Imagine one day that you open your email inbox to read something like this:
“I hope this letter meets you in fine state and healthy. My name is Mr John Smith and I am the chief auditor of a bank here in NY City. Though we haven’t met in person, I am writing to you because your name was recommend to me as being a person of highest quality ethics.
An account was opened in our bank in 2001 and has since been abandoned, and all attempting to find the owner of these accounts or his next of kin has failed. I am seeking a reliable person who will act in the place of next of the kin to help withdraw this fund which is almost 32 million euros before it is forfeited to the Government as an Inactive Acct. For your help in this matter, you will receive 30% of the fund…”
At about this point, you snort in disgust, delete the message, and vow to toughen the spam filters on your email account. Now, the question isn’t whether you just passed up a great financial opportunity. Rather, we have to wonder: How did you realize this was a fraudulent offer—a variation of the so-called “Nigerian email scam”—so quickly?
The Words You Use Define Who You Are
The impression you make online isn’t completely a matter of the topics you cover or even the accurate spelling and grammar you provide. The words you choose—your diction—also contributes immensely to how your readers react. The Nigerian email scam doesn’t pass readers’ natural skepticism tests because of the writer’s failure to use English gracefully and idiomatically.
In these cynical and suspicious times, people have become sensitized to this. If you mangle your idioms when developing content for your professional website, you will find that some potential clients or customers will walk away simply because they doubt your website was developed and written in the United States.
What Is an Idiom, Anyway?
An idiom is a set of words regularly appearing together that has acquired a special meaning beyond the definitions of the individual terms. This is best shown by an example. Consider this sentence: I was going with Billy when James asked me to the prom. Anyone familiar with colloquial English understands that “going with” here means “having an ongoing social (and maybe romantic) relationship with.” That’s a meaning that’s not really implied by “going” or “with” separately, but the two words together have acquired a conventional special meaning greater than the sum of the words.
A non-native speaker of English could fail to recognize the idiom. He might write “going to” or “going for,” mistakenly thinking that the meaning will be pretty much the same. It isn’t.
Your Credibility Depends on Your Skill With Idioms
In producing a website that represents your business identity, your goal is to encourage your potential clientele to trust you. Your command of the language is an essential part of success, but even expert writers can find mastery of English idioms to be elusive. How often have you noticed these common errors?
- In making a comparison, the writer uses “different than” or “different to” rather than “different from.”
- The writer means “partner with,” but uses “partner to” or “partner for.”
- Instead of using “whether,” the writer uses “whether or not” for a simple yes-or-no choice.
- The writer means to say “I couldn’t care less,” but the phrase is mangled to “I could care less.”
- The phrase “worst-case scenario” is given incorrectly as “worst-case scenario.”
Poorly written websites mean instant reader mistrust. All your attempts to convince the reader of your expertise as a doctor, lawyer, or other highly skilled professional evaporate when you fail to communicate. It’s a risk you dare not take.
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