For the past couple of months a frequently played radio commercial has been driving me a little crazy. It’s a Microsoft ad promoting educational software, and it features the voice of a teenage girl who’s writing a report on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. At the end of the spot she quotes the play’s most famous line “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” and follows up with “He’s not in my high school!”
Presumably, it’s supposed to make listeners chuckle, but I cringe every single time.
I used to teach high school English, and Romeo and Juliet was on my ninth-graders’ syllabus. There are a myriad of ways to teach that play, but I’d bet money that just about every English teacher makes a point to stress the meaning of that one, very famous line.
If you need to brush up on your Shakespearean language, let me fill you in: “Wherefore” doesn’t mean “where.” It means “why.” Juliet isn’t asking where Romeo is; she’s asking why he’s Romeo, a Montague. She’s lamenting that, of all the men in Verona, she had to fall in love with the only son of her family’s mortal enemy. It’s not a nitpicky detail; it’s a crucial plot point!
So why oh why wherefore oh wherefore is Microsoft encouraging an incorrect interpretation of the line? I have no idea, but I don’t like it.
Before you risk hurting your organization’s or your personal reputation, do a little research. Amy Beth has written about the issue for presenters, at the American Speaker Blog, but fact-checking is an important step for all professional communication.
What is the most cringe-inducing error you’ve seen a company make?
[Image Source: Tate Gallery]