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Companies should make ‘less’ grammar mistakes

Grammar definition in dictionary

In a restaurant the first bite is with the eye. Well, I think that applies to other things as well. I am genuinely put off brands that use poor grammar in their adverts – but am I just being petty?

On my way into work earlier this week I spotted an advert that made me stop in my tracks. Virgin Active is proudly boasting, in a poster campaign all over tube stations, that their gyms have ‘more weights’ for ‘less pounds’.

How many pounds should a gym membership cost? Not being a gym-goer, I haven’t the foggiest idea. But being an irritating pedant, I know it’s definitely not ‘less’ than anything. It’s fewer.

Let’s have fewer mistakes

A few colleagues laughed at me in the office because I came in and had a rant about the ad. Some said it wasn’t important, others suggested it was a deliberate mistake. Which? Conversation’s Patrick thought it might be an issue of tone – they wanted to seem casual, so chose words that their audience might use in conversation.

If you’d like to see the ad, Twitter user @charlesarthur kindly tweeted a picture.

So was it a genuine mistake, or did they deliberately choose to use incorrect grammar because they thought it made a better ad? I asked Virgin Active on Twitter but I didn’t get a reply. Fair enough – it’s a pretty pedantic point.

Would bad grammar stop you buying?

Personally, I think good grammar is important if you want to show people that you’re a trusted brand. After all, I wouldn’t hire someone whose CV was littered with spelling and grammar mistakes, so why would I buy into a service that appears to be so slapdash as to not proofread its work?

I might be over exaggerating a tad. If something was a genuine, out-and-out bargain I probably wouldn’t refuse to buy it on the basis of my grammatical principles. But I don’t think it does a brand’s reputation any good to plaster their name right next to a grammatical error.

A while ago Patrick discussed poor spelling and grammar on websites. That’s something that also irritates me, but I don’t think it’s as serious. On a website you’re producing a huge amount of copy, and no matter how carefully you check it, mistakes are bound to slip through. What’s more, they can be easily and quickly corrected when you spot them.

But on a national advertising campaign which requires you to print up hundreds of posters, the least I’d expect is for companies to pay attention to their grammar. That way perhaps they’d make fewer mistakes. So what say you – am I being ridiculous? Or would bad grammar lead you to think less of a company too?

Is 'bored of' ever acceptable?

No - it should always be written 'bored with' (59%, 72 Votes)

Yes - 'bored of' is an acceptable use of English (25%, 31 Votes)

Maybe - it depends on the context (16%, 20 Votes)

Total Voters: 124

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Comments
Profile photo of ArgonautoftheSeas
Member

Typo: probably better w/out word ‘was’, line one of first sentence last post.

Hope the edit check facility cd be introduced before too long.

Profile photo of philtilson
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It’s a long time since anyone posted to this thread, which is a shame as I feel comfortable in the company of other pedants!

However, I cannot let one comment from back in January pass without a riposte:

Nikki Whiteman said,”Oooh, yes – ‘could of’ also really frustrates me. I can see why a non-English speaker or a young child might mis-hear ‘could’ve’ and so pronounce it ‘could of’ but I think this is something that’s pretty easily corrected. I have to say, though, that I’ve rarely ever seen ‘could of’ written down.”

I wonder if you – like me – are equally irritated by “bored of”, rather than “bored with”, Nikki? If you want to see an example, just look at the bottom of this page – “Bored of typing your name and email? Why not register.”

And they’ve even left out the second question mark! Slapped wrist!

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Rob Waller says:
26 October 2012

Phil, perhap’s we stopped posting to this thread because we’d gotten bored of it.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Hello Phil, as you may know, we’re a bit more informal on Which? Convo, even though I know it’s strictly ‘bored with’. However, the Oxford Dictionary says:

“The first two constructions, bored with and bored by, are the standard ones. The third, bored of, is more recent than the other two and it’s become extremely common. In fact, the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of bored of than bored by. It represents a perfectly logical development of the language, and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of. Nevertheless, some people dislike it and it’s not fully accepted in standard English. It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing.”

If you register and upload an avatar you’ll never have to see it again 🙂

Profile photo of Jonathan Richardson
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I think Rob is provoking us but as long as he swears not to ‘deliberately provoke’ us I think we’ll be fine 😉

Profile photo of philtilson
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“If you register and upload an avatar you’ll never have to see it again :)”

Done!

