candidate has a good barometer for when a piece of work they produce is Very Important and needs to be done at a very high level of accuracy.

      I’m hiring for an open req right now, and all of my candidates are internal. The level of polish (or lack thereof) on their resumes is entirely consistent with what I’ve seen in these individuals’ work. The ones who submitted rambling, unfocused resumes riddled with errors are weak performers in their current roles, those with some small mistakes are middling/average performers, and those with carefully crafted resumes are outperforming. I’ll give you one guess as to what category I want to pick from.

      1. essEss*

        I agree entirely. The resume is one of the most important documents that person will write (in terms of importance and benefit for themselves). If they can’t bother to be accurate in the document that has such an impact on their own lives, I cannot trust that they will bother with accuracy in their every day work..

    6. Mrs. Wednesday*

      I’d say the LW shouldn’t offer to help the executive not because grammar, spelling don’t matter but because, as always, the person in power decides what counts as a “real” mistake. It may indeed affect someone’s self-presentation but what would be “sloppy” on a powerless person is often “relaxed” on a powerful one.

      I also want to respectfully swap out the class framing you used with ability. Your post touched a nerve with me because it’s hard to hear the things I do well dismissed as the by-products of class privilege when, in my experience, language skills have been the only accessible skills for economic survival available to me as a woman with a severe physical disability. It seems wasteful to be dismissive of a huge area of ability, and one that relies on a certain kind of physical advantage.

      They’re also a big part of how I navigate the physical world by asking for help. As a senior staff person, I try to model the it’s-ok-to-ask-for-help thing. It is such a hard thing to do in supervision. It’s been harder when a direct report’s initial response has been to try to argue that whatever their mistake was, it didn’t really matter. That’s where I’ve heard the spelling-doesn’t-matter thing before.

  5. Luke*

    In my view,it is a matter of both equal standards and company culture. A healthy organization should do its best to ensure the management leads by example. If a support staff member would be held accountable for poorly formatted emails, the management should strive to set a good example. This is not just about individual professionalism; if employees see that their leadership is getting away with sins they’d be roasted for ,it won’t bode well for firm morale.

    1. hbc*

      I think that’s too simplistic. Everyone has different roles and responsibilities, and it’s more important that a CEO responds to 60 emails with rough-but-understandable verbiage than 20 emails with polish. There’s important stuff waiting for her decision in email 40 while she’s proofing email 17. Other positions require more polish and less volume.

    2. Samata*

      I agree with this sentiment in general; I am always about leadership actually leading. But in my company (of 3,000) I don’t think any level would be held to the same standard for emails that they are in college. Unless they are in an external marketing group and relaying a very specific company message.

    3. EddieSherbert*

      I also feel like this, but also acknowledge that it’s a bit unrealistic… Like hbc says, sometimes when there’s a higher quantity or sense of urgency, speed may be more important.

      In my multi-national company of 2000+ people, our CEO encourages people to approach him or email him. I think say it’s good for morale that he takes the time to respond – and respond well. I probably wouldn’t read it as this great big huge negative if he sent me a few (a few!) typos… but I definitely do feel it as a positive that he doesn’t.

      Either way though, I don’t think this guy should be sending a bunch of typos/missing word sentences to clients!!

  6. Bea*

    I’ve worked with only Owner/Presidents of companies. One was dyslexic, one was half blind so he used jumbo type and didn’t see most errors until I taught him to recognize the red squiggles under misspellings, the other used talk to text and so on.

    I’ve gotten emails from high level folks all these years, only the most egregious ones that do not make sense at all stood out.

    Can you understand the emails? That’s how I gauge it.

    I now have an ESL CEO and he does want to be corrected, he’s made it clear, so I’ll always point it out and he’ll always ask for any docs going to a customer or vendor are proofed.

    So it’s just important to know this is normal and you’ll need to always know a person before jumping to conclusions or judging. It’s not always cut and dry of they just don’t care but yeah some do my care about that stuff, yet are successful in every way so oh well typeos.

  7. Ann O'Nemity*

    Coincidentally, I was recently wondering if my own emails are getting too sloppy. For internal emails, I’ve moved away from salutations, embraced abbreviations, and I rarely put much effort – if any – into proofreading for spelling or grammatical errors.

    Although I put more time and effort into *external* emails, I worry that my lowered standards on internal (quick & dirty) may start bleeding over.

    1. Bea*

      As long as you’re not so short it’s rude or doesn’t make sense, most people prefer short and sweet. People usually are scanning your correspondence for the “what do you want from me?” part.

  8. Fake Eleanor*

    As someone who writes for a living, I think many of us who are really good at it overestimate how much most people care about perfect presentation.

    Most people, most of the time, are fine with writing that’s good enough — and what’s good enough in one context can vary.

    I’m not saying being it never matters, but honestly, it really might be a waste of time in most circumstances for a senior level person to spend too much time perfecting their writing vs. getting their message out and moving on. (This is why assistants and editors are valuable — more cost-effective to spend their time on that stuff.)

    1. The Other Geyn*

      I’ve lost sleep over typos in internal memos only to realize that my boss didn’t even read the thing line by line — he more or less scanned it. Not to say that I don’t proofread my work three times before I send it out, but I find that most of the time people don’t read that closely (and honestly half of my struggle is to get clients to actually read the thing that I wrote).

  9. finderskeepers*

    Decades ago, before computers, execs didn’t even type. They dictated into a machine called dictaphone and their secretary (thats what they were called back then) typed up everything. So this problem is not new.

    1. Bea*

      And let’s all remember the chicken scratchers out there. I can read some gnarly handwriting thanks to my beloved and very dyslexic boss.

    2. whistle*

      My CEO still dictates, and whoever needs the text for the project types it up. It annoys a lot of people, but I actually like it when I get a bunch of text from him, because he can usually churn out a few good pages without even thinking, and then it lightens my workload.

      1. raktajino*

        My state rep apparently spends his morning runs dictating thoughts and plans into a recorder, which then a staffer has to type up for the rest of the office to utilize. (A friend works for him, which is how I know.) So, picture some poor intern deciphering slightly hypoxic thoughts in between heavy breathing…But hey, multitasking! As with your boss, it’s probably the only way he can get a full hour of thought to himself.

  10. Shellesbelles*

    I had a boss like this and, while it was frustrating initially, it really was important for me to let it go. He was travelling often and constantly in meetings with people in multiple time zones, so it was more important that he sent some sort of a reply than nothing at all.

    The only time I ever felt comfortable addressing the issue was when an error obscured the meaning of an email. Even then, I was always careful to bring it up in a lighthearted way. It eventually became a running joke between us. He used to refer to me as his “translator” because I became pretty good at teasing out meaning from “his nonsense.” Eventually this relationship earned me a raise, a promotion, and a close relationship with my boss.

    It’s always important to keep these things in perspective, to approach people about it with kindness, and only when necessary. Especially when you’re new.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      That’s really good advice. I’ve been on a judgy streak lately but ideally, we would all handle this (and many other things) the way you did.

