October 11, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Slogans & that

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:39 am by dlseltzer

A reader writes:

I have a question about a poster I saw the other day at the hospital I work for. I am not a native English speaker but can’t exactly understand the rule in the following sentence: “At the bottom of our heart is you.” Isn’t “you” the subject? If I change the position of the subject, it becomes: “You is at the bottom of my heart”, but “is” doesn’t seem to be the right verb conjugation (should it be “are”?). Thanks a lot for your help. I recently subscribed to wlut, and I’m already addicted to it.

Forget about rules here. First, the reader is absolutely right. In terms of grammar, this is a train wreck. And yes, ‘you’ takes the verb ‘are.’ And ‘we’ don’t usually share a single heart. I could go on. But the reality is that rules don’t apply here because ‘At the bottom of our heart is you’ is a slogan. Albeit a terrible slogan. And slogans often flout the rules of grammar and are grammatically incorrect.

A slogan is a phrase, often used in advertising but found in other contexts, too, that is designed to be catchy and memorable. The idea is to remember the ‘item’ by remembering the slogan. In this case, every time you hear ‘At the bottom of our heart is you,’ you will think of that particular hospital.

And as I said, slogans are notorious for using incorrect grammar and other language errors. Remember Apple’s ‘Think different’? Here are some others:

Got milk?

It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

A little dab’ll do ya!

Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger!

Subway, eat fresh.

You got chocolate in my peanut butter!

Quality is job one.

Land Rover. Go beyond.

We speak fish.

 You get the idea. Although it is tempting to try to make sense out of words when you see them, with slogans there often isn’t any sense, and thinking about them too much will curdle your brain.

When I was finding slogans, I found that there are lots of sites that will generate slogans for you for free.

First, I entered ‘language tips’ and got this:

Language tips is easy.

 Oh dear. Well, I told you slogans were notorious for bad grammar. But still, for language tips, it really won’t do. I tried again and got this:

Language tips tonight, tomorrow all right.

 It makes the wlut sound sexy, but it’s not quite the sentiment I was looking for. I decided to try one last time:

Language tips connect.

I kind of like that. I don’t know what it means, but connecting is good.

Just remember that you can’t count on proper English in slogans, and you’ll be fine.

Tip 2: About that

A reader writes:

Is it correct to say ” The study did not address the effect the cost savings had on the quality of healthcare.” or should one use (at least in formal writing) the conjunction that, to wit:  ” The study did not address the effect that the cost savings had on the quality of healthcare”?

 I saw a really egregious example of this in the PG yesterday; by egregious, I mean that not having the conjunction made me have to read the sentence twice to understand what was being said.

 So is the answer to my question, it depends on the context, i.e., that should be used when needed to prevent confusion?

 This is a great question, and it actually has come up before (https://languagetips.wordpress.com/category/that/). Let me first say that it is never wrong to use ‘that’ as a conjunction as in the reader’s example. Second, we should use always use ‘that’ if it is needed to avoid ambiguity.

 The professor stated November 5 grades would be submitted.

 Did the professor make the statement on November 5 or was that the date for submitting the grades? In this sentence, ‘that’ is needed for clarity.

The professor stated November 5 that grades would be submitted.

 The professor stated that November 5 grades would be submitted.

Third, we should always use ‘that’ in our formal scientific writing—that means in all manuscripts and grant proposals.

Fourth and finally, in informal writing like this wlut and in conversation, it is fine to omit ‘that’ as long as the meaning is clear.

Just because I had so much fun generating slogans for the last tip, I threw ‘that’ into the slogan generator, too:

Nothing is like that.

Keep going well, keep going that.

You’ll be ahead with that.

Okay, I am having way too much fun. It’s time to go back to work. Just remember what I’ve told you about that.

2 Comments »

  1. Bill Sardo said,

    Comment/Question regarding Item 1 for 11 October 2012.
    To our dear Grammar Guru,
    What do you think about the following explanation concerning the sentence in question, “At the bottom of our heart is you”?
    Whether intended as a slogan or not, the sentence could be seen as a shortened form of “The person at the bottom of our heart is you.” Thus written, “The person” is the third-person, single subject of the sentence, and, therefore, the correct BE verb form is indeed “is.” “You” in that sentence is the subject complement.
    And while “The person at the bottoms of our hearts is you” would bring the possessive “our” in agreement with the plural nouns “bottoms” and “hearts,” the singular nouns “bottom” and “heart” create the warmer, collective feeling that everyone working at the hospital in question has the singular, universal goal of seving all who enter.
    One final comment for the person who submitted the inquiry. If we rephrase the sentence as “You are at the bottom of our heart,” then, of course, “are” is the correct BE verb form for the second person “you.”

  2. Bill Sardo said,

    A correction to my comment of October 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm.
    In Line 5, I should have said “singular,” not “single.” No one is perfect, right?
    Bill Sardo


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