And I’m disappointed to see that the OED considers it a “perfectly logical development of the language”. “I wanna go”, “I could of gone” and many other modern usages are “perfectly logical”, but surely we should be seeking to maintain the ‘rules’ as far as possible, or we might as well just give up and all talk ‘txt spk’!

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Welcome! I hate text speak as much as the next guy, but you can see what I think about all that in this Conversation from me: https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/bad-spelling-online-shopping-scam-websites/

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Rob Waller says:
29 October 2012

Patrick, I don’t agree that ‘bored of’ is in the same category as ‘could of’. English is a bit uncertain about several constructions like this (‘different from/than’ comes to mind). Thinking back to school, I think it was the ablative case in Latin that translates as ‘by, with or from’… That is, it depends on the context. Consider: ‘I was bored by the man who kept showing me his holiday photos’ vs ‘once we had bored of watching films’ vs ‘once we have become bored with the game’. The words ‘by’, ‘of’ and ‘with’ do slightly different jobs.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Yes, you’re right Rob, it does depend on context and isn’t suitable in all instances. In our case, we think it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘bored of typing’, but neither of you will have to see that if you disagree since you’re logged in!

Profile photo of philtilson
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‘once we had bored of watching films’

Sorry Rob, but that’s a HORRIBLE construction! Yes, one can TIRE of something but one cannot BORE of something! It’s like saying “Once we had exhausted of running…” – it’s just wrong! 🙁

And yes, I accept that ‘different from’ and ‘different to’ are both acceptable, but ‘different than’ is another horrible Americanism!

Going back to where this thread started, I am certainly put off by web pages with spelling and grammatical errors. As others have commented, if they can’t be bothered to get that right, then why should I trust them to get my order right?

As I often point out to clients (whose web sites I check for style, grammar and spelling) half your potential customers won’t notice, so they won’t care, but you could be alienating the other half and losing many sales that you might otherwise have had!

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Rob Waller says:
29 October 2012

I agree that ‘had bored of’ isn’t very elegant, but I didn’t make it up. If you google it, there are numerous examples which seem natural in context.

Spookily enough, there is an identical discussion entitled ‘The alleged decline of English’ going on at LinkedIn.com – the Plain Language Group’s page.

Profile photo of bizgen
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I do agree with previous posters, I am so put off by ‘bored of’ – and then to get someone from the Which? establishment standing up for their use of it is quite shocking. They might as well sprinkle their sentences with ‘like’ every phrase or two, and really slip into the vernacular of poorly educated children who now seem to be the target of their message.

‘I’m so bored of, like, this post is different to what I thought, like, it could of been so much different, to like, you know what I mean…’ Really clear???

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Alright, we’ll put it to the vote. I’ve added a new poll to this post (and it’ll also be shown on the homepage intermittently with the other polls) – if after a week the majority feels it should be ‘bored with’ we’ll make the change, either to ‘bored with’ or to ‘tired of’. Thanks! 🙂

Profile photo of bizgen
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ALL RIGHT!!!!!

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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For fear of starting another debate – alright is an acceptable informal merging of all right. Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary on the matter:

‘Similar ‘merged’ words such as altogether and already have been accepted in standard English for a very long time, so there is no logical reason to object to the one-word form alright. Nevertheless, many people dislike it and regard it as incorrect, so it’s best to avoid using alright in formal writing.’ http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/all-right-or-alright

We’re having a chat here on Which? Convo, and so in most cases using informal phrases and words will win over their formal, original brothers.

Profile photo of philtilson
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I think, in this instance, bizgen was using the term in Kinnock-mode! 😉

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Rob Waller says:
29 October 2012

Brave comment, Phil. I drafted precisely the same one, but backed off for fear of setting something off. Yes, Bizgen’s upper case and exclamation marks are stage directions.

Profile photo of philtilson
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Without wishing to be contentious, looking at Patrick’s youthful countenance, it’s possible he may not know what the hell we’re talking about!

Profile photo of bizgen
Member

Chambers says ‘alright’ is a less acceptable spelling of ‘all right’. Personally, I think that if someone is in charge of what goes on a website of a company like Which? that person should have been properly educated and have some sense of correct spelling and grammar.