    2. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

      I think this is basically how I feel. When the actual meaning is ambiguous/leaves doubt (especially if the topic is high stakes or delicate) or optics are VERY important (correspondence with customers, PR/advertising materials, etc.), should grammar and spelling become an issue. Otherwise, if I know what you mean, then there’s no problem. And then if it is an issue, approach it with nonjudgmental kindness. Generally, no one wants to be confusing, especially in quick communication, so approaching as collaboration rather than correction will probably get you farther.

      1. the gold digger*

        My boss is not a native speaker, so I edit his presentations for him. There is nothing that will distract a group of engineers faster than a typo. (Typos distract me, too, but I am working on keeping my mouth shut when I see them.)

  11. Another Weighing In*

    There are also many reasons besides being busy. Many successful people have battled learning and processing challenges such as dyslexia. They have worked so many years to overcome – or at least cope – but there are still gaps. Sometimes the brain works faster than the fingers, but because of the challenges they may not see the missing words or bad grammar. Speaking from personal experience, here. Not everything is due to just careless disregard.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I had pretty bad undiagnosed dyslexia as a child. I would write words and letters in multiple angles. At the age of six I realized that all the letters had to be aligned along the same plane, and my life became easier.
      Yet my 5th grade teacher tried to hold me back, claiming I was lazy and sloppy because I flipped things. I was actually kept out of advanced math until my parents fought the teacher. The principal went to our church so she knew my true abilities.
      I’m a aerospace engineer, so my ability to flip things into another frame is actually an advantage. I notice errors five or six levels down. I still have problems writing, especially with a pen.
      Sometimes a disadvantage on one area makes you very very strong in other areas.
      And let’s face it, many of the tech CEOs had processing issues. They obviously weren’t stupid.

      1. Bea*

        This actually gives me insight to why my boss could build elaborate furniture but couldn’t write to save his life. He had the most beautiful signature though, it was the one thing his cruddy school teachers beat into him. I knew he was declining when that signature started drooping. That was around the time we had him stop signing checks anyways to lessen the stress because as the things he mastered so well slipped so did his temper and over all happiness.

        1. the gold digger*

          My grandfather’s best friend was a cabinetmaker. He built me a gorgeous cedar chest with wooden nails and decorative carvings. He told me once, “I could never read or write too good.” That may have been the case, but he was an artist with wood.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Both my Uncle and cousin are dyslexic. My uncle couldn’t get a job because of his lack of writing skills. So he and his brothers were forced into forming a multi million dollar company.
            My cousin couldn’t get into university for the same reason. So he went to trade school and took over as president when my uncle became too old.
            They eventually sold the company for millions.

          2. Bea*

            Cabinetry blows my mind. I’ve worked with independent folks frequently because bossman rented out our industrial sander to them for cheap. It was his small way of helping out guys who were like him, craftsmen just trying to do what they do best.

  12. Knitting Cat Lady*

    For me my annoyance with spelling and grammar errors depends on the situation.

    Was it communication with the customer? That should be as error free as possible.
    Did it go to a regulatory agency? It needs to be perfect. Those government agencies can be really picky.
    Is it a report? It doesn’t matter how many people and how often the thing is proof read, there will be a typo in the final version.

    As long as the meaning is clear and not ambiguous spelling and grammar doesn’t matter to me.

    Except if it’s a company wide e-mail by our chief quality dude do where he lectures us about the cost of non quality and the philosophy of ‘right the first time’. If that one is riddled with spelling and grammar errors he will get roasted by most of my colleagues”

    1. Anonymous Engineer*

      Our quality guy has the WORST grammar and spelling. His weekly emails are riddled with errors. I just chuckle to myself.

    2. MsMaryMary*

      One of our execs never learned to type or use a computer, so he only emails from his phone and ipad. His emails are marvels of unique punctuation, sentence structure, and spelling. He emails clients, and I cringe thinking about our public sector accounts and his emails turning up in a records request some day.

  13. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, professional writers commenting here regularly write, give a quick scan, hit post–and only when our (passing quip/carefully crafted missive/+1) is published in all its glory does the missing word or homophone become apparent.

    For your boss, a hyper busy executive, those emails are more akin to quick blog comments–you write quickly, hit send, and go on to the next email. When I talked to my husband last night (he’s on a business trip) he was trying to get through 61 work emails that had accumulated over the day and needed to be dealt with before he went to bed, and more were being added at the bottom while he worked from the top.

    I get an occasional stream of consciousness email from editors I know can compose careful and beautiful paragraphs, and I take it as “They’re trying to get me this answer before they leave for the day: that’s nice.” Whereas if the only work sample I had was that letter, it would be a ding. And conversely, the most meticulously spelled email doesn’t act as a balancing factor if I don’t think someone is good at their job.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      This is a great point. If your only point of data of someone is riddled with errors, you might think, “Huh, wonder if they’re a sloppy person.” Then if you meet them and they’re kind and talented you’d think “Oh they’re just not a good writer, but they’re great at…” Whereas if you meet them and they have stains on their clothes, they’re not conscientious, they’re flippant and flighty… then you think about that data point differently in the larger context.

  14. kracken*

    I once worked for a CEO whose emails looked like e e cummings poems. Putting together his expense reports was a real drag.

      1. Bea*

        WHAT? No, you put in an expense report unless I have receipts. I’m not just saying “oh 576 miles you drove this quarter, let me just plop that into your reimbursement file.” The IRS will eat your face over that sloppiness in recordkeeping.

      2. Adele*

        CEO or not, it isn’t his/her money being spent. It is the CEO’s who act as if company money is their money who get into a lot of trouble!

        1. Bea*

          It’s like those glorious sole owners who don’t like that I’m not just going to cook the books by putting that into some expense account on a whim. “It’s my money” gives me hives thinking about it.

      3. Teapot Tester*

        I’m kind of baffled by this idea. Why wouldn’t a CEO need to file expense reports? The money’s not theirs to spend willy nilly, even if they own the company.

      4. kracken*

        Expense report time was the only time I as a lowly accounting assistant could pressure the CEO to do anything according to my timeline. His personal assistant and I probably spent like 15 hours each month before close cajoling coherent explanations through email for his expenses. If he was in the office we could just talk to him about it but 90% of the time he was traveling in a foreign country so all we could do was email.

  15. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

    I think the answer to this isn’t so much of a yes vs no on “do typos not matter for high up execs”. I think what matters is understanding when spelling/grammar is important and when it isn’t – based on SO many variables.

    Who is the text for, what is the purpose of the text, what is the nature of the writer’s role (ie: how is a typo going to reflect on the writer), is the text going public or otherwise “official” in anyway – or could it possibly be used that way, culture of the company, where on the org chart the writer falls, where on the org chart the intended audience falls, the reputation of the writer, etc. & etc.

    I think the important thing is knowing how much time to devote to things like editing grammar/spelling based on the answers and interplay of all of the above.

  16. Glomarization, Esq.*

    Getting him to up his communications game is up to his peers, and proofreading his work is the job of his admin assistant. Let it go. One of these days you’ll be high enough on the food chain that you can send out your own e-mails, reports, and blog comments without checking them for errors, yourself.

