Thursday, October 16, 2008


We all have our pet peeves about the written language. Colleen made hers clear today, she hates the “e.e. cummings” fakery in which I happily indulge. I don’t capitalize. Well, I do, kind of. You’ll see I capitalize here, but that’s because I write everything in Word and it does most of it for me. And that annoys me. My handwriting is a mix of printed and cursive and is, for the most part, lowercase. And when I type an email or leave a comment it’s all lower case. For me it’s a threefold excuse, which I gave to Colleen. 1) I type faster and better without a shift lock. 2) As I said, my handwriting is pretty much all lower case and that is because 3) when I was a kid I got in trouble for mixing my printed and curvise letters. And because I am a pain the ass, I decided to go full throttle and piss of the teacher by not capitalizing as well. It was a choice I made and one I have stuck with all these years.

Now, to be honest, I don’t write everything lowercase. I don’t write formal letters, resumes or term papers that way. I wouldn’t because it’s not the “accepted norm” and no matter how much I call myself a rebel or an artist, I know what is appropriate and what is not and although I didn’t mind losing points in fifth grade, nowadays I am less…of a pain. SoI guess that makes me pretty half-assed. No surprise. But I also don’t do a lot of the “accepted norm” in my writing because I want to have a particular voice and style. I use a lot of ellipses because I think I talk with a lot of ellipses, I pause and think a lot. I sometimes write out my stammer, because I sometimes stammer. This is my voice, written down. If I could get the Minnie Mouse tone, I certainly would write that too.

We all have pet peeves. I’m sorry if you don’t like the way I write my emails and letters to you, but you know…I’m probably not going to change. On the other hand, I remember once saying that I would never begin a sentence with “and.” And look at me now. I also remember being told that a sentence must never, EVER begin with the word “but”. But look how different things are. NEWSPAPERS DO IT! I suspect that someday, when ink is more expensive or everything is monospaced type, we will all write in all lowercase or all uppercase. Because I really do believe that the written language is not as steadfast as we once thought. So many rules of writing and grammar are pretty much…arbitrary. A lot of the rules of grammar and writing come from a language that has been long dead to most of us (ahem…that would be Latin, a language I actually studied in school…I’m not saying I did well, I am only saying that I studied it…). And despite the fact that many people don’t believe in evolution, we can see the process at work in language. Did you know, for example, that a synonym for the word “nice” is “foolish”? (Yeeeeah, I learned that one on my English GRE). I would venture to guess that the average person does not use that word in that fashion anymore. I was once told by a medieval literature professor that the original pronunciation of the word “asked” is actually much closer to the much reviled “axed” as in, “I axed you a question!” How many times have you shuddered when you heard someone say that? Ain’t is in the dictionary (but spell check is telling me it’s wrong), certain commas are optional, no one uses two spaces after a period when typing anymore (or they shouldn’t, anyway).

None of this is a very good defense for my lack of capitalization in emails, I’ll write that off to a stylistic choice, much like any one who writes in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, WHICH DRIVES ME CRAZY. We all have our foibles, and clearly I have more than my share.

And for the record, my linguistic/literary pet peeve? People who insist they are incensed by improper grammar but misuse words. Technical literacy over actual literacy? I don’t know how to explain that but I am a big fan of the dictionary. I look up any word that I suspect that I may be using incorrectly so I am pretty unforgiving when other people don’t. We all have our thing. That one is mine. Get your own.


Jodi said...

I've been called the "Grammar Nazi" at work. Hmmm. I don't know.

What I HATE, HATE, HATE is improper use of "I." Both of my managers do it ALL THE TIME. S will say, "Turn that paper in to K or I." I cringe and sometimes poop my pants when they do that.

ambitious hamster said...

i like the all lower case thing, it's so much faster. but enough with particularizing the properistic usefulness of grammerical verbalism.

kate smudges said...

I get annoyed by misspelled words. I don't care about using lower case as long as the person is consistent. I used to always write e-mail in lower case, but stopped because it was spilling over into all my written work. Misused words can send me over the edge, especially if I've got a bad case of pms.