Profile photo of philtilson
Member

I probably wouldn’t have put it quite as baldly as that, but I’m afraid I have to agree with the general sentiment.

It behoves every one of us in a position to do so, to uphold standards as best we can. If we don’t, who will?

Member
Rob Waller says:
29 October 2012

I think we need to make a distinction between error and educated choice. Dictionaries do not all agree, and when they say one version is more acceptable, they are not saying the other is unacceptable – just that you will risk criticism by using it. But actually if you enter ‘alright’ and ‘all right’ into the British National Corpus (http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/) you get 8328 examples of ‘alright’ and 6384 examples of ‘all right’. That’s close to a draw, and there’s no evidence that the 8328 alrighters are less educated that the others. In fact it could mean you risk more criticism for using ‘all right’ than the other way around.

Interesting, the ‘differents’ come out rather differently… ‘different from’ 3275; ‘different to’ 484; ‘different than’ 51. That’s a strong vote for ‘from’.

Health warning: the British National Corpus sampled language in use in the early 90s and I don’t think it has been updated since 1994.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Hi both, I’m as much concerned about grammar, spelling and sentence structure as both of you. Alright is not only acceptable, it’s often preferred. In fact, the Kinnock reference Phil and Rob refer to (which was made in 1992) is referenced as him saying ‘Alright’ and not ‘All right’ – in fact if you Google ‘Kinnock all right’ it will auto-correct you to say ‘Kinnock alright’.

Again, our standards are high at Which? but within context: this is an informal website concerned with having a Conversation. If a phrase makes something sound too formal, as if it were an article in the Financial Times for example, we shall re-edit it to sound informal. It will always, however, be acceptable/correct as per an official dictionary, such as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Profile photo of bizgen
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Phil, I could kiss you!!!

Profile photo of philtilson
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I do hope bizgen is female! Or am I in danger of appearing homophobic? 🙁

Profile photo of philtilson
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It’s fascinating how replies to the various comments seem to kick off other topics. For example, that last comment by Patrick raises another of my pet dislikes – the little-lamented passing of the subjunctive mood in English.

“If a phrase makes something sound too formal, as if it was an article on the Financial Times…” – am I alone in wanting this to read “…as if it WERE an article…”? Surely nobody would wish to say “If I was you…”, yet even broadsheet journalists these days seem increasingly reluctant to use this construction.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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In this case Phil, I’d agree with you. Yet, writing a comment in a fast moving online debate is dissimilar to the publishing of an article.

Profile photo of bizgen
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I am afraid Patrick would not have got his job, had I been interviewing him. He makes too many really bad grammatical errors.

Alright, if it was an article in the Financial Times, like, we would would be bored of him. Lovely!

Profile photo of wavechange
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I suggest that we focus on the subject that Nikki has invited us to debate.

Profile photo of bizgen
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Nikki is quite right. If I see something like that it springs out with a physical force and I look at it with horror and take nothing that site has to offer with any confidence. If they get the basics wrong, then they are a sloppy company with ill-educated riff-raff working for them. I can be sure that nothing else they do will be professional and choose another website that appears to be offering the gravitas and respect I seek.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Companies that use eBay provide many examples of grammatical and other errors.

Profile photo of Sophie Gilbert
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I would argue that the general level of English used by everybody, article writers and commenters alike, in Which Conversation reflects on the company, which.co.uk. I would say therefore that to mention it is relevant to Nikki’s subject.

Generally the level is high, so it reflects on Which in a good way. In truth, if the level were lesser, I wouldn’t bother with Which Conversation at all.

Another thing I appreciate about Which Conversation is that articles and comments are generally very reflective or fun or both. Again, I wouldn’t bother with it otherwise.

Let’s keep the standards high, everybody! We’ve shown it can be done.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Good morning everyone. The majority has spoken – we have now made the change to say ‘tired of’ rather than ‘bored of’. Thank you.

Profile photo of philtilson
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Yay! Grammer rools!

Profile photo of Ian
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Fascinating subject, and one close to my heart. To Malcolm’s pet hates I’d add the utter inability of many to comprehend the difference between ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’, the use of ‘none’ with ‘are’ and the misplaced apostrophe.