  17. AdAgencyChick*

    It is mind-boggling to me how many people at all levels of advertising cannot write a clear, concise, grammatically correct, and correctly spelled email.

    Even copywriters often flub it’s/its, alright (“alright” never is!), etc., although they tend to have fewer mistakes than the other departments. Don’t even get me started on the kind of slop I see out of account executives.

    This sort of thing makes me a very crabby AdAgencyChick sometimes.

    1. Penny Lane*

      Oh, that’s just so *classist* of you to expect people to know it’s/its and things of that nature! Yes, only rich people can be expected to understand grammar. The poors just can’t. /s

      1. AK*

        I’m curious as to what you mean by “grammar” here? Do you mean it in its technical sense of the actual structure (morpho-syntax)? Or are you using it in the more popular sense of “language-y type thing”? Regardless, your argument is a straw-man. No one says that poor people can’t “understand grammar”, it’s that different conventions exist and it’s silly to pretend they differ inherently in quality. It’s perfectly fine to have a style guide for an organization etc. but one needs to understand that for what it is – a set of arbitrary conventions and not divine rules from on high. People speaking other dialects aren’t speaking ‘bad English’, they’re speaking a different variety that’s just as internally consistent, complex and valid as the one(s) you were taught.

    2. Ozma the Grouch*

      James Joyce and Mark Twain would disagree with you. Alright was just fine by them. You may deny its inclusion in the dictionary, but it’s still there.

  18. Cowgirlinhiding*

    If you have a good relationship to him, you could offer to proof read his emails, postings, letters etc. Of course you have to be willing to take on more work for yourself, but you can offer it up as a way to help him, not as a way of checking up on his work. I don’t know how you would bring this up without it being one of those awkward conversations, unless something comes across your desk that is a huge mistake that you could go to him to save face. ” I noticed how big the ass (instead of mass) attendance was today, good job!” My boss would want me to offer to save face to point out the problem.

    1. Midge*

      In a shared document, I recently found someone’s comment with the word “titles” spelled as “tities.” I thought it was close enough to being something embarrassing that the person would want it corrected. Luckily I could do it myself without having to tell her. :)

      1. AK*

        Hilarious! Our public library once forgot the “l” in one of their posters. It makes me giggle to this day.

    2. Nervous Accountant*

      That’s what I’ve done w my mgr and I’m glad to do it. He knows his emails aren’t great. If it makes our team look good, why not?

  19. Environmental Navy Wife (previously Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental)*

    Eh. Unless it’s so incredibly awful that the message he wanted to convey is not going to get conveyed, it’s just really not a hill to die on.

    When I was teaching chemistry at a large public university, one of the things I did stress to my students was real generic email etiquette. They were all freshmen and a large chunk of them would send literal text speak to me via email, or would have the account set up so that their uni email connect with the personal email…but the personal email would be something like Things like that I did gently bring up. But minor typos from a senior exec? Nah, not worth it. I personally would side eye a bit on using textspeak, but I don’t know that I’d bring it up at that level. Just roll my eyes a bit internally and move on, just like I did for the head of dept that liked to put oddly worded quotes in his email signature (not public-facing, internal IT only, but do we really need to discuss chicken sacrifices in work email signature?).

    1. Environmental Navy Wife (previously Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental)*

      Sorry, Alison! Forgot to put a space in the fake email!

  20. Fake Eleanor*

    Remember that for most people, in most circumstances, email and texts function more like conversation than writing. Speech has different rules and registers than prose, and trying to force the more formal standards of prose on the casual feel of texting is a recipe for pointless frustration.

    Also remember that pet peeves aren’t substantive criticism.

    1. AK*

      “Also remember that pet peeves aren’t substantive criticism.”

      *Checks for local embroiderers or calligraphers who will put this in wall-hanging format*

  21. Nita*

    This must be very industry-specific. In my line of work, long detailed reports are a must, and if our senior execs sent out sloppy emails… I think we’d lose our clients. They just wouldn’t want to pay us to put out quality writing. On the other hand, getting sloppy emails from construction managers who are juggling 50 different tasks every day doesn’t strike me as odd, or make me question their competence.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I think it definitely does depend on the industry (or even what they’re sending to who)!

  22. Helena Handbasket*

    This used to bother me when I first started working out of college too (why do I have to agonize for an hour over an email to my VP when he emails me in text lingo with the entire email in the subject line), until I realized that the higher you are, the more you can get away with because your work speaks for itself.

    And honestly? I would take advantage of that too if I could, barring sending out any truly incomprehensible gibberish. Now, I just find it a little amusing and fantasize about the day when I’m deemed so vital to the company that I can send emails any way I want.

  23. Magenta Sky*

    A former boss (owner of the company) had a real thing about spelling. Send him an email or a report with a misspelled word in it, and you’d get a lecture.

    It was all I could do to not laugh at loud when I had to get the dictionary to prove to him that the word “barbecue” does not actually have a “Q” in it.

    (In my experience, the best way to get your kids to write well is to get them to read a lot. It really helps both spelling and grammar. Too many people today can’t form complete sentences. I mean, really, it’s “subject, verb, object.” How hard is that?)

    1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

      I totally agree with the last paragraph. I’m a decent writer (IMO) but I don’t really know a ton of grammar tricks and will constantly get caught in comma traps, and it’s because I read a lot as a kid, so I know what a good sentence sounds like, and construct sentences based on that sense. It’s absolutely adequate for all my purposes, but I’m sure I drive grammarians nuts.

      1. Buckeye*

        I’m not a grammarian, but I do write and proof things for a living and I can tell you that expecting others to use commas perfectly is setting yourself up for deep disappointment.

        Commas are hard! And sometimes subjective and up to the writer’s personal taste. Anybody who is seriously distressed about your misplaced comma lives in a state of constant despair.

        1. Coalea*

          “Anybody who is seriously distressed about your misplaced comma lives in a state of constant despair.”

          Words cannot express my love for this sentence!

        2. Ozma the Grouch*

          Beautifully stated. My commas change in volume and location depending on whether I’m feeling more staccato or sing-songy that day ;)

      2. Magenta Sky*

        Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” should be required reading in middle school. It’s not the be-all or end-all of all writing (especially fiction), but it’s a darned good place to start.

        Spell checkers are one of mankind’s greatest inventions. (I can spell. I really can. I just can’t type worth a damn sometimes, and nobody can edit their own writing.)

    2. Bea*

      I was an early reader and book junkie since I can remember. My mom read to me until I could read to her.

      However I still have a speech impediment and spelling anxiety reduces me to tears. I’m grateful for spell check and technology for giving me more peace of mind in that area.

      So whereas I’m all about giving love to literature and reading, us screwups will still be here struggling along while others judge away.

    3. Sylvan*

      Depending on your style guide, “barbecue” and “barbeque” might both be accepted. Was he using “barbecque?” :(

      1. Magenta Sky*

        He didn’t really know how he wanted it spelled. The shorthand is BBQ, which has a Q in it, and the word itself as the “Q” *sound* in it. But “barbeque” is just wrong. (Even Google thinks so. If you search for it, you get “did you mean ‘barbecue’.”

        (Yes, I’m being pedantic.)

