Stupid Tuesday questions, Strunk and White edition

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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64 Responses

  1. Burt Likko says:

    I’d proffer an answer but the OP so perfectly encapsulates the immediate signal of my advancing obsolescence: my very unfashionable insistence upon using some semblance of textbook-standard grammar, spelling, and punctuation in written expression.

    Worse, my understanding of my cell phone is that it is a device intended to be used principally for voice communication. I have also been known to read a physical book or magazine from time to time, rather than an electronic one on my Kindle or iPad. And I still purchase and use compact discs. (I know. Just wheel me out to the old folks’ home now before I hit fifty.)

    I still think “dude” is a fundamentally masculine pronoun. When I hear women refer to one another as “dude,” I am taken aback. The younger women in my office do this when they are being jocular with one another. I disapprove of their sweat pants that have adjectives embroidered on the asses. I was happier before I knew that my receptionist’s butt is “juicy.”Report

    • I get a little annoyed when people feel the need to call my cell. What the hell! It’s for email, texts, twitter, internet, facebook and music. Unless you are on fire, you probably don’t need to be calling my phone.

      And if you’re on fire, just call 911 directly.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        “To request medical assistance or fire/rescue, text ‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!’ to 911 on your cell phone.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        My son told me recently that I was “stuck in the last century, Dad!” because I asked him to call me instead of sending me a text message.Report

      • Generally, if people are calling me, it’s not to chat, but to impart some information. I’d much rather a text or an email that I can check at a convenient time, and that I can refer back to later.

        When it has to do with work, I really hate it when someone insists on calling instead of emailing. It generally means: (a) they’re too lazy to type something, and want you to do it instead; or (b) they don’t want a paper trail of what they’re about to tell you so that they can’t get in trouble.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        A friend who’s slightly older than me (hence older than either Burt or Russell) says that texting is “a very civilized form of communication.” I have to agree. I have always disliked talking on the phone. And daughter #1 is even worse than me at talking on the phone. So thank god she normally texts me when it’s time to be picked up from swim practice or whatever other event she has going on in her busy life.

        Talking is overrated. Writing is good. And as e.e. cummings taught us, even short ungrammatical writing can also be very good, in the hands of an artist.

        That said, I don’t tweet and won’t. I don’t Facebook, and I don’t do Linked-in. Social media in general makes me feel old and out of touch, and increasingly I find I like that feeling.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        I have got to stop reading things too quickly. James’s comment looked like it referred to a friend “who’s slightly older than me (hence older than Bertrand Russell)”.Report

      • I’m a *horrible* phone talker, in the sense that I really don’t like it (which is weird, given that I used to be a call-center customer service rep, but that was different….it was a job and I was paid for it and I didn’t have to do it at home). But I don’t like texting either. Aaargh, kids these days!

        Like James, I don’t, and won’t, do Twitter. There are some reasonably smart people I know who have twitter feeds, and when every once in a while I read them, they sound like childish sloganeers.

        I do Facebook, but reluctantly. If I recall correctly, I’ve made only 1 post there and commented on others’ only a handful of times. Mostly it’s just to keep in touch with my family, and some people use it for email.Report

    • Also, as to “dude”, the way Jaybird and Maribou occasionally go back and forth in comments referring to each other as “dude” is pretty adorable. As such, I’ll give any unorthodox uses a pass.Report

    • Reformed Republican in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I do not care for texting, though I cannot say why.

      You can have my CDs when you pry them from my cold, dead hands. I like albums. I like album art. I like when they come with a nice booklet, containing lyrics or pictures or whatever. If I am going to pay for music, I would prefer to have the physical media.Report

  2. Chris says:

    Twitter’s very existence is the world leaving me behind. I cannot keep up with it, and its mores, memes, and constantly evolving slang. I will often read someone’s tweet, find it well nigh incomprehensible, then turn to my girlfriend, who spends a lot of time on Twitter both for personal and work reasons, and ask, “What the hell does this say?!” She’ll usually give me a very obvious translation into the ancient English that I speak, at which point I will feel old and stupid.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

      I’m not so much standing athwart History yelling “stop”, as I am impotently shaking my fist at History’s taillights as they fade into the distance.Report

    • North in reply to Chris says:

      Amen to this, when I first heard of Twitter I was like “who the hell wants to use this thing? You can’t tell anyone anything with that many characters.”

      I don’t follow anything on Twitter. I don’t anticipate starting. I’m gonna wait for the next fad.Report

      • Chris in reply to North says:

        Twitter can be genuinely enjoyable, informative, and hilarious. Twitter is not a great place to have long, drawn-out conversations, but it’s not meant for that.

        My problem in being able to follow Twitter — and this is my problem, not Twitter’s — is that it moves so fast that it’s basically like culture on fast forward (X16). Something that happened yesterday might as well have happened a year ago, and something that happened a year ago? Might has well have been in the Middle Ages. If I go several days in a row without looking through my Twitter feed, I will find myself lost.

