A Car Washing Adventure

From time to time it is necessary, living in a snowy city, to give my car a respite from the salt that eats away at it for much of the winter.  During my last visit to Octopus Car Wash, as I waited for my car to get spit out the other end of the car wash, I discovered a wall full of greeting cards, many of them by a local Wisconsin greeting card company, Byrne & Schmidt Greetings.

What a great idea!  I love browsing humorous and clever greeting cards and went to work picking out cards to give to my friends and family for upcoming holidays.

Leave it to me to find a grammar issue in one of the birthday cards.

Squirrel Birthday Poem Insure Ensure

Squirrely Grammar Lesson

Squirrely Grammar

On the front of one card, I found a picture of a squirrel holding an oversized acorn under each arm. The title:  A Squirrel Birthday Poem.  The first three lines of the poem:

Happy Birthday to you,

You can bet your sweet butt

To insure you a great birthday

I opened the card to find the last two lines of the poem:

I’d give my left nut.

I laughed.  And I also got inspired to write about the difference between “ensure” and “insure.”  My first reaction was that “insure” had been used incorrectly here and that the correct verb was “ensure.”  As I did my research, I learned that I was only partially right about that assessment.

The Essay Expert Gets a Grammar Lesson:  Assure, Insure, Ensure

Associated Press style does indeed dictate that “ensure” means to make sure something happens and that “insure” means to issue a life insurance policy.  Other authorities, however, state that it is acceptable to use the two interchangeably, though “insure” does more often relate to monetary insurance and “ensure” more often relates to a non-monetary guarantee.

About.com has a great article about these distinctions, and covers the word “assure” as well.  See Assure, Ensure, and Insure:  Commonly Confused Words by Richard Nordquist.

I’m not going to go into detail about the difference between all these words.  I do want to point out that regardless of his or her proper word choice, the greeting card writer took artistic license in omitting the verb in the sentence.  A correct sentence would have read, “To insure that you have a great birthday….”  The way it read, “To insure you a great birthday” doesn’t make sense.  We can insure a car or a house, or insure *that* something happens, but we can’t ensure a person something.

And Now for the Valentine’s Day Life Lesson…

Nevertheless, I am more interested in the fact that I was so sure the word choice in the card was incorrect that I almost wrote a blog article about the difference between insure and ensure without doing my research.  What a great lesson in being willing to be wrong!

I often think I’m right about a lot of things, not just grammatical issues.  Things like how clean a kitchen should be, or what habits are healthy and not, or what is the best way to do just about anything.  Sometimes being right is not the best way to sustain healthy relationships.  And sometimes I’m just plain wrong.  I can assure you of that.

It’s Valentine’s Day.  Is there anything you’re sure you’re right about with your loved ones?  Are you willing to consider the possibility that there’s another right answer out there in the world besides yours?

Please share your thoughts on grammar and on being right.  I’d love to hear your comments!


    • Found you through LinkedIn, too. =) And yes, it’s just a card but (and I totally don’t mean this in a mean or harsh tone) but it baffles me that on the whole, spelling and grammar just aren’t important to a vast majority of people, it seems, and even more annoying is the fact that it’s “rude” to correct people. Yargh, lol. That’s just me, though. I was a writing major in college and still write often, so I have those stereotypical grammar and spelling pet peeves. =)

  1. Hi, Brenda. This bugged me, so I do what I do every time I have a question about a word(s) — I looked all three of them up in Webster’s. Interestingly enough, all three words are synonymous of each other. This boggles my mind, since I was always taught that insure was related to insurance products only. I would never have guessed this changed had you not posted this on your blog.

  2. Hey Brenda,
    I am visiting after such a long time and boy I had so much fun with this post! This Valentines’s I “assured” myself that I wouldn’t feel miserable on being single but that didn’t happen.

  3. Hi Brenda,
    I’d have had exactly the same reaction as you did to that card. It’s sad how we can overlook something funny or enjoyable because of incorrect grammar or punctuation. I also find that many can’t distinguish between “insure” and “ensure” and misuse of the two words is common in what should be well-written documents and even articles.

    I’d like to subscribe to your blog but the button doesn’t work. What should I do?

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