Being a words guy, I’m chagrined when I receive business communications with misspellings, or when someone uses an incorrect word or phrase to convey a message or idea.
When I was young, I believed that most people communicated with precision. This got me in trouble in 10th grade Biology Class. We were studying snakes, and Mr. V., who was a great teacher, gave us a written assignment to complete. I was a decent student in biology, but several questions had me flummoxed. They referred to a “blake snake.” I had studied garter snakes, green snakes, king snakes, cobras, boa constrictors, pythons, snakes in the trees and snakes in the water. But a “blake snake?” I was mystified. I scoured the textbook looking for any reference to this elusive creature. My teenage angst grew as several precious hours of my youth flew by. Finally, with the help of a friend, I figured out that Mr. V.’s knowledge of spelling did not equal his knowledge of natural science. It was a lot easier to answer the questions when I knew that the elusive serpent was, in fact, an ordinary black snake.
My futile search for the blake snake had left me rattled…
In the late 70’s I worked at Carl Fischer Music on South Wabash in Chicago. Carl Fischer was famous for being a purveyor of sheet music and music books. We had anything and everything ever published – stashed somewhere among four floors and a basement in an old building on South Wabash Avenue – if you could find it. Musicians and aspiring musicians from all over the country, as well as music stores, band directors and choral teachers ordered their music from us.
To keep track of the tens of thousands of titles was quite a feat. This was complicated when we received hand-written orders. Deciphering the customer’s intent was a mystery. (Maybe there’s a series idea there – “Sheet Music Detectives” on the History Channel!)
Some errors were frequently repeated and easy to spot, such as the request for “Furry Lice” for Piano. Now I doubt that anyone really wanted tiny insects dancing on their piano keys – certainly Beethoven wasn’t trying to conjure up that mental image when he composed “Für Elise.” And though it did amuse me, I have to admit that it bugged me as well.
A curious request came in one day for the “Ševčík School of Bowling Technique.” With it came visions of an Itzhak Perlman wannabe, violin in hand, trying for a 7/10 split at the local lanes. Although our veteran staff remained unbowed by the egregious error, I was glad that I didn’t have to fiddle with this particular order.
So yes, precision, articulation, and spelling all matter in communications. Nonetheless, I’m older and wiser now, and have resigned myself to the fact that a close friend of mine is sure to have another good “ideal” any day now. But I promise you this. When the next person tells me he has “prostrate” problems, I will refuse to take that news lying down!