Grammar and punctuation -- they should blend like salt and pepper, Facebook and Twitter, or love and romance. With all the tools available to us, such as spell check on our computers and mobile phones, one would think we'd easily pass the netiquette test so our email etiquette would be picture perfect.
Unfortunately this isn't always the case. Computer software programs don't always know the context of the communication. Auto-correct should be renamed auto-incorrect as we type away on our iPhones and iPads, often without noticing the new word that our devices have created. As a result, we often find ourselves pressing the send button while we're in a rush or before we've thoroughly reviewed an email, sending a text to the wrong person, or sending a sloppy and misunderstood tweet. In a split second, we often find ourselves in the digital doghouse after sending an electronic communication we wish we could take back.
In my upcoming book, The Rules of Netiquette: How to Mind Your Manners on the Web, I clearly state the following: "Use spell check to check your spelling and grammar before pushing the send button on an email or important correspondence. However don't correct someone's spelling unless they've asked for a critique."
It makes sense, doesn't it?
Take a digital moment and think about it. If you were writing to a potential investor or employer and you noticed a typo in their business plan or in a job description on LinkedIn, would you bring it to their attention? Would you expect to get funded or be hired? I doubt it. These digital disasters happen more frequently than not, but should the recipient correct your spelling and grammar in their reply? I say "no."
When you add matters of the heart to the equation the emotions get magnified, often to the point of no return. This is where I jump in while helping singles looking for love online with their online dating profiles and email introductions.
A recent communication on an Internet dating site was brought to my attention, where a gentleman clearly broke the "Rules of Netiquette."
What exactly did he do wrong? He found a woman's profile he truly liked. He then insulted her in his initial email and corrected a grammatical error, took a screen-shot of the improper sentence and then forwarded it to her. It wasn't the kind of romantic a gesture you'd expect from someone who wanted to find a serious relationship and meet this particular woman.
His Inappropriate Critique
Subject: Commented on your profile essay
The portion of the essay he was referring to
What she should have written?
In her online dating profile, she meant to write "inspires" and incorrectly wrote "aspires" instead. Was it worth making a big deal out of? Considering her entire profile had been written without typos, caps, exclamation marks or filled with acronyms, his comment on her essay clearly was a case of bad social netiquette.
While I believe you should use the spelling and grammar check on business and social emails, "aspires" was not incorrectly spelled and slipped through the cracks. If you look closely at his comment, ironically you'll notice a few grammatical errors on his end. Was the pot calling the digital kettle black? Should you use slang and shorten words in an email if you're not limited to 140 characters on Twitter or 160 in a text message?
As an online dating expert and one who diligently preaches about first impressions and netiquette, he failed miserably.
Stunned by receiving this email from a potential suitor, she decided she had four choices:
1. Ignore it.
2. Delete it and possibly block him.
3. Write back and laugh it off.
4. Write back and let him know he was correct about one thing. He was a jerk.
She chose option four and responded as follows:
Subject: Re: Commented on your profile essay
While I appreciate a profile with perfect punctuation, I don't believe an introduction email to someone whose profile you actually liked should start with a critique unless they've asked for one.
However, since punctuation and grammar are important to you, please note in your email to me, that the word 'you' is spelled improperly as 'U' and not y-o-u. Please note that there is no such word in the dictionary of 'sayin.' The appropriate spelling of that word should have a 'g' at the end of it and should be 'saying.'
However, you did spell the word jerk correctly.
Was it too harsh of a reply? What would you have done? She projected to the future and wondered how this gentleman treated the servers at restaurants and if her life would be filled with criticism on every date with this man.
Feeling completely embarrassed, the gentleman pursuer wrote a 300+ word apology letter, blaming his behavior on his father. But she appreciated that he didn't get defensive and it didn't create a cyber flame war.
Thank you for your note and other than attempt to explain (not sure that's possible), I apologize and am truly sorry for sending that note to you, truly. Jerk is correct and more than kind and again, rather than you simply dismissing this stupidity with no response, I can't thank you enough for your words, thoughts and feelings in your response.
I'm sure you are familiar with the expression 'like father, like son,' this is something my father would do, his intent was well meaning, but it came across rude and insensitive. I dubbed his stupidity to other family members as, 'foot in for the life of me I can't figure it out... just trying to do the right thing, in and enjoyed and appreciated reading your profile, however, in attempting to be a lights are off after sunset, I fell victim to my dad's 'foot in mouth disease.'
At the end of the digital day, we all make mistakes, but first impressions do matter. My father always told me, "With honey you make money." My dad is a wise man.
Julie Spira is a bestselling author, online dating, netiquette, and cyber-relations expert. Her netiquette and relationship advice has appeared on ABC, CNN, Glamour, Mashable, MSN, NBC News, Redbook, Woman's Day, and USA Weekend.