        1. Sylvan*

          He didn’t know how to spell it, but he wanted to argue? lol.

          I don’t like “barbeque” either. Our style guide accepted it, though, and some local restaurants’ names included it. I guess it’s common enough to be considered correct sometimes.

  24. GS*

    My boss does a ton of detailed data analysis, can find that one data entry error in a stupendously large dataset, and has been made a mandatory proofreader for a lot of very important paperwork that leaves our office that simply cannot have errors because we were getting issues around what slipped through before he was put in that position.

    His emails are also terse, generally misspelled, and have no punctuation.

    He also takes great delight in intentional slight misspellings that result in a totally different word.

    The meaning of his emails is never difficult to decipher (well, ~3000 emails and one clarification so far).

    I would very much prefer that everyone in our office confined their errors to their emails like he does. It certainly does not impact his reputation.

  25. Tea*

    The owner of the business where I work has some pretty egregious spelling and grammar errors but English is not her first language. She was born here but she grew up in a Spanish speaking household and didn’t learn English until she went to school-and this was the ’70s so the support for ESL was not so bueno then. I feel judgey occasionally but then I remember she is a) multilingual and b) she is an accomplished businesswoman who has worked for Ernst & Young, Merrill Lynch, etc. so what do I know, and c) my own grammar and spelling isn’t exactly Mavis Beacon material.
    When we meet with other owners of other companies, I’ve noticed their grammar and spelling is lacking as well-but like I said, they own their own business and are all rather successful, so they obvious got this far without needing to be 100% perfect with their writing. My mother is an editor and is excessively judgmental about others’ emails and etc. and it’s like chill out, man (though I think it’s starting to become a lost skill.)

    1. Bea*

      I’ll never forget the day a foreman told me he feels dumb and gets upset when his communication is difficult to understand “and everyone thinks I’m stupid” got thrown out there. My response was “anyone who thinks that can ‘ef themselves. You speak two languages. I may know my one language better than you but I know damn well you’re intelligent and trust your abilities, even when we song and dance trying to find you the English word for something.”

      1. Eye of Sauron*

        Reminds me of a conversation I was having with one of my counterparts who works in another country. He was asking why more people didn’t go to the people who worked for him instead they go to him. It was a great conversation that hit on a lot of cultural points, but the best part was when he asked me if people had trouble understanding his staff.

        I said, for the most part no, sometimes email was better for understanding but usually everyone generally understands each other. I then went on to say “Umm except for Jane, Jane can be hard to follow” He laughed and said “Jane’s hard to follow in Spanish as well”. I said “oh that’s good to hear, because I feel really bad when I know she’s provided good information. But I just don’t understand what she’s telling me” He said he has the same problem and he’s a native Spanish speaker!

        1. Bea*

          I’ve had the pleasure of listening to my former crew speak to each other in Spanish and my foreman translate when it’s something they don’t feel comfortable talking to me in their spotty English. I can see the difference between their fluid language and second language down to their voices being different. I love it truly which is yet another reason why I’ve snapped at people who pull this “English only!” malarkey in my presence.

          It’s interesting that she just speaks like that regardless of language! I’ve known many who speak only English and like hell can I understand a damn thing they say, it’s not even a dialect issue.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            I think everyone should be dropped in a country with a different language at some point in their lives. It’s quite a humbling experience.

            1. Eye of Sauron*

              Eep posted to soon…

              I was going to add that it was a humbling experience for me and one I’ve always remembered.

            2. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar*

              In the late 1990s, Aeroflot’s bilingual in-flight magazine had Russian and Ruglish. (They’ve since corrected the problem.)

              Lufthansa has always had absolutely fluent German and English versions of its in-flight magazine articles.

              Why do you think people trusted Lufthansa to fly them to Russia more than Aeroflot?

                1. AK*

                  Ugh double post. My apologies. If the Powers That Be see this, please delete this and the above message.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                Aeroflot also had spartan conditions. They didn’t fully pressurize the cabin. Their solution? Hand out chewing gum.

                The Russians also took greater risks, and that scared people

    2. Kuododi*

      Your company owner sounds really fascinating!!! Wish I could meet her. On a vaguely related note, I used to volunteer as a tutor for ESL students when I was in undergrad. Tutoring ESL is a fast way to get an appreciation for how crazy the English language is to acquire for a non-native speaker. Learning a new language as an adult is a unique challenge. Best wishes to you and your company owner. ;)

  26. Midge*

    One thing that has helped me is to try and find these kind of typos privately amusing. I work in higher ed, so everyone is very concerned with our public materials being grammatically correct and free of typos. But track changes that are written on draft documents? They’re riddled with ridiculous typos. I definitely look at them and my first thought is, “Man, is Jane going through this so quickly or so bad at typing that she can’t even bother not to put punctuation/spaces/extra letters in the middle of her words?” But after that initial judgey reaction, I try to see them as an amusing quirk of the people I work with. Or try to find a particularly funny typo to share with my desk mate or spouse later. The truth is, it’s more important that Jane is spending her time giving meaningful feedback than for the feedback to be as carefully proofed as the stuff I send her.

    The one thing that happens all the time and I judge pretty harshly is when these senior people misspell my name. I have one of the non-standard spellings for a common name. I know these typos aren’t personal digs against me, but I think it says something when you can’t be bothered to spell the name of a junior member of your team correctly.

  27. Mo*

    In my first job out of college, I was an administrative assistant for dermatology faculty in a university hospital. My job was, in theory, about supporting residents, but one of the senior faculty would lean on me for things like typing his notes into formal letters. The most notable of these closed with “my name, with lot’s of titles.” He was sloppy in his other emails, but that one was my favorite.

  28. LCL*

    OP, you are judging him by your experience. Which is the only experience you have to judge by, of course. But it sounds like all of your experience was in academia and not production. In many parts of industry, typos and misspellings aren’t that big a deal.

    What you could do, and only once, when you see him typing mention there are ergo keyboards that give him more space. The stock keyboard that comes with most computers is crap. It’s too small and works poorly. I am on my second ergo keyboard at work, and am about to get a third one that I buy myself (don’t tell IT) because they went to a cheaper, junkier model that often skips.

    As for me personally, when I had to write things by hand, my spelling was impeccable. I was that kid that would correct everyone’s spelling, including the teacher’s. Now, with spell and grammar check, there is no skill and no challenge in it. When I read a post with 100% perfect spelling, I don’t think the person is a great speller. I think they know how to use spellcheck.

    1. LCL*

      …do an image search for an IBM selectric typewriter, to see what a human friendly keyboard looks like. The computer industry completely disregarded human friendly design when they added keyboards. Why this happened is a research paper for someone.

  29. Turquoisecow*

    As an English major, when I entered the business world, I was appalled by the emails of my coworkers and bosses. Not just the spelling, but the complete disregard for grammar and a complete inability to write a sentence! Over time, I have gotten used to it, and so I let it roll off me, although I’d be lying if I said it didn’t annoy me.

