Interesting how editorials from “learned” media outlets cause this article to re-surface once a year. Many thanks to Slate and the painfully ignorant Sarah Boxer, I was wondering where I would get some extra topics for the show this week. (Since one shouldn’t spend 90 minutes on Quentin Tarantino).
Posted originally in February, 2006:
Much thanks to Ersogoth for pointing out to me the February 16, 2006 Wired magazine column written by Tony Long. In just a few paragraphs Tony has elevated my annoyance level to heights that only John Byrne and Orson Scott Card have been able to previously achieve. (There is one level higher, alas; I cannot mention this person without breaking a New Year’s resolution). A self-professing Luddite (likely, Wired’s answer to “token”), Tony Long takes to task the assault upon the written word. Now, as one who will often correct a person for using words like Neanderthal and forte incorrectly, regardless of their station or what is happening at the moment, I can sympathize with many of his arguments. Indeed, I found myself agreeing on some of his complaints and defiant stance against linguistic mediocrity. (That’s right folks, your friendly neighborhood Geek has cracked open his old college books. The “big” words are going to fly.) In fact, it is completely possible and likely that I would have left the entire article alone had he not decided to use my people as the foundational nomenclature of his argument.
Tony Long has the stones to call out the “Comic Book Generation”?
I still find it interesting and perhaps even borderline insulting that those who have likely not read a comic since their single digit years still believe them to be poorly written. However, perhaps I am taking his use of “comic book generation” as an example of grammatical ignorance a bit too far. Then again, maybe I am not. Certainly, many a comic book reader may lack the normal social graces. Even though I could say the same about rabid sports fans or and other hobby obsessed group, I highly doubt Mr. Long would refer to them as the “Pigskin Generation”. Some of my earliest comic reading memories were of me entranced by heroic adventures, the comic resting upon my lap and at my side, a dictionary. You read right, a dictionary. See, unlike many kids or funny books, comics, as a rule, do not speak down to their target audience. Assuming the person isn’t reading Archie or Disney comics, it is highly likely they are reading stories that are more advanced then an outsider would assume. Sure, a Grant Morrison book about a group of metaphysical superheroes fighting a hidden shadow government is outlandish and completely over the top; but, it sure does force you to stay on top of your Triple Word Score words. I may have accepted Tony Long’s comment had his article been written in the early 1950s and 60s, but not with today’s current crop of writers. You can’t blame the decline of the written word on the “comic book generation” when the top selling comics of the day are penned by New York Times #1 selling authors and Emmy award winning screenplay writers.
If only that were all…
Long also goes on to complain about the use of anachronisms in our everyday language. Again, I can agree with Long on some points. There is little more annoying then reading a message from someone and have it contain a large amount of LOL, ROTFLOL, and IMO. To say nothing of the fact of how it makes you feel when you realize that you don’t really know what the hell the other person is writing about. Not many people are willing to write back and humbly ask, “Um, what does ROTFLOL stand for”? I say not many because the reply is often preceded with a HAHA, and we all know that stands for. Long, though, does not stop at the use of text message and email language short cuts. No, he then sets his site on terms that are more technical. True, they may not have a place in everyday grammar, but to discredit them because you refuse to evolve as a writer is poor judgment. For example, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) pertains to computers and hails back to the time before what was viewed on a computer screen and what was output in print were similar. It is completely fine if Luddites like Tony Long can’t stand the use of such a term used in popular culture (The technical people aren’t thrilled, either), but to be fair, he had better be prepared to cut out his own career’s shortcuts.
“But couple those deficient grammar skills with the shorthand that’s become prevalent in fast communication (not to mention all those irritating acronyms: LOL, WYSIWYG, IMHO, etc.) and you’ve just struck a match next to a can of gasoline.”
Did you notice anything strange? No, I didn’t think you did. You didn’t notice the grammatical shortcut because it has been is use for centuries. Read it again; see if you can find it. Still nothing? It is the colon, that tiny “:” before a writer begins to list words that go to support their argument. In effect, the colon is a symbolic acronym for “please read the following items in order that will prove my point in the former sentence”. While it might be fun to write that phrase occasionally, it would get old very fast, just like typing a longer description that explains how what you see on the screen is what will ultimately be output would get old every time a technical writer had to pen a user manual for us non-technical folks… Us Luddites. Sure, the written word has taken some hits in recent years. It will probably get even worse as communication devices continue to evolve faster than our biological export tools can work. Will it ruin the grace and beauty of the written word? I highly doubt it. If anything, it will cause people to appreciate good prose even more.
Therefore, Mr. Long, you keep complaining and fighting. I will keep evolving.
And reading comics.