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5 times language REALLY mattered

Language matters.

Image credit: 20th Century Fox

Here at Phrasee we have built a company out of understanding this one simple fact.

And that same simple fact drives everything that we do.

We like to think we are pretty important and that there is a lot at stake when it comes to the language of marketing, because there is. Saying the right thing in the right way to the right person can mean the difference between digital marketing that is successful and digital marketing that isn’t. In fact, we believe there is a science to it.

But, in the end, it’s all relative, and it’s all a matter of scale.

Language always matters, but sometimes it REALLY matters.

Here are a few times it REALLY mattered.

5 times language REALLY mattered

1) The “S” that ruined lives

The British government was sued for £9m after a clerical error inserting a rogue “s” saw the wrong company recorded as being in liquidation.

More than 250 people lost their jobs when Companies House mistook a 124-year-old Welsh family business called Taylor and Sons for Taylor and Son – a company that filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

2) The fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral

Nelson Mandela’s funeral was a seminal moment for our generation. For this reason, it received a lot of international press coverage and was attended by many prominent political leaders, including US President Barack Obama. To ensure that all the people of the world could share the meaning of the event, there were a lot of interpreters present at Mandela’s funeral. There was even a sign language interpreter named Thamsanqa Jantjie. The only problem: He didn’t know sign language.

Yes, Mr. Jantjie stood alongside heads of state on national television and faked his way through the entire thing, stone-faced and randomly waving his hands the entire time.  It became the most talked-about thing at an event that should have been memorable for far nobler reasons.

3) The “fat finger” trade


Image credit: 20th Century Fox


In 2005, an employee of Japanese trading firm Mizuho Securities was given the assignment of selling 1 share of Manpower recruitment firm “J-Com” for 610,000 Yen (2,973 GBP), but instead wound up selling 610,000 shares for 1Yen (0.5p) apiece.

This slight linguistic misinterpretation wound up costing Mizuho securities 27 billion Yen, and cost Tokyo stock exchange chairman Takuo Tsurushima his job.

4) Dan Quayle’s spelling bee blunder

In 1992, then US Vice President Dan Quayle was invited to preside over a children’s spelling bee in New Jersey. A 12-year-old was asked to spell “potato”, which he did correctly. Unfortunately, Mr. Quayle was holding a flash card provided by the school that spelled the word “P-O-T-A-T-O-E”, and he told the child that his answer was incorrect.

Quayle, who already had somewhat of a reputation for being none too bright, was lampooned on late night talk shows and newspapers across the country. The event served to effectively neutralise Quayle as a political up and comer, as well as causing him much personal embarrassment.

Quayle later wrote in his memoir Standing Firm that “It was more than a gaffe. It was a ‘defining moment’ of the worst imaginable kind. I can’t overstate how discouraging and exasperating the whole event was.”

5) The State of Georgia vs. Denver Fenton Allen

Sometimes it is important not only to know what to say and how to say it, but also to know when it is best to say nothing at all. Such was the case in 2016 when murder defendant Denver Fenton Allen cost himself 1-year of freedom by talking when he should have been listening. In one of the most infamous court transcripts of all time, a dispute between Allen and Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham Jr. over Allen’s desire to be assigned a new public defender descended into complete chaos. Including extreme vulgarity and threats from both sides.

Judge Bryant was reprimanded for his part, and Allen was held in contempt of court.

The whole incident was hilariously recreated by creator of the cartoon “Rick and Morty”, Justin Roiland, in an absolutely classic YouTube video, but our boss wouldn’t let us link it because there are bad words in it. For those who are curious, we recommend you check it out. It is pretty easy to find!

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