    Frankly, an email written in shorthand, with text speak, misspelled words, and missing words looks unprofessional. If I were to write a letter to one of the executives that looked like that, would they cut me the same slack I am expected to cut them, or would my letter be looked down on? I’m not expecting the CEO to spend a lot of time on small internal emails, but I would expect a certain amount of attempt to communicate clearly.

    Again, being as I’m an English major who was told since grammar school that it does matter (even if only for optics) how we present ourselves in writing, I may be taking this more seriously than others. And I’m not going to storm into my boss’s office with a dictionary and a red pen. But it does annoy me, and I don’t think I’m ridiculous to feel that way.

    1. Razilynn*

      English major here as well. I’m temporarily enraged at some of the emails I get.

      A notable one was from a higher up person where this person literally put 3 thoughts as 1 sentence, with no punctuation at all, and the 2nd thought was a question. She sent an email a week later to “follow up” and I had no idea what she was talking about. If it doesn’t have a question mark at the end, I’m probably not going to think you asked me a question.

      On the flip-side, a manager I used to work with would put a question mark on sentences where she didn’t understand what was happening or had a question about the situation, but what she was saying really wasn’t a question. Ex.: Mr. Jones was supposed to receive his bill last week? Mike told me he didn’t get the email you sent? — It drove me crazy!

      And if you email me and say “your presenting at the next dept. meeting tomorrow,” or you ping me to tell me about “Steve and I’s trip to the big city last week,” I’m going to silently scream and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Haha, same :)

        Silent cringing is totally acceptable and a lot of us have empathy for that, OP!

      2. WillyNilly*

        “Steve and I” – my mom loves to condescendingly correct (to me or my brother, or our kids, out loud, to others under her breath) anyone who says “[person] and me” to “…and I”. I get such satisfaction when she is wrong and I can correct her smugness.

        1. Razilynn*

          Yes! I very often, in my head because I don’t want people to hate me, say, “and me,” when someone uses “[person] and I” incorrectly.

          I had a friend in high school who was told in primary school it was ALWAYS “[person] and I” no matter what. She had a tough time getting out of that habit because she honestly didn’t understand the difference…

  30. Another Software Engineer*

    more minor *than* that

    (sorry – I had to, given the topic of the letter!)

  31. Hey Nonnie*

    In addition to what Allison said, I’ll point out that there are different kinds of intelligence, and some people who are exceptionally bright in one or more ways can be terrible at spelling, grammar, and/or written communication in general — even when they’re great at verbal communication.

    I have a friend like this — he’s very intelligent, and great at critical thinking skills. We’ve had some pretty deep philosophical discussions, and I have learned a great deal from him. His writing is also terrible. Even aside from spelling, punctuation, and grammar, the formality of writing thoughts into sentences doesn’t work well for him. We don’t write the way we speak, in general; so what might be perfectly understandable in a verbal conversation, looks sloppy or confused written down. Some people just aren’t great at making that “translation” from verbal ideas to written ideas. It’s not a reflection of their overall intelligence, of their level of carelessness, or even of being too busy to spend time on it. These are just people who happen to be better at any of a number of different areas (working with their hands, emotional intelligence, conversational skills, and lots more) than they are at writing.

    Especially with a former pro-athlete, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has fantastic intuitive kinesthetic and spacial awareness skills, team-building and leadership skills, etc. Writing may just not be his “thing.” It may have nothing to do with being busy; and I doubt it even approaches a universal “rule” of high-level execs.

    1. Nervous Accountant*

      Exactly, you nailed what I wanted to say. The person I mentioned has other good qualities as well, such as the ones you stated. Bad writing doesn’t equate to low intelligence..

      On another note, I was a writing major and my professor questioned me bc my essay sounded so unlike how I came across speakingwise.

      1. Hey Nonnie*

        Ha… in third grade the substitute teacher failed me on a creative writing assignment because it was “too good” for an eight-year-old to have accomplished on her own, so I must have plagiarized it from somewhere. When I got it back, my regular teacher had crossed out the big red F, and told me to ignore the sub’s nasty margin-note, because my regular teacher had seen me writing it in class.

    2. Tau*

      Yeah, I’ve noticed this with my boss. His communication tends to be riddled with typos, and occasionally I’ll be in a meeting with him where he types something or edits some text on a projected screen. He’ll scramble letters or stare at a red-underlined word clearly unable to find the mistake. I won spelling bees as a kid and nowadays often don’t even bother with spellcheck because my brain does such a good job on its own, spelling errors basically jump out at me and hit me in the face. It’s clear to me that it’s some quirk of perception in how we process spelling, and that it has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence, carelessness or the like.

    3. Bea*

      There’s a reason I went into accounting and business operations instead of say marketing, advertising or teaching. Numbers make sense, I’ll run laps around a ledger and pick out where the fifty-seven cents is misplaced but I’ll never be able to create much to sell whatever product we’re selling.

  32. GirlwithaPearl*

    Honestly, yes, some people’s time is too valuable to worry about these things provided they don’t impact the work negatively.

    The difference in my emails when I was in my 20s and a nonprofit associate vs now in my late 30s overseeing a team of 20+ policy experts and attorneys is remarkable; of course, my internal vs my external emails is also noticeable. I would never email a funder the way I email a close coalition partner.

  33. WillyNilly*

    Internal communications, I can easily look past typos and errors. But when I am a customer, client, or reading a website, I will take my business elsewhere if there are errors.

    1. Teapot librarian*

      Agreed! I have a business doing work with my office that keeps submitting work product that doesn’t have periods at the end of sentences. It’s just one of many problems I have with their work, but this is one thing that is SO EASY to notice and fix that the failure to fix it indicates to me that they don’t care about their work product, so why are we paying them big bucks?

    2. LizM*

      I agree to an extent. I have working relations with some of our contractors, and we’ll often get into a back and forth type email chain. At that point, formality matters less, and I’ll overlook typos, especially if I know a lot of the work is happening on a smart phone. But the relationship needs to be established first.

      1. Beatrice*

        It depends on the error, too. I have no patience with writing that is so full of errors that I struggle to understand what you mean, but if you just miss an apostrophe or forget the difference between affect and effect, I don’t care as much. (I’m also not in publishing or any field where spelling, grammar, and style strongly matter.)

    3. Penny Lane*

      I agree. And if a website or a print ad has a particularly egregious error (“we sell the most house’s in River City!”), I will point it out to them. They SHOULD be embarrassed.

  34. Nervous Accountant*

    I came across a similar issue early on. The person I report(ed) to/our manager, was really bad at writing….spelling errors, grammar mistakes, typos, leaving out words etc. A former employee even left a review online bashing him for how bad his emails were.

    If you ever speak to him though, you would not believe that’s him writing. He also has lots of other strengths that make up for it I guess. I chalk it up to the fact that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. (I’m great at writing [this site not to be used as an example lol] but I still struggle to speak well).

    I used to be super judgy about bad writing, but this has helped me to be not so judgy about it. Plus he was later open about the fact that he did have a learning disability in school, and he does try hard to be better at writing.

  35. ket*

    Some studies have indicated that people with dyslexia or other learning disabilities are over-represented among entrepreneurs and thus to some extent in the C-suite. These folks are there because of their other talents.

