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    Grammar Gail shines at SXSW

    March 12, 2012 McKinney

    McKinney Content Editor Gail Marie had a roomful at SXSW. Her presentation, “Language of Mutilation: Grammar for Ads and Life,” explored how the rules of grammar and the muses of creativity can live peaceably in marketing communications.

    In spite of the dreary weather in Austin, Gail was able to share her thoughts about how the session went.

    So how many people were in the audience?

    About 40 to 50. The audience included McKinney's Josh Souter, Josh Janicek, Adam Carroll and Jim Russell, who swore they had each painted a letter of my name on their chest. I can't confirm or deny this because they kept their shirts on.

    What was the mood?

    Attentive. Relaxed. Inquisitive.

    What were some of the best questions posed to you?

    Someone asked if, when using a serial comma to separate items in a series with internal punctuation, one should use a "serial" semicolon before the conjunction. And indeed you should. I had just never thought of it.

    Someone else asked how to minimize potential damage caused to a brand by willfully breaking a standard grammar rule in its advertising. I said do what Steve Jobs did with "Think Different" and use the backlash (if there is any) to better establish what your brand is all about. This assumes that the rule you broke does just that — so make it intentional and flack-worthy. I also suggested that if you are going to willfully misspell a word to do so with enthusiasm: kwik instead of quick. Downy's Unstopables is misspelled but just slightly so. Its intentionality is unclear and therefore potentially hurts the brand.

    Any unexpected moments?

    The fire alarm went off 30 minutes before my presentation and everyone had to evacuate the building. A waffle was aflame in the hotel kitchen.

    What did you enjoy most?

    Most of those attending my presentation were also proofreaders, editors and writers. They were familiar with most of the rules and wanted to understand the rules they were unclear about. So they asked LOTS of questions. And even the SXSW staffers in the room were asking questions — during and after the panel. It went great!