Wednesday, December 20, 2006


english, e-comm, and the battle betwixt the two

amy sent me an article entitled Bad Lingo: Blog-Media Cliches.

and i don't know the last time i've jumped down a throat more thoroughly.

my response (which i'll truncate to include a jump if i can figure out how):

i disagree with the premise of that entire post, to say nothing of my obvious disregard for their tsk'ing at individual phrases (except for '-gasm'. i super-much hate '-gasm'.)

e-comm, which imo includes blogging [note: debatable; see paragraph below], is allowing for the creation of a new vernacular. the phrases and expressions that the post calls 'cliches' are in fact nothing of the kind; they are new habits of speech and, more importantly, new ways of expressing connotation, emotion, tone, intent, and opinion.

the most effective e-communicators are, in my experience, the ones who have figured out ways to integrate their spoken speech habits and their personalities into their writing. e-comm is most commonly an extension of personal expression and is specifically attached to a personality, as opposed to writings in most conventional expository venues; and in e-comm venues, a piece of writing that conveys personality is more readable and digestible than one that is formal or dry. the increase in effectiveness with the use of softening language can be particularly true for e-communicators who are clever, verbose, and/or prone to a large vocabulary, since integration of slang and popular expression into an otherwise dense piece of writing can improve readability and make the e-comm more approachable.

also, i would argue that a successful e-communicator is probably going to be consistent over time with the way that they use slang and popular expression. this consistency allows for more accurate readings of the author's tone and intent.

on the subject of consistency, i would also like to point out the usefulness of standardized slang in a set of forums where speed and brevity are often useful and where tone is constantly being evaluated. many expressions are linked to widely-perceived connotations, which makes their use helpful in deliberately establishing tone within an e-comm. (the best example of this that i can think of off the top of my head is the continuing usage, even among our peers, of simple emoticons. :) ;) ;P and :P are used intentionally--and helpfully--to ensure that tone will be properly communicated.)

i do wish to disclaim that there are a few phrases the post mentions that are becoming hackneyed. ('[x] is the new [y]' is beyond irritating, and '[Argument], wait for it, [rhetorical flourish]', while i still find it amusing, is losing its edge.) however, it is no more of a crime to use a hackneyed comment in e-comm than it is to use slang or a passingly trendy phrase in one's casual oral communication. (while one might be able to successfully rant against slang and loose use of the venerable english language for several solid hours, i doubt that one would be given much stage time for arguing that the use of the words 'whatevs, yo', 'dude', or 'oh my GAWD' is 'cliche'.)

aside from these few examples, though, i think that the post listed legitimate examples of e-comm slang and expression that don't need to be killed off, and in some cases i would say that their deaths would be detrimental to the new vernacular.

the post (probably for want of content) unfortunately combined some items from a few different categories of e-comm grammar and usage. 'What's next? [outlandish scenario]?' does not belong in the same category of e-comm grammar as 'btw'.

before i do the point-by-point irritated dissection, a word on blogs: blogs are a part of the new universe of e-comm. some are more formal than others, but your run-of-the-mill blog is going to commonly use first person singular perspective, occasionally direct questions to its audience, use less-than-standard english, and be exceedingly self-conscious. blogs are therefore entitled to incorporate some (if not all) of the slang and expression that have become acceptable for other e-venues--most notably the trends acceptable in email and on bulletin boards. also, tone is often just as important in a blog posting as it is now indisputably acknowledged to be in email; and tone, as mentioned above, can be read more clearly with the use of informal language.

okey. that's my main spilling of thoughts. a couple of the phrases also warrant some strong defense, though. i've cut it down to focus on the ones i think are most useful.

Best. [ultimate thing or experience.] Ever/Evar.

the dismissal of this phrase might be the one that makes me most irritated. given that ALL CAPS is uncouth, and that the use of *asterisks* or _underscores_ is often problematic, and that verbosity does not necessarily translate directly into high levels of excitement, we need another standardized way to express hyperbole. also, i am a huge supporter of poetic license with respect to punctuation in e-comm. creative punctuation is an excellent way to convey phrasing, makes a piece of e-comm more readable as a flow of thoughts, and often demonstrates aspects of the writer's typical oral communication style. it conveys personality.

[undesirable counter-example], not so much.

