“Do you know where you’re going to?”
That’s the signature line from the Theme from Mahogany, a famous song by chanteuse, Diana Ross. It’s a lovely number. Back in the day, it was a sensation. But that line. Well, as tuneful at it was/is, it happens to be wrong. As a sentence it’s grammatically flawed. Ask any 7th grader why and he’ll tell you: it ends in –or should I say ends with- a preposition. Spell check will tell you the same thing. That “to” is tacked on. Technically, the line should be, “Do you know where you’re going?”
However, the correct line would also be the wrong line. Without that tiny,”incorrect” word the song may very well have failed. Theme from Mahogany might be driftwood in the flotsam and jetsam of popular culture.
Which got me to thinking about copywriting in general. How many times have we, like our more famous cousins in the musical world, used poor writing from a grammatical standpoint to deliver stunning creative results?
“Think Different” anyone?
It’s what we do. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Good copy takes poetic license with the written word. And sometimes that means ending a sentence with a preposition. Or starting one with one. Or repeating words like “one” to make a point. To stand out. To shine. That’s the same reason I just used two phrases as complete sentences, even though spell check implored me not to. And look at that. There’s “to” at the end of another sentence. For that matter there’s “that.”
I realize the above dissertation might seem quaint in the age of social media and texting. Never before has the written word taken so much abuse by such a mass audience. Brutal spelling, abbreviations and the like have manhandled the world’s languages into grotesque shorthand.
But that is how people choose to communicate. We like it. And for the most part, any and all marketing communications must adjust accordingly or risk dying off like big words and good manners.
Steffan Postaer is the executive creative director of gyro San Francisco.
Follow Steffan @steffan1