    1. Bea*

      Often they go into business for themselves because others have shrugged them off as well because of their shortcoming in communications. My boss was always like “I can’t write, I also don’t like people much, that’s why you’re the go to for paperwork and customer support.” He knew damn well how to be successful by finding others who filled those gaps his dyslexia left him with.

  36. SM*

    My boss actually won a Most Spelling Errors at our company holiday party for this exact reason! He’s often traveling or running in and out of meetings so he just types out what he needs to say as quickly as possible and hits send. No one really minds as getting his input quickly is more important than the spelling or professionalism of the email. It only has come up as a problem a couple times, when the spelling was so bad the client didn’t understand what he meant.

  37. SierraSkiing*

    Just yesterday, our head of Legal sent an organization-wide e-mail thanking a departing employee who was “planning to make a career shit” and leave the organization. It’s possibly my favorite work typo to date!

    1. Environmental Navy Wife (previously Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental)*


      I had to correct my old boss a ton because she could never remember the L in “public”, which is great fun when you’re sending out social media posts/public notices/newspaper article interviews. After a couple public snafus, I got the lovely job of proofreading them all (even though I attempted to teach her what those red squiggly lines were, and how to find/replace, both of which would have solved the main problem).

      (She was also just overall awful with spelling & grammar. Their Facebook posts after I left took a swift downturn, and now half the time you have no idea what the post is even trying to say and any graphics uploaded are crooked & oddly spaced out.)

      1. LizM*

        I had to take pubic out of my computer’s dictionary. There is no reason I need to use that word in professional communications based on the work I do, so if it shows up, it’s a typo and I mean public. This way my spell check recognizes it as such.

        1. Environmental Navy Wife (previously Environmental Gone Public Health Gone Back Environmental)*

          I would have done that, if it wasn’t a county health department that also offered a free STI/sexual wellness clinic. Alas, we had to keep the word pubic in there! However, putting “free pubic water testing” instead of “free public water testing” lead to a ton of snarky Facebook responses and a few really weird phone calls.

    2. Bea*

      Shout out to my favorite old Flyers intern who wrote “The Flyers Shit The Beach!” all those years ago.

      I’ve also gotten “Hell Bea” instead of “Hello Bea”as a salutation, only one person caught it immediately and apologized. I giggle because I laugh at everything.

  38. azvlr*

    I came here to offer advice about something else you put in your letter. Please don’t equate busy with important. Some people are very poor at managing their time and everything becomes a fire drill for them. Hence they escalate issues with more urgency, making them appear important. Other people appear so unbelievable busy that they are unapproachable, either consciously or sub-consciously. I work with someone who is like this and I realized I’ve been filtering what I send (so as not too clutter their inbox), that I don’t send things I should in order to CYA.

  39. Harry*

    I recently had the phrase “two two-day commitments” corrected to “two, two-day commitments” by a senior exec. I swallowed my pride and didn’t push back.

  40. Sigrid*

    I think fposte’s analogy to dress codes, above, is a good way to think about spelling and grammar rules in written communication:

    -there’s a lot of historical baggage behind what we consider “proper”, including a lot of classism, sexism, and racism

    -what is acceptable will vary a lot based on your role, your seniority, your industry, and specific situations

    -there’s a limit. For dress codes, you can’t go to work naked. For written communication, you have to be understood.

    -ultimately, it might not matter in a real sense, as long as you are clothed and understood, but it may very much impact how people view you in a professional setting, and that may have career ramifications

  41. RottenRedRod*

    I had a boss who did this. For him, it was a combination of not having a formal education that emphasized proper grammar + computer use, and a sense of entitlement that made him feel he was exempt from having to communicate properly. Kinda, “I’m already in charge and people do what I say so I don’t feel the need to improve my skills or impress anyone”. Not saying that’s exactly the case here, but I find it more often in management than anywhere else.

    He would also do weird things that were holdovers from the era of typewriters, like putting double spaces after sentences (sometimes much more than double, he’d keep hitting the spacebar for no reason so there were weird random spaces all over his emails).

    1. Teapot Tester*

      I have been trying to train myself out of the double spaces after periods but it’s really hard to do. Though I never do more than two spaces. I find myself going back through paragraphs I’ve written and removing the extra space because I can’t stop my thumb from hitting the space bar twice.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too, but I think I’ve finally done it! I really really didn’t think I could. I still slip up now and then. That’s how I learned when I started typing, long before I could actually type properly, so it was a deeply ingrained, years-long habit.

        1. Eye of Sauron*

          You’ll get my double spaces after a period right after you pry the oxford comma out of my cold dead hands. And I totally added this second sentence so I could sanctimoniously show off my double space!

          1. Teapot Tester*

            Which, at least on my monitor, wrapped, so it didn’t quite work. Nice try though! :)

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I tried halfheartedly to train myself out of double spacing after periods, but I gave up. I don’t care enough to stop doing it. Besides, a regulatory report I file at work doesn’t recognize any formatting except spacing, so if I want my report to be legible to someone reading it, I have to make good use of semicolons and double spaces.

  42. Banana*

    This is my boss, except she isn’t SO high level and also….our field is PUBLISHING.

    So, I find it really embarrassing when her emails are filled with typos, which they always are. The woman is a former copy editor for goodness sake! Of course, we all make typos sometimes, but almost all her emails have at least one typo. It’s like she puts them in for good luck.

    But it’s ultimately not my job to manage the impression my boss makes on others. I just silently judge her and make sure to proofread my emails to keep typos to a minimum.

  43. periwinkle*

    “‘Serve him right,’ said Sir Pitt; ‘him and his family has been cheating me on that farm these hundred and fifty years.’ Some old tenant, I suppose, who could not pay his rent. Sir Pitt might have said ‘he and his family,’ to be sure; but rich baronets do not need to be careful about grammar, as poor governesses must be.”

    Some things don’t change.

  44. Kiwi*

    I used to think I’d never just knock out an email without crafting and proofreading it. After all, it only takes about 30 seconds longer to craft a few sentences.

    Then I got a job as a crazy-busy manager and discovered what it was like to have 20 minutes to deal with 15 emails. Those extra 30 seconds became impossible. Life’s calmed down again and I’m back to crafting emails, but back then people certainly cared more about getting an answer from me than getting a polished answer.

  45. mAd Woman*

    My boss is a high level executive and she can’t format an email to save her life. If it has more than five letters, she can’t spell it. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her use punctuation. But she’s a kind and competent leader, a great strategic mind and great with the clients. I proofread anything important she needs like presentations or big reviews. There are more important things than to be a stickler for writing.

    1. nep*

      Sounds like proper writing/grammar/etc is given its due in this case — just in the most efficient way and in a way that accommodates her and lets her put energies toward those great strengths.

  46. Nana Tipsy*

    Not sure if anyone else has posted it but any chance he has dyslexia? My husband does and can have the same kind of patterns in writing (missed words, poor spelling). It’s not a reflection on his intelligence – he has a post grad degree and runs a successful business. Maybe it’s a known and accepted fact about OP’s boss but hasn’t filtered down to her yet?