        And the slang really does seem to evolve quite quickly. Part of this is that the medium seems to facilitate rapid linguistic change. One progression I frequently see is a meme becoming so popular that it turns into a slang word or phrase that can be used to reference things completely unrelated to the original meme. Right now I’m very worried that this will happen with “Sharkeisha.”Report

      • Russell Saunders in reply to North says:

        I enjoy Twitter, too. It’s especially useful for fast-breaking news updates (I checked in obsessively in the car when SCOTUS was scheduled to hand down its DOMA ruling) (I wasn’t driving), for amusing/interesting commentary on live events, etc. Some of the jokes and memes can be really funny. (I remember one I really liked from election night last year, #electioncocktails or something similar. My contribution was The McCain, which consisted of an entire bottle of bitters.)Report

      • North in reply to North says:

        I laughed a lot at The McCain doc!

        So essentially Twitter is like a really far flung chat room or something. I see.Report

  3. The comparison to bitchy resting face is interesting.

    The lesson behind the phenomenon of bitchy resting face is that you shouldn’t call someone a bitch just because they don’t look totally super happy all the fucking time. It is not that people with BRF should change to look more Katie Couric every damned minute of the day.

    So, using a comparison of bitchy resting face to malign the use of the actual English language means one’s approach to bitchy resting face is completely bollocksed up.

    By the way, I’ve totally embraced my bitchy resting face (and have for decades), as well as my pedantic adherence to language (well, most of the time). A year or so ago, a co-worker was coming back from vacation, and we decided to make a banner for him (well, I decided). Being a part of the writing department, the signread, “Welcome Back, Dan!” He appreciated the use of the comma, and knew automatically that I was the one who wrote it.

    To the question, when the hell did we decide to capitalize the “i” in Internet. I swear to God we didn’t do that back in the ’90s. It looks stupid. It’s not a person or a friggin’ country.

    [shakes fist at cloud]Report

  4. NewDealer says:

    Like Chris, I am completely at loss with Twitter and a lot of other social media. I see the usefullness in facebook and it helped me get my current girlfriend (long story). However, Twitter is odd. I don’t understand how writers and others use it to build their brands. It sometimes seems that people do nothing all day but go back and forth on twitter and this gets reported on Slate and The Atlantic Wire.Report

  5. Kim says:

    true neutral faces always code out as being hostile. I think it’s the level of disinterest, but haven’t done the study to prove itReport

  6. NewDealer says:

    Most Memes are also at a loss on me. I am often a bit anti-meme because it seems like examples of every rallying the base and talking past each other and willfully misunderstanding each other.Report

  7. Tod Kelly says:

    My answer is probably the same as yours, Russell, though I worry about it on a larger scale.

    When I wrote my MRM post, I got three different criticisms of the piece flowing into my email box for a few weeks. The second highest number of critical emails (from MRMs) complained that I was a total “mangina” and a traitor to my sex. The third highest number of critical emails (from feminists) complained that I was a troglodyte for being willing to try to understand MRMs rather than simply condemning them as eeevil.

    But the number one criticism I received? The post was too long — because you couldn’t read it in under two minutes — and so people couldn’t get to the end of it, even though they wanted to be able to read the whole thing. People (hundreds of them!) actually took the time to email me because they were angry that I had written a piece they wanted to read but couldn’t, because apparently people can’t read for more than five minutes before losing consciousness or whatever these days.

    I also saw this article yesterday, thanks to Andrew Sullivan, which had this quote:

    “The [New York] Times Magazine, although it has tried to add modern details, still seems old fashioned, page after page of type. It needs to be read and that seems, I believe to almost everybody, exhausting.”

    And that’s from a freaking journalist.Report

  8. Maribou says:

    honestly, i still don’t like cell phones. anything about them. except PERHAPS a few lovely texts I have received from certain individuals that bear contextual significance. and even those, i would jettison in a minute if it meant we all quit using cell phones tomorrow.

    (note: i don’t actually expect that to happen IN ANY UNIVERSE. I just wouldn’t mind. really the only tech I feel that way about.)

    The slide from phone-ish cell phones —> tablet-ish cell phones should, in theory, cheer me up, since I like tablets just fine, but so far it hasn’t.Report

  9. kenB says:

    I don’t mind Twitter and texting conventions in their natural habitat, but I can’t stand it when someone sends me a normal email using the same silly abbreviations (though my irritation lessens if there’s a “sent from my [mobile]” apology at the end). Those things especially drive me up a wall in business emails, and the steam comes pouring out of my ears when I see that one of my colleagues has used them in an email to a client.

    On a different note, my daughter hates it when I use the typical abbreviations in my texts to her, although she’s fine with her friends doing the same. Apparently I do it with a geezer accent.Report

  10. Kazzy says:

    I still write all my emails — be they to drunken college roommates or prospective employers — as if I’m writing a term paper.

