There’s no time like the present to present a present – how one word can change everything

by Stratton Craig

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On a recent lunch break, I was browsing through the day’s news stories when I happened upon the following gem of a headline:
‘Anne Bronte’s grave error corrected’ (via BBC News)
As you might expect, my first though on reading this was “Why on earth has such an evidently monumental mistake taken so long to fix?” I couldn’t see how any kind of slip-up from such a famous author would have been allowed to stand for over 150 years.
On actually reading the article, my unintended pun on ‘monumental’ became clear. ‘Grave’ in this case was referring to Bronte’s burial site, where the headstone had been engraved with the wrong age. The mistake was one of five that her sister Charlotte found on the stone, and is the only one that hadn’t yet been corrected.
In my defence, ‘grave error’ as a phrase – with ‘grave’ used to mean ‘serious’ – is very commonly used. A quick search for ‘grave error’ online produced several other unintentionally vague headlines for stories related to gravestones and burial sites.
There are many words that can have multiple meanings depending on their spoken pronunciation (and that’s not just because of accents), which can confuse readers no end. How would you say any of the following out loud: tear, bow, live, minute, wind?
This kind of mix-up is one of the biggest challenges for written communications – elsewhere we are able to take a lot of context from things like body language and voice inflection. Tone of voice in copywriting helps overcome this by defining exactly how a brand’s meant to sound, and that’s something we always make sure we get right. To avoid an unfortunate headline or an awkward turn of phrase, contact us today.

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