  47. Curious Cat*

    It grinds my gears when there are many, consistent spelling and grammar mistakes in emails, because to me it feels like a courtesy to spell words out and take time to proofread before sending something off. It’s just a kindness to the person on the receiving end of the email, regardless of your level in a company. But then again I work in PR, so my job literally revolves around wordage and spelling, so maybe I’m not the best judge of this.

  48. NJ Anon*

    One of our boggest producers can’t spell but he makes a ton of money for the company so we just deal with it.

  49. KBW*

    As an EA at a large company, I have witnessed my highly intelligent VP email reply to someone while not only not looking at his laptop, but also typing with his non-dominant hand, all while giving a presentation. I’ve asked before if he’d like me to help proofread these things when I see them happening. LOL.

  50. Hiring Mgr*

    Personally, I haven’t found that execs are better or worse at spelling or grammar than others. (As one myself I take pride in my writing, spelling, and grammar…though i’m not a CEO or anything..). If anything they may be more rushed in communications, or perhaps care less about tone, etc so it might come off less polished?

  51. OJ Mojo*

    Our CFO is highly intelligent but stumbles in email grammar. It doesn’t give anyone the impression he isn’t smart or organized because it’s just email. It’s supposed to be brief, quick, and understandable – not necessarily publishable.

  52. Not a Morning Person*

    TL;DR all the comments so perhaps this has been mentioned: Spelling is a skill that many people find easy and it is unrelated to intelligence. Some people just have problems spelling, like my spouse, the engineer. His mind works differently.
    OP, if you have the opportunity to observe, maybe the execs who don’t spell very well only ask for help on particular messages or projects where spelling would make a big difference. Maybe for their everyday emails with regular clients and internal communication they don’t find it worth the effort to have someone else proof all their correspondence. And as Alison noted, execs are often judged by different criteria, not spelling.

  53. McWhadden*

    I literally just discovered a huge typo in an email I sent out today. I guess I’ve finally made it!! :D :D

  54. Lady By The Lake*

    I am a stickler for spelling and grammar; I have been my whole life. But now that I am a frantically busy executive I am appalled when I see some of the emails that I send!

  55. MissDissplaced*

    I’ve seen this from some (usually male) executives and basically they expect the underlings (usually women) to fix it. Makes one wonder how they ever graduated college or made a resume.

  56. OP*

    Thank you so much for answering my question Alison and all of you commenters for weighing in!

    I have to say, my reaction to Alison’s answer was exactly what I expected and hoped it would be, which was “huh, okay, good to know.” I am especially glad that you pointed out that technically it’s still not okay, even though he can get away with it.

    To address some of the FAQ I’ve seen in the comments:

    Yes, most of the time the message is understandable, and in those cases I really have no issue with the sloppiness (for lack of a better word). But there are occasions that my coworkers and I have experienced where the difference is “can” versus “cannot,” the missing word would have been the easily overlooked but deciding word such as “on” or “off,” or the verb is the part of the sentence that got omitted. That makes it harder to piece together the message, so sometimes in those instances we have to ask him for clarification. This is only about 10% of the time though and those are mostly internal communications.

    Any document that is more official and not sent via email (think contracts, PR, etc.) is seen by multiple people in our organization before it is released. Therefore the errors get corrected in these instances. He does email with clients and other important people quite often though, and as many have pointed out here, he probably has a decent relationship with them already so the errors are less important.

    I feel the need to address the commenters pointing out classism and other types of discrimination here. Hoping not to sound too defensive, but I do admire our COO and feel like I have a good professional relationship with him. He is a successful man and very advanced in his career at a relatively young age. I did not mean the question to sound like a personal attack, but rather a broader question about executives in general since I have no experience in those types of positions or with many people in them. I also don’t get personally hung up on the errors or the fact that he would dare send out an unedited email…this is something I will let go easily and I guess the reason I wrote in is to validate my feeling that typos are more acceptable in the professional world than they were in school.

    Personally, I come from an engineering background, and I do feel that in school I put more effort into having accurate spelling and grammar in my assignments, job applications, etc. in order to work against the stereotype that engineers are not as good at that stuff.

    And what do you know, it’s now been a half hour since I started writing this response and I’ve gone over it so many times to catch any spelling errors! :)

    1. Akgal*

      I just have to say that the joke about engineers is so true. For those who are not aware it is. Four years ago I couldn’t spell the word engineer now I are one. When I was twelve I wrote my mom’s resignation letter for her and she got a 500 dollar bonus. They were impressed that there were no swear words in it. It was a construction company.

  57. carlie*

    Spelling and grammar rules seem like a big deal when you learn them in school, but then you learn how almost every rule has a rule stating the opposite that is at least as old as the preferred rule. And then you learn how easily new usage turns into new rules, and how proper obedience to the rules is used to set people in their “place”. And then you think about everyone for whom the language is a second, third, fourth, or fifth language of fluency, and how easy it is to accidentally transpose rules from one language onto another, or not quite get every nuance of detail. Heck, think about how easy it is to spell English words “properly” differently in every variant of English. And that’s just before you even consider all of the reasons a person’s mind might be brilliant in lots of ways that are not linguistic.

    If you are an editor or an English teacher, then proper adherence to the currently accepted model of language transmission is important. If you are a student communicating with someone who will be giving you a grade based at least in part on your spelling/grammar skills, it is important. If you are anything else? Meh, not so much. I’d rather have someone offer their ideas with lots of “errors” than have them keep silent out of fear that their fluency with the language will be judged by someone who might then stereotype them entirely just based on that one skill.

    Besides which, language is a thing that grows and changes even within a single person and becomes unique to each individual. My grammar and style are littered with signposts of everywhere I’ve lived and facets of how my mind works. I say “Do you want to come with?” because it is common where I grew up even though it is not a grammatically complete sentence. I order “iced tea unsweet” even though that is not a real word because where I went to college that was the proper way to convey my drink preference. I will sprinkle commas and semicolons through extra-long sentences everywhere they are even theoretically feasible, because that is how my brain flows from topic to topic, and don’t even get me started on my love of the em dash. (ALSO, OXFORD COMMAS FOREVER)

    TL;DR There are many so reasons that strict adherence to whatever version of spelling/grammar you learned when you were in elementary school is a terribly proxy for evaluating someone’s intelligence/skills/education that I can’t see why it would ever make sense.

  58. Deathstar*

    Someone has probably pointed this out above: but there are contexts where Senior Execs excel at specific skills/talents, who are neuro-atypical (eg dyslexia, learning disability issues), which can affect writing, but not strategic thinking/creative planning etc etc.

  59. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

    This reminds me of when my boss (a VP) emailed us to tell us to stay on track.

    Somehow, she switched the t out for a c.

    She got thoroughly roasted (not by me, although I did see the message first and told the TL to check her email immediately).

    But back to the letter: LW, it seems as if you might be his assistant? You say you work closely with him and you share an office, which makes me think that. (I haven’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if you responded with more details.) You might – MIGHT – have some standing to give him a heads up. (But only if you already have a good relationship with him, and if his external emails are bad as well.)

