Friday, March 07, 2008

The Rule of Words

Tuesday was National Grammar Day, but it should be clear that I either disregard or do not know the official rules of English - instead I follow amateur linguistic guidelines - context and implied meaning are what count.

I don't usually discuss specific incidents except to make a more generic point. However, a software supplier wrote an email to a senior client today, copied to me, including the following lines:

To secure the resources from our side, we would like to complete the contract and purchase order by the 14th March. With regard to future process improvements, I mentioned a complimentary module used by [the client]

Context and implied meaning. Our prior expectation was that the extra module would cost more money, so the phrase above suggested to me that a clarification was in order. My note to the supplier was polite and specific, I quoted the above phrase and asked:

Do you mean complimentary or complementary? As we decide our budgets and scope of work, the distinction is important.

And the supplier was quick to reply. Of course he meant:

complementary as in "forming or serving as a complement; completing"...

There is no good vs evil in this, we all make mistakes and if they are clarified then that is fair enough.

But there was an unsavoury twist to this story. These emails have attached history. In addition to showing the clarification in his new note, the supplier overtyped the word in the history. He changed his original note to use complementary instead of complimentary, and even changed the quote within my email.

Looking at his final note implies that his original text was correct and also implies that I highlighted a possible distinction purely to make a pedantic point. He deliberately changed what I wrote. Probably not evil, but maybe unethical.

Of course if the original note had said complementary, then the implied meaning would have matched expectation and I would not have asked for clarification. You should know that.

And please do not misquote me.

1 comment:

Ann said...

I hope you are sending them a link to this post. And perhaps suggesting more honesty in future dealings.