Does this all matter? I think it does. I’m not talking about Grammar, per se, but rather the ability to use English to communicate effectively and accurately. It’s the single thing that sets us apart from animals, it’s an expression of our thoughts and it’s at the root of how we communicate meaning, emotion and need.

What I find very interesting, however, is the reaction from people when they’re corrected. If someone is talking about ‘no gravity’ in space, they usually accept the correction well, if not gratefully, and if someone gets their millimetres and centimetres confused they’re usually glad to be told. But not – it would seem – with English. Yet words and how they’re used are critical tools of our society and the consequence of misunderstanding people can be at best inconvenient and at worst downright dangerous. So why do people react so badly?

My own belief is that each person is associated intimately with their use of language. It represents them, as well as their educational level, their awareness and their perceived status in ways that not understanding differential equations does not. In other words, people are how they speak and, by extension, write. Correcting someone’s use of English, therefore, is perceived as an attack on that person’s very being.

It’s interesting that schools place English and Maths at the top of ‘important subjects’ yet English, through its innate symbiotic nature, is by far and away more important. And I’ve long wondered why schools don’t seem to realise that maths is taught through English. Every subject in fact, uses English, so perhaps according its use and accuracy more importance is long overdue.

Profile photo of DeeKay
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Yes Ian, ,Grammar, spelling and pronunciation in the press and by professionals should be much better than it has slipped into being currently
Corrections on such places as forums or here for the most part are a little petty as most folk are simply commenting on something
For the most part most if not near all here do not use text speak/text terms here and I do not like those as there are many who simply do not understand such
Language does change and the computer and mobile phone age are accelerating these changes

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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Well as I have to say something to be able to log in to this Conversations future developments. …..

I try not to be a pedant but there is no doubt I can be extremely irritated by the misuse of English. And even shocked. I once read a stock HSBC legal form and they had the principal/principle problem. Used ibn the hundreds daily and fault English.

I sometimes wonder if that as English has around 2,000,000 words people should realise that even a cutesy misspelling may actually be a proper word.

Top of the list might go to a chef known forgiving his food a blitz in a machine. Whilst it sounds exciting and butch you cannot help but wonder if it is confusing when reading of the London Blitz. What word he may be thinking of …. I suspect a whizz as it sounds like the machine noise of a liquidiser used briefly.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Sorry to disagree with you Diesel, but I think that “blitz” is a good word to describe the intense and high-speed pounding of food in a juicer or blender. Although it might appear to trivialise the blitzkrieg invasions of Poland, Holland and Belgium and the London blitz bombing campaign in the Second World War I don’t think we should let the forces of evil have command over our use of language for ever.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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Well I am not going to get too upset : ( ,,,,,,

Given it means “lightning war” my other vague concern is that there is benefit in keeping the German meaning for those who learn German or those who might travel there and become bemused by their use of the word.

It does happen in other languages also. False friends in the jargon.

And whilst we are at it the word factoid which is either a true or false “fact”. Much used by a DJ on Radio 2 it was a mix of the true and untrue broadcast as facts without bothering to distinguish.

” Simple Definition of factoid : a brief and usually unimportant fact

Full Definition of factoid
1 : an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print
2 : a briefly stated and usually trivial fact

Profile photo of malcolm r
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I’ve always taken a factoid as a contrived piece of information portrayed in a convincing way to support someone’s argument, rather like beginning a statement with “the reality is”.

Profile photo of Ian
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Language is dynamic and adapts to reflect socio-cultural changes. “Blitz’ is a good example of that process at work on a word only 80 years old to the English ear. But I think we have to be careful about becoming too precious with regards to word meanings. Some make important distinctions – such as “Disinterested” and “Uninterested” but Blitz itself had, originally, a very narrow frame of reference. Once in English and in common parlance , change in its use is inevitable.

Profile photo of malcolm r
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On a less savoury note there were once swear words that were never used by nice people in public. Now all the taboo words I used to know have become everyday currency, at a personal level, in print and broadcast. When young I was once castigated for using “damn”, and “bloody” was a definite no-no

Do we now have to invent new ones that replace their impact. What do I now say when I hit my thumb with a hammer? :mrgreen:

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
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The problem I think is when you talk of common parlance what we now have is ” personalities” with frequent public exposure who may misuse a word and it becomes common by virtue of TV.

