Whither English?

Others have mentioned that blogs will kill the English language. The idea is that people in general—and Americans in particular—suck at the written language they are raised with, and by putting the power of instant publishing in the hands of anyone who feels the need to unironically transpose numbers and vowels into their everyday correspondence, one is encouraging poor spelling, grammer grammar, and vocabulary.

Blogs won’t kill the English language. The best creative writing I’ve seen in the last 10 years was from a blog—and I didn’t have to pay for the “privilege” to read it.

15 thoughts on “Whither English?

  1. Wow. Thank you, sir. I really appreciate your praise of my writing.

    Usually, people find my writing too verbose and too acidic for blogging purposes. Thank you very much for your kind words.

  2. “The idea is that people in general–and Americans in particular–suck at the written language they are raised with”

    Should be “…with which they are raised”

    Don’t end a sentence with a preposition 🙂

  3. encouraging poor spelling

    Which reminds me, in your previous blog entry about a driver who cut you up, you said you were “breaking”, I think you meant “braking” (slightly different things, one involves use of friction, the other involves your car ceasing to function.). Finally what does “unironically” mean? Is it some kind of single or one “ronically”? What’s a “ronically”? Or maybe you meant “un-ironically”? 😉 And while we’re on the topic of hyphens, what exactly is “general–and” supposed to mean, particularly combined with the noun “Americans”? Ditto with “particular–suck”. Maybe you just forgot the spaces around those hyphens ;).

    Your blog entry is a pedant’s dream btw. Can’t wait to have my text pedanted to pieces too. 🙂

  4. Paul:

    Regarding the use of hyphenated prefixes:

    “Chicago Manual of Style spells most compounds with the common prefixes solid (pre-, post-, over-, under-, pro-, anti-, re-, un-, non-, semi-, co-, pseud-, intra-, extra-, infra-, ultra-, sub-, super-, supra-). AP Style Manual is more choosy: pro- and co- are hyphenated when certain meanings are intended; anti- and non- are usually hyphenated, with some exceptions noted; post-, pre-, and over- follow the dictionary in general; and under-, un-, re-, semi-, intra-, extra-, ultra-, sub-, super-, and supra- are usually spelled solid.” Sonia Jaffe Robbins, Hyphens

    There is also a difference between the hyphen “-” and em-dash “—” (double-hyphen). Em-dashes are effectively parentheses without parentheses, and not supposed to be offset with spaces. While I do not religiously follow the no-spaces-around-dashes rule, I do ensure consistency within the same post.

    Breaking vs. braking, was a stupid mistake, which I’ve corrected. 🙂

  5. …And it appears WordPress has recently stopped replacing dash-dash with the — entity, preferring –—ugh.

  6. Hi James,

    The compound hyphen is indeed a style thing, however hyphenating the prefix is /always/ correct, and always allows the reader to unambigiously tell what the prefix is. There are many commonly prefixed words where the prefix generally is not hyphen seperated (eg, unambigiously for one ;)), but for something like “ironically”, where prefixing with “un” is /not/ common it aids the reader for the writer to use the hyphen, even more so when the prefixed word starts with ‘i” and one has to forward-parse the word to tell whether the prefix is “un” or “uni”. Forward-parsing sucks and disrupts the reader.

    Regarding the em dash, that site you link to contradicts you:

    “A well designed em dash should not touch any letters. If it does, you need to insert a thin space before and after it; do not put word spaces before and after an em dash.”

    I.e. there *must* be space before and after the em dash. Hence if you’re restricted to ASCII then this means you must use a hyphen (or two in series if you wish) with spaces. This is also coincident with what we were taught in school (which did not, it must be said, go into the finer typographical issues of the various width of dashes, but then we used pen and paper in school and had to write our exercises by hand). Even with em dash (for which this Fedora 4 machine I type from does not appear to have any glyph for), you probably still want to seperate it with an ASCII space in order to allow renderers to recognise the distinct words and recognise it may flow the text before and after the em dash, as I suspect em dash could simultaneously be both a member of and not a member of the “space” and/or “blank” character classes. 😉

  7. Err, oops, that last sentence should read “I suspect em dash could not”, obviously.

  8. OK, I’ll grant you the “use a hyphen to disambiguate,” but I think that after five years of medievalist control of the government, “unironically” has become pretty commonplace. At the very least, I’ve seen it before.

    do not put word spaces before or after an em dash”

    In other words, the notes on spacing are for font designers, and the dash should not litterally touch the letters, which it doesn’t. I’m not liable if your fonts and/or Gecko sucks at wrapping dashes :-).

  9. Blogs won’t kill the English language, because SMS text messaging has already taken care of that. Most of the really bad writing I see in blogs is by kids who write entries the same way as they would txt thr m8s.

    (What I always find ironic is that, with all the text prediction technology built into phones these days, it’s actually harder to type all that crappy txt spk than to form actual words. But just not as k3wl, I guess.)

  10. The only thing constant about language is that it changes over time. People of every generation have said of the generations that follow that they are destroying whatever language they speak.

    People who complain about “ebonics” or children speaking “lazily” don’t really understand language. They think English is something you find in a grammar book. Chaucer, that rebel of the English language, had this to say about it:

    Ye knowe ek that in fourme of speche is chaunge, with-inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho that hadden pris, now wonder nyce and straunge us thenketh hem; and yet thei spake hem so, and speede as wel in loue as men now.


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