Caring communication or old age OCD?

I’m reliably informed that it’s a sign of old age when you start ranting about language; specifically, when it comes  moaning about the falling standard of “proper English”.

I know that I don’t have a perfect grasp of the English language. Have you seen The Economist’s Style Guide quiz? Let’s hope you do better than I did…

When asked recently how ellipses should be written, I really wasn’t sure and even googling the problem didn’t generate a helpful solution; at least I wanted to find “The Solution”, not just lots of opinion, especially when most of that relates to American English. Since language is actively applied and evolved, people are frequently divided on what the rules actually are.

However, rules aside, I do always think about how I write. Whether it’s an email, a Facebook update, a tweet, a letter or even a comment on a website, it’s important for me to bring the reader as close as possible to the point or sentiment I wish to communicate.

After eClub last night I got chatting to a couple of guys from a gaming [review] site. We were talking about the weighting of someone’s ability to apply the rules of grammar, when they actually write well in terms of tone and structure. One chap mentioned that he doesn’t worry too much about spelling errors in commenting on other gaming sites or blogs. I challenged this approach, because as far as I was concerned every comment, every update, every blog post was arguably permanent evidence of your ability to communicate, your attention to detail and perceived intelligence.

A charismatic, cultured and intelligent male friend once consulted me to look at the messages he’d sent on a dating site; he couldn’t understand why these ladies weren’t responding. When I read the emails,  it was clear they’d been hastily assembled, often written in “text-speak” and actually took more effort to absorb, because the thought hadn’t been invested in their composition. He converted them to full / “proper” English and the response rate dramatically improved. Dramatically.

This might be a male/female thing, it might even be a “digital immigrant”/ “digital native” thing, but generalisations aside, there’s a lot to be said for looking at what you’ve written and imagining how it will be received at the other end. Is the tone clear? Are you angry/apologetic/grateful/curious? Are you looking for a response? Are you advising or instructing? Are you flirting? ;* How much ego should you apply? Even if it’s “just a comment”, surely there’s some etiquette to consider (?) when you are essentially dropping your load on someone else’s doorstep…