I do not get overexcited about “blitz” itself but more the process where words no longer mean what they used to. Obviously every young set has its in-words but because they get exposure so much more quickly to such a wider audience …..

Lords knows how someone teaching English to foreign students deals with the rapid changes of meaning such as bad means good!!! For us it would be context but teaching that aswell as the language must be very near impossible.

It is not a problem that Which?/Consumer Association can solve or be expected to solve as English IS vey dynamic. However there are always some words which are really too stupid for mainstream use.!! : )

Profile photo of Ian
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English is among the most adaptive of languages. In terms of adaptation, it evolves faster than a fruit fly and I agree there are annoying instances where original meanings with specific functions become lost. But I also think it’s necessary to understand that the very adaptive skills demonstrated by our astonishing language work to prevent its corruption.

Words which change as a result of media activity (which may, of course, merely reflect changes taking place in society, anyway) enter a process of societal ‘moderation’ as they gradually become more widely used. That moderational approach frequently occurs through the very media many see as culpable in instigating the original changes, so it can work rather well.

Many words no longer mean what they used to: egregious is my favourite example.

Profile photo of John Ward
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Thankfully, for the purposes of this Conversation, “egregious” is not a word likely to appear in commercial literature.

Barring the occasional lapse, I am quietly amazed at the high literacy standard of the national press and their journalists [rather than the features writers]. The tabloids, in particular, are remarkably well-written and in using humour or irony do not forsake their proper use of English vocabulary, grammar and punctuation. It must have some educational effect. My only possible regret, in all media, is the disuse of reported speech which I seemed to spend so much time on at school; however, it is so complex and stilted, and sometimes quite confusing, that it is probably no bad thing in the interests of a more natural form of expression.

Profile photo of wavechange
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The ability of the national press to turn out articles that are well written has fascinated me for years. They do flounder when covering science topics and few writers are familiar with common conventions. Despite my dislike of advertising because of misrepresentation, if not dishonesty, I have noticed that the use of English is generally very good.

Egregious is not a common word, though I did mention ‘eggregious’ when we discussed creme eggs. I had eggshausted the usual stream of made up words.

Profile photo of Andrew Collins
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I hope you weren’t saying that Creme eggs were egregious, Wavechange 😮

Profile photo of wavechange
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I wasn’t commenting on the eggs themselves, just trying to elicit more eggscrutiating comments.

Profile photo of Andrew Collins
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Aha OK Wavechange 🙂 Hope everyone has an eggciting, eggstra long weekend!

Profile photo of Ian
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We badly need a ‘groan’ emoticon. Or should that be we sadly need…

🙂

Profile photo of Andrew Collins
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How about this one, Ian: 😒

Profile photo of Ian
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Nice 🙂

Profile photo of wavechange
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Interesting. If I copy/paste Andrew’s emoticon it appears different: 😒

Edit: When the comment was published, the emoticon was identical. 👍🏽

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
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Wave, emojis can look hilariously different on other devices. An emoji you send from an Android phone could look very different when it arrives on your friend’s Apple phone. See: http://mentalfloss.com/uk/trivia/35560/9-emojis-that-look-completely-different-on-other-phones

To get back on topic – what’s the origin of the word ’emoji’? And is it different to the word ’emoticon’?

Profile photo of Ian
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It’s originally Japanese. Means ‘picture’.

Profile photo of wavechange
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Thanks Patrick. I was aware of minor differences but the examples you provide are quite extreme. Anyway, 🙁 and 🙂 seem safe, and I hope we use more 🙂

Profile photo of wavechange
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With around 5% of the population being dyslexic and a higher percentage showing symptoms of dyslexia, it is inevitable that there will be a problem with email and other correspondence from companies. It is disappointing that websites are sometimes poor, though some companies either proof read what they publish or the pages are compiled by those who are good at spotting and correcting errors. Some of the errors are clearly due to carelessness.

This morning I received an email of a couple of forthcoming workshops that will be run by the Environment Agency: “As the workshops are designed to be complimentary ….” 🙁 On the other hand, the relevant official report is very well written.