Grammar and word usage aren’t exciting. Grammar and word usage aren’t sexy. Grammar and word usage don’t drive revenue. But grammar and word usage may determine whether money flows in our out of your pocket. Interested now?
Despite the stodgy reputation, grammar and word usage isn’t just the province of English instructors, cranky newspaper editors, and guests on Charlie Rose. The way words are used can make a big difference to your business.
For an example, look no further than the insurance policy carried by Larry Silverstein, the New York developer who owned the World Trade Center buildings destroyed in the 9/11 tragedy. For Silverstein, billions of dollars rested on the use of the word “occurrence.” If the destruction of the two towers was considered one “occurrence” his insurance payment would be $3.55 billion, but if the collapse of each tower was considered a distinct “occurrence” his insurance payment would be $7.1 billion. You can bet he cracked a dictionary.
Another example of unclear language comes from a federal lawsuit in the Pacific Northwest that hinges on the defined geographical boundaries of Puget Sound. Who cares? Right now, the Upper Skagit, Swinomish, and Suquamish Tribe care very much as do the Washington Department of Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Washington Department of Game. Why? Because the definition of Puget Sound determines fishing rights and fishing rights mean big money.
Take a look at this snippet:
“…the term “Puget Sound” includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca and all the saltwater areas inland therefrom, and all terms and discussions which would otherwise have a broader or more general scope…”
There’s some wiggle room there and even more if you look at the full text.
The point to take away from this is that when used with precision, words can be just as effective as any financial model. That’s true when you’re reading your next office lease, or boilerplate insurance policy or negotiating a service agreement with your top client. If you know how to use words, you can use them to your advantage and keep others from using them against you.