    I understand if people are less formal in their personal correspondences. But I have high-powered professional parents and my boss (!!!) send me Twitter-esque emails on work related matters.Report

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Kazzy says:

      I do that, too. And I proofread every damn one of them, and often don’t hit send until my third or fourth version. But I figure in my position I need to do that just to demonstrate professionalism. When I get a badly written email from a colleague, it definitely influences my opinion of them.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

        I appreciate your professionalism. Nothing made me angrier than editing and re-editing an email to a college professor to get back an all lower-case unpuctuated response. Ugh.Report

      • I find if I go back and re-read and edit and re-edit too much, I am likely to wind up making some dumbass mistake in which I half-re-write a sentence, thus completely bungling the syntax/grammar/languageness of it.

        I do that with comments here, too.Report

  11. J@m3z Aitch says:

    people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”

    Can someone please explain that to me?Report

  12. LeeEsq says:

    I was born in September 1980 and feel very antiquated even though I should not. Like ND, social media is beyond me. When texting, I tend to use complete sentences rather than internet speak. I never sent a tweet in my life. Socially, I feel isolated from modern dating practices and completely unsuited for the present-day courtship scene. Everybody seems to be adapting better and I feel like an old man before my time.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Are you twins?Report

    • J@m3z Aitch in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I often use full sentences and proper punctuation when I text. This bugged my daughter because she felt compelled to respond in kind. Were she a bad writer I might have kept up the pressure, but she is a very good writer who readily recognizes that texting style is distinct from the style appropriate in other communication. I liken this to languages that have different forms dependent on the social context, and what matters is to use the appropriate for in the appropriate context. I also recognize that even educated writing in English of a couple centuries ago was less fixed in terms of spelling and punctuation than is what we consider “proper” today. So while I mostly still text in full sentences, etc., I will allow myself to get sloppy sometimes, and told my daughter to not worry about what I think of her texting style, but to realize I’m just an old stick-in-the-mud in some ways.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to LeeEsq says:



  13. Alan Scott says:

    Here’s a secret. If you don’t want to text like a teenager, you don’t have to. Nobody’s forcing you to omit periods or to type as though a late freeze decimated this year’s vowel crop. I use proper punctuation in text messages all the time. Increasingly, so do my younger friends. I wish I could take credit and say that they’ve absorbed my good habits. But I suspect the truth is that they’re just growing up.

    When people read your tweets and text messages, a period doesn’t communicate “this person is angry”–it communicates “this person gives a damn about punctuation.” That someone would read a passive aggressive tone into a punctuated sentence indicates that this someone is either a drama magnet, or one who spends most of their time communicating with drama magnets.

    That said, the whole business of reading the emotional subtext of text messages rather points to their limited usefulness as a method of communication. A phone call would make it quite clear whether or not the period-user intended their punctuation to indicate a frosty tone.

    Also, watch this.Report

    • @alan-scott This –> type as though a late freeze decimated this year’s vowel crop. is a thing of beauty.Report

    • Kim in reply to Alan Scott says:

      Only in English.
      Other (primarily tonal) languages have a very hard time expressing tone over the phone.
      Then again, they text emoticons as a matter of habit.
      and not texting an emoticon can upset the other person.Report

      • krogerfoot in reply to Kim says:

        Only in English.
        Other (primarily tonal) languages have a very hard time expressing tone over the phone.

        Really? Tone, as in emotional tone? The idea that telephone communication poses some problem to speakers of particular languages is pretty hard to believe.Report

  14. dragonfrog says:

    I think Twitter’s character limit is actually a sign of Twitter’s obsolescence, not yours or mine. When was the last time you exchanged text messages longer than 140 characters, and they were not seamlessly reassembled into a single coherently presented message? Texting software is evolving to meet the needs of people who type complete sentences – it wouldn’t be doing that if we were vanishing relics, confused and trying to figure out where to affix the stamps to our phones’ screens.

    My own experience is that complete words and properly punctuated sentences are the rule rather than the exception – I had a look through my phone, and found no one I have recently exchanged texts with uses forms like “C U” for “see you”. I can only think of a handful of people I have ever exchanged texts with who use those extreme abbreviations.

    The style is certainly conversational (“lots of carrots if you want em.” for “There are lots of carrots if you want them.”). Periods appear to be for separating sentences, rather than ending them – the final period of a text message is implied, so punctuating the last sentence is only mandatory if you want a ! or ? or … – but sentences do call for explicit separation.Report

    • Reformed Republican in reply to dragonfrog says:

      I think the increase in phones with actual keypads instead of number pads contributes to longer sentences. The difficulty in using a number pad always kept me to as few letters as possible in a text.Report

  15. Damon says:

    “So not only must I accept texts and Tweets comprising punctuation-free collections of letters and numerals where words ought to be, by not doing so myself I am inadvertently communicating ill feelings. It is I who should change, and in the direction of sloppy-seeming “sentence” construction.


    Damn straight. I’ll make certain allowances for texting because trying to get the apostrophe in my contractions can be a bit difficult on my phone, but i generally use full words. If anyone complains about the way I text, they can kiss my ass. If you can’t make yourself understood by the intended rerceipient, you’re “doing it wrong”.Report