Pic credit: michaelponton, morguefile.com

Pic credit: michaelponton, morguefile.com

Pic credit: michaelponton, morguefile.com

When shopping, there are times when bad English doesn’t really matter. Take greengrocers, for example; I routinely grumble and scoff when I see “potato’s” and “apple’s” and “basel and corinder” offered for sale, but a casual approach to grammar doesn’t actually make much difference to my enjoyment of the product on offer – you’d have to be pretty pedantic to take your fruit-and-veg custom elsewhere on the grounds of a misplaced apostrophe and some sloppy spelling.

It’s different when you’re buying a service or an expensive branded item, because you’re not buying a thing, you’re buying an experience. It’s different, it just is. You expect quality in all aspects of your dealings with the shop or service provider. And when you’re buying a service that involves a medical procedure this is even more true. For some time I’ve been looking into (excuse the pun) options for treatments to correct my short sight. The first lot I corresponded with – one of the leading laser surgery providers – pissed me off because their promotional claim: “Laser surgery from £395 per eye!!!” turned out to be – in my case, anyway – unrealistic. That price, as far as I could make out, applied only to people with a prescription so low they would form only a small proportion of potential clients. For properly short-sighted people, like me – those most likely to seek surgery – the cost is actually in the thousands. I know these companies have to get punters through the door, and the £395 price claim certainly worked with me, but I soon came to the conclusion I’d rather know the real price than be attracted by an unfeasibly low figure and then disappointed by the reality.

So I went to another leading provider, one that offers a set price so you know where you are from the outset. I liked this, and I liked the fact that they identified – which Company 1 had not done – that my corneas were too thin to safely perform laser surgery on. If I wanted my eyes fixed it would have to be refractive lens exchange. This is a procedure whereby they poke a tube into your eyeball and suck out the lens inside, then stuff an artificial lens into the vacant hole (excuse the frivolous layperson’s explanation of what is actually a delicate procedure). It’s the same procedure they use to treat cataracts, and I can tell you it’s not cheap – the quote was about £5,000.

I might have considered this option – despite pursing my lips when their correspondence with me had a tendency to leave full stops off the end of sentences and used commas where full stops or semi-colons would have been more appropriate. I let that go, telling myself I was being overly pedantic. What really turned me off them was the general grimness of their premises: sitting in the waiting room I felt somehow grubby and unloved, and thought business must be pretty bad if they couldn’t afford to update the place a little and buy some decent furniture. The deal was sealed when the arm-rest in the consultation room came off in my hand.

And so on to Company 3: one that’s currently advertising heavily on the tv. Again, a fixed price, but at nearly £7,000, much higher than what I’d been quoted at Company 2. I duly emailed to ask some questions, realising that their answers might explain the price differential. Here are some interesting extracts from their replies:

There are many type [sic] of lenses….  We are a [sic] eye hospital which use [sic] top surgeons to preform [sic] this procedure…  We have an accommodating lenses [sic] as well as others that gives [sic] you total vision correct [sic] …

They [sic] type of lenses… The accommodating lenses is [sic]… Unfortunately we don’t have any specials [sic] offers.” 

Now, I don’t have £7,000 to hand. There are plenty of more pressing things I could spend that money on. Investing in this procedure would be the reluctant result of countless years of discomfort from wearing glasses and of recent optician’s warnings that I am over-wearing my contact lenses and must reduce their use. So, if I am to go ahead with the procedure I want to be sure the company concerned is not going to bugger up my eyes. I need them, crap as they are at seeing things unaided. I want to be as confident as possible that the procedure will be carried out with meticulous care. That the surgeon is alert, properly trained and has washed her/his hands first. You can’t be 100% sure of these things, but if a company takes care in its correspondence with its potential customers that is, at least, an indication of its attention to detail in other regards. 

It’s the same principle as spending money in a pub or restaurant: if the toilets are kept clean, fragrant and well-stocked, it implies that the beer is kept well; if the exterior is well-maintained it suggests that the kitchen is hygienically managed. To return to the greengrocer analogy, if the apples (or apple’s, if you prefer), are firm and rosy and crisp, it gives you confidence that the pears and aubergines will not be quietly rotting to a pulp at the back of the shop.

Likewise, if a company performing medical procedures ensures its communications with customers are carefully written, it suggests that its medical procedures are carefully carried out. True, the one does not necessarily lead to the other, but image is important, and an image can be damaged by sloppiness. 

So, this pedant is looking once more for a company she can trust to stick a tube into her eyeball, suck out the gunk and shovel in a bit of plastic. Am I overly pedantic not to trust one that writes its emails as though it’s in a rush to go to lunch?

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Join the conversation! 23 Comments

  1. Don’t start me.
    I’m currently in virtual-litigation with a solicitor who (a) constantly spells my name wrong, (b) writes “Barclays” when she means “Halifax”, and (c) has sent me a Christmas card every year for the last seven years to my ex-husband’s address, even though she did the conveyancing when I bought the house I moved into after my dovorce (sic).

    Reply
    • Now that would REALLY piss me off! Aren’t lawyers supposed to be especially careful about their use of language, as they don’t want stuff to be misinterpreted?
      PS How it is possible to spell your name wrong – or did you have a Kyrgyzstanian married name or something?

    • She put a J and an N instead of a K and a T.

    • I bet you didn’t let that go by! Did she just keep doing it? Did you replying getting her name wrong (eg Ms Bell-End)?

    • I wish I’d thought of that. Luckily I’d stayed on friendly terms with Mr. Joli in the run-up to our dovorce (sic) so I allowed him to dish out the recriminations. It was *his* money he was spending, after all… hah!

  2. If they can’t be bothered to spell-check their email, I wouldn’t let them anywhere near my eyes, either. “Spelling mistakes don’t matter” is the same attitude that generates “Oops, I forgot to clean the last patient’s eye-gunk out of the machine… ah, well, details. Let’s get started then.”

    Run, run away.

    Reply
  3. Your line seems reasonable to me. Sloppy presentation is an indicator.

    Reply
    • Hello – you’re not one of my usual little gang of commenters – welcome to my whitterings! I see from your website that do you musical arrangement among other things; I have an amateur sideline in songwriting – perhaps we should talk!

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Bad English: real examples, Words & communication

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