Lynne Truss wrote a book, a very good book, about grammar, entitled Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It was a bestseller, so presumably a lot of people bought a copy. Although, to be perfectly fair, I suppose it could also mean that a few people bought a lot of copies each.
Either way, the fact is that there are a lot of copies of it out there. The question is, have many people read it?
I have my doubts.
For example, I was cycling home from work the other day, minding my own business, enjoying the sunshine and wondering what to make for dinner, when a sparkling new white van passed by on the opposite side of the road. I vaguely noted what had been written on the side panel, and kept going. For a few seconds. And then I thought:
‘No, I can’t have just seen that’.
And so, I stopped, as one does, and turned around, and took after it as fast as I could.
Being new and shiny, the van was easy enough to keep in my sights, but it was definitely getting smaller and smaller by the second. Even the old ‘Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France with cancer-of-the-everything, you can do this’ pep talk was not helping me close the gap. Things didn’t look good and I began to toy with the idea of giving up and going home. But, then, just when I was reluctantly admitting defeat, the van hit a red light.
I cycled furiously, ignoring the pain, and finally caught up with it. After a second or two to recover, I looked up and saw that I had not been mistaken. For there – next to the company logo and emblazoned in bright blue and red lettering – were the words:
“We’re You’re Number 1!”
Yes, honestly. I am telling you the absolute truth. If I hadn’t been so out of breath, so stunned and so filled with lactic acid, I would have whipped out my camera and you would find a picture of it neatly inserted here:
photo of van
But, you will just have to imagine it because instead of clicking away I simply stood there, staring, until the light changed, the van pulled away and the cars behind it tried to knock me over.
And then I cycled home, slowly and sadly, uphill, thinking of all the ways in which that van’s message had annoyed me.
For one thing, how could anyone possibly spend what was obviously a lot of money on a new van, then have it painted in the company colours, complete with logo and tag line and yet have gotten it so completely, utterly and disastrously wrong? There were, after all, only four words on it. Yes, four. Well, three words and a number. And let’s not forget the exclamation mark.
Were they really trying to exclaim to the world that:
“We are You are Number 1!”
Number 1 what?
And, if we are all Number 1, what was with the exclamation point? What is there to be so excited about since being Number 1 is, apparently, absolutely bog standard?
But, then again, if they were actually trying to say:
“We are Your Number 1!”
…then why didn’t they just say it? Although, of course, that would have also annoyed me because then I would have been cycling home wondering what gave them the right to tell me that. Surely, it should be up to me to decide that they were my Number 1, instead of the other way around. But, that’s another story entirely.
And then there’s the exclamation mark.
A subject on which I cannot get started because it makes me want to weep. But, let me just say that I recently saw a five sentence story that had seven exclamations points in it. The last sentence, “See you there”, was so exciting that it required three. Someone with a more generous nature would no doubt find it wonderful that the writer could get so enthusiastic about a yoga group in the church hall, but somehow I just felt like I was being shouted at. By someone who needs to get out more.
Anyway, you could say that the van did its job because it made me take notice of the company and was, therefore, perfect advertising. That would be a valid point of view, if only I had noticed what the van was advertising. I have, however, literally no idea who the company are, or what they do, or where they are based or, when it comes right down to it, anything about them at all, because I was so fixated on their tag line. That can’t be what they meant to happen.
So, why did they do it? How long would it have taken to run what they were going to paint past someone, as in ‘how does this look to you?’ How could they have reached an age where they were allowed to spray paint a van, or order the spray painting of one, without knowing basic grammar? It’s not that hard. The schools in this country are not that bad. And everyone has to go to them, for quite a long time.
I suspect that it just wasn’t important enough to them.
I know that all of the above makes me sound like “Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells”. And I do wonder if it really mattered all that much since I did actually understand what they were trying to say, even if they weren’t saying it properly. And, I realise that in a world filled with poverty, hunger and injustice, there are probably more important things to get worked up about than sloppy grammar.
But, even so, it bothered me.
And, happily, it bothered Ben (hello, Ben) when I told him because he was gratifyingly and eloquently outraged also. It made me feel less alone.
Still, two isn’t very many. Is there anyone else out there?
Or, should I say:
Is their any 1 else out their!!!
We could form a group, a movement, a revolution. The Good Grammar Revolution. I’m sure Lynn would join us, once she figured out who ate the leftover shoots.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)