'The punchline that ends a thousand million columns and blog posts. Weak as the lightest of lite beers, or the puny farts you get from such beer.' dude, whatever. this is a common spoken slang phrase right now. and it still works. this isn't an example of a written cliche.

FTW, O RLY, lol, FTL, OMG, FWIW, btw, PWND, ROTFL, etc.

'These are borderline acceptable if you're...' 'Even if your audience uses these expressions in daily life, such practice should not be encouraged. Self-consciously peppering normal discourse with geekspeak acronyms (especially when used in conjunction with non-geek subjects) no longer rescues your words by way of anti-coolness.'

with regard to--specifically--btw, fyi, and omg, see entire diatribe above. they're slang. they're useful. also, they have new meanings beyond what they're used to abbreviate, each of which has a different connotation than the original phrase. 'btw' and 'fyi' are used as quick indicators that the associated piece of information is intended to be useful as an addendum to some general topic. consider the difference if you saw typed 'btw' versus 'by the way,' or 'by the way...'; the two longer phrases indicate a more serious topic, and are generally followed by a piece of bad news or another form of negative communication, whereas 'btw' has no such negative connotation. and 'fyi' does not hold the bossy tone of 'for your information'; instead it's been appropriated to mean a much more casual 'just so you know'. 'omg', while a bit more tongue-in-cheek than the previous two examples, is still a concise way to express a common sentiment, and is useful in that it is known to generally carry a flippant tone.

the lol, rotfl, ad nauseum, however, i am willing to concede. they're appalling. no one should ever, ever use them, unless in extreme circumstances. and even then no one will believe you, so the point is lost and gone and we're back to never ever using them. ever.

See also: "teh" anything.

why does the author of this post object to fun new meme-like phrases? maybe he or she just never got told what any slang meant as they were growing up, and hence want to take it out on the universe now by pronouncing that all slang is just dumb.

[purposefully non-ghetto statement], yo.

'Often used in conjunction {with} other ghetto nonfabulous phrases like ... "The [object or situation] was mad [obscure adjective],"...'

as a constant and devoted user of the word 'yo', i wish to announce to the world that i have no intent of conveying anything about any ghetto anywhere. 'yo' was appropriated into californian speech ages ago, and as a california native i am allowed to use it whenever i want. it's totally just like 'hella' and all variations thereof. also, on a totally different vein, i heart bc's intelli-ghetto speak and recognize, due to his efforts, that it takes mad skillz to pull it off proper.

oh, and 'yo' serves a grammatical purpose by making a sentence deliberately more self-conscious and therefore pulling the reader into a closer relationship with the writer.

[undesirable conclusion]. Oy.

'fake Jewspeak'?! huh. that's a new phrase i must incorporate into my social commentary. whatevs--i don't feel strongly about the use of 'oy' as an expression of exasperation, but it *is* a concise expression with a widely known connotation, so again i hold that it's fine. BUT, more importantly, i wish to point out to MY readers that i only use 'oy' as fake SCOTTISH-speak, which is entirely different.

What's next? [outlandish scenario]?

how is this a cliche particular to blogs, exactly? but at any rate, if this is done with tongue in cheek it's still totally possible to be mildly or even majorly amusing.

Um, [condescension]?

'As a verbal tic in conversation, "um" is perfectly acceptable and often auditorially invisible. Written in prose, it signals a level of smarmy superiority that would get you rightly punched in the face if you dared behave like that in person.'

i'll admit that as a means of expressing condescension, the use of 'um' is less than perfect; but not because it's cliche--just because it's risky. the tone of a phrase like that is pretty strong.
mostly, though, i wanted to comment on this item because it is veering dangerously close to condemning the use of the term 'um' in e-comm entirely. not okay. 'um' is a terribly useful word in e-comm for expressing indecision and sarcasm, among other things. it is an excellent tone indicator.

[adjective]-y goodness

this new trend of descriptors, which would perhaps also include all superfluous use of the suffixes '-ish', '-ness', and '-y' and the prefixes 'uber', 'super-', and 'super-much', is not, i would argue, an attempt to be 'high-larious'. it is merely a style of description that conveys degree-of-feeling with better variance in tone than repeated use of the words 'very' or 'really'. again (again again), it's just slang.

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