    1. SusanIvanova*

      From an engineering VP, when one of our rivals had a product named “Energize”: “I won’t say this last-minute change is going to ‘energize’ us (nudge, wink) so I’ll say it’ll ‘enervate’ us instead.”

      Those are not even remotely close to being synonyms. But as it was near the end of the release cycle when we were all a bit worn down, we joked that he’d accidentally told us the truth.

  60. Scott*

    When the Sony hack happened, I was surprised the senior people didn’t how in full sentences.

    An executive writing poorly is not a surprise.

  61. Eska*

    Don’t make the mistake of assuming that what you see in one job is the norm, with anything really.

  62. chi type*

    A hilarious twist on this happens where I work- the new head guy is a tech evangelist type (we can slash the budget and throw out all the best practices because technology, disruption, blahblahblah) and then his iphone regularly makes him look like an idiot with autocomplete fails. It’s satisfying.

  63. Jemima Bond*

    This is just your opportunity to take the mickey out of said boss when gossiping in the office kitchen with your colleagues making coffee etc. When my then grandboss emailed colleague and me with completely mangled words we had hours of fun speculating about what the phrase “you each for fomat” meant. It’s kind of nice when the higher ups don’t do everything perfectly. My boss now wears a knitted hat in winter that makes her look like a garden gnome. Cheers me right up when she’s being difficult.

  64. Kim*

    I do find e-mails with spelling and/or grammar mistakes annoying, but I recognize that my clients are from a varied background so I try really hard not to let it affect my judgement. This is also because I, like them, am human and make mistakes myself. I hope for the same respect as I wish to give others.

    A tip for people who have some issues with spellchecking: I’ve read once that if you change the font (for example from a serif to a sans-serif font) it can help with detection of mistakes. A dedicated dyslexia-font also exists, with enlarges distance between letters, height-increase of those letters and bolder punctuation (among other things). This can also help.

    And telling yourself that we are all too organic to be robots helps too!

  65. C in the Hood*

    This is why, though we’re all capable of typing things up, we need good admin assistants.

  66. BlueWolf*

    A high level person at my company once sent an email to a client with a typo in a number (think extra zero), which caused a huge problem. Most spelling mistakes or grammatical mistakes aren’t a big deal, but when you’re working with numbers, attention to detail is vital.

  67. Tricksy Hobbit*

    An occasional grammar or spelling issue is fine. At oldjob, my team lead received an email from a higher up that took five people to decode because the grammar was so bad. Finally, the “committee” gave up, and the team lead had to email the higher up for clarification.What made it doubly bad is that we work in higher education.Using correct grammar is an essential part of clear communication.

    Also, I use Grammarly because the grammar and spelling checks are better than MS Word, and they explain why it’s wrong. In fact, I used the Chrom plugin version to correct this comment.

  68. (another) b*

    Let’s just nitpick the crap out of every letter and go off on tirades. This is why I barely read the comments anymore.

  69. Greg*

    I have a former co-worker who is also a very good friend (we first worked together nearly 20 years ago and are still in touch). She is not necessarily “book smart”, but she is the absolute queen of “getting [stuff] done”, and if I were ever starting my own company, she is the first person I’d call to be my COO. And if I couldn’t get her, I’d ask, “Who have you worked with who’s most like you?”

    She is also an absolutely atrocious speller. She makes the kind of mistakes that are bad enough and frequent enough that you can’t write them off as typos (e.g., “defiantly” instead of “definitely”). It’s possible that’s held her back in her career — she’s done very well for herself, but has never ascended to C-level roles, although I would attribute that more to other factors. But having worked with her and seen how impressive she is, I always just chalked it up to “Eh, nobody’s perfect.” Like Alison says, if your performance in other areas is strong enough, that kind of thing won’t hold you back.

  70. Winger*

    My boss is an extraordinarily high performing leader in our industry and in our metro area. Her emails are very sloppy, but they are absolutely the “I did this on the go, and who cares because you can still understand me” type of sloppy. The perfectionist in me cringes a tiny bit but it really doesn’t matter.

  71. She Who Must Be Obeyed*

    Hmmm…from the average writing I’ve seen on the internet, good grammar *is* no longer needed. I’ve seen articles written about whether it’s even necessary since humans can understand even very poorly written sentences (Answer: YES! It’s needed!). Since grammar is learned during childhood by simply reading, and almost anyone can learn it by simply reading, I do tend to judge people who write poorly because it is a skill that is so easily learned and shows utter laziness when it’s not learned. People love to blame “auto correct” but the problems existed long before auto correct existed. READ! That’s all you have to do! Don’t have time? Wrong! Every minute you watch TV or spend on social media is a minute you could READ! Even reading AAM is good, since the grammatical standard is a lot higher than much of the internet (Facebook is about the worst). Correct grammar comes automatically after you see it often enough, and people’s perception of your intelligence, efficiency and professionalism all skyrocket–all because you took the time to learn to write correctly.

  72. Jennifer Thneed*

    Okay, I wondered if anyone else was going to address the physical issue: the keyboard. A couple of people have, and now so am I:

    >> he’s a big guy (ex-pro athlete) with large hands and I’ve seen him type, and I know it’s not natural for him and his fingers often hit more than one key just because of their thickness

    LW, is your boss typing on a laptop? Those are notorious for small keyboards. And even if your boss is using an offboard keyboard (the kind that plugs in), they tend to be small to save money, and there are even some meant to be “mini”. Maybe see if your office supplies catalog includes larger keyboards? Ergonomic ones tend to have more room, just because squinching up your hands is bad for ergo health, but also there are just larger keyboards in the world.

    If you don’t use an office supplies catalog, maybe do a quick search for “large hands keyboard”. (I just did this search to make sure it was a good suggestion, and got good results.) And then mention to your boss, “It looks like that keyboard is too small for your hands. XYZ store has larger ones for only $$ and it might be easier on your hands.” Focusing on hand cramping may get you further than focusing on typos.

  73. Mel*

    I worked as a division admin and partly served as personal assistant for the Big Boss. A huge part of my job was tidying up her quickly dashed out emails. If it needed to look nice (proper capitalization, perfect grammar, softening any terse edges), she’s have me review and send it out for her. Her time and attention were more valuable elsewhere, and that’s precisely what PAs and admins are for!

  74. Former Employee*

    I’ve read many of the comments and this whole thing is hilarious, especially the instances where a few people keep trying to equate bad grammar or poor spelling with bridges falling down because if the math is wrong, all is lost.

    And yet, no one has come up with an example that is equivalent. When were people injured or killed due to bad grammar, poor spelling or even missing punctuation? I mean the concept underlying “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” is quite amusing, but the likelihood that anyone would actually be harmed by this sort of error is extremely remote. As I mentioned, I’m still waiting for an example.

    Finally, the fact is that language evolves while basic math remains constant. While higher math is still being explored, no one is questioning 2 + 3 = 5.

    As an aside, for those who think that “aks” (pronounced “axe”) is incorrect or even that someone who says that is somehow “less than”, please note that “ask” and “aks” were used interchangeably for many years starting at least at the time of Chaucer and continuing into the Elizabethan era and beyond. (I looked up the time periods.)

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