July 21, 2010

E-pistolary E-tiquette

My dear Readers,

Ah, the online world. I loathe it, but cannot live without it. Walking around on the earth, one gets a sense that society hangs by a thread of civility, and that it is ready to crumble at a cross word. Being interpersonally polite keeps everyone in check, on a virtuous circle of humanity and so forth, don’t you agree? The ethereal world knows no such bounds. Have you ever looked at a comments board on youtube? Ever received an email from a person who is not old enough to remember email being invented? Do you indulge in ‘text messages’? I shudder at the thought. The horrors of this angry, invective and illiterate world rather terrify me. I suppose there is no hope of improving it, but I might share with you a notion or two.

When I was at school they used to teach letter-writing skills. These could be usefully employed today, I think. An email, after all, is merely a letter by another name. Start an email with ‘Dear…’ and end it appropriately, depending on the level of formality. If you’re writing to a professional of any stamp, don’t assume a first-name basis, but wait instead for the tone of his/her reply and proceed from there. This might involve finding out if the recipient of your message has any professional qualifications. People who are doctors, professors, and so on, tend not to care for unsolicited epistles that begin ‘Hi John’. If it looks like its heading to first-name terms, you might want to consider ‘Dear John (if I may)’ as a way of politely introducing a less formal correspondence. Sentences should be sentences, with the grammar and punctuation of a person able to function in his own language.

I’m pleased to note that the comments I receive from you on these pages generally do you a great credit, being of a thoughtful and literate kind (I wouldn’t publish them otherwise). So much of what is said online needn’t have been written. If one really has nothing to say, one might consider ‘keeping schtum’.

Back in the day when I used to own a cellular telephone, I confess I occasionally sent a text message. These were the heady days of youth. Least said, soonest mended. Still, when I did put my thumbs to work in this most unnatural fashion my messages were, like my letters, written in full sentences with the correct punctuation. I could not, even then, sully myself with what has become the accepted derogation of the English language. In most cases, if one must communicate so much, I suggest a telephone conversation would be better. It is more personable; more human. So many texts neither say nor mean anything. So why bother?

Wondering what you make of all this, and having gone on too long anyway, I remain

Your humble servant,



  1. A spot-on blog post, yet again! I may be only twenty six years of age, but I loathe when people send me a text, instant message, or Heaven forbid comment on my Facebook wall while ignoring the simplest rules of grammar and/or decency. I don't believe our language so sophisticated that the everyman should find basic spelling and punctuation too difficult to understand. While I will admit to occasionally using "lol" or ":)" during a sign-off, I can't help but slam my head into the wall whenever I see a post that reads like the typist never took a single English class, or fails to understand the point of the Caps Lock key.

    In any case, keep up the good work. I love reading your posts!

  2. Why thank you Mr. Argonaut. It's jolly pleasing to be so pleasing to people.

  3. I am glad to see I am not the only one. I have difficulty sending text messages. It takes me far too long to write something, appropriately. It will normally solicit a response and then my response, etc. I just call.

  4. I agree, after studying English, bad grammar has the power to nauseate. I boycotted a blackberry until forced by my work, but make it a rule to not succumb to the internet jargon.

    I enjoy reading your blog!

  5. Dear VB,
    This is quite a coincidence. I watched a show with my grandson where a child introduced several adults by their first names. I decided to make it the topic of a post. The privilege( it is not a right) to call one by their first name should not be extended to a child. One should never assume that privilege between adults. You have done a marvelous job of combining this with other timely topics into a very informative post, much better than I could have. I thank and salute you.

  6. Thank you all for being a) so agreeable, and b) so kind.

    James, when I was about 7 I learnt the hard way how to address an adult. I answered 'yes' to a question from a very stern male teacher (I had never seen a male teacher before), and he left me in no doubt about what should have followed the 'yes'. I was terrified of him for four years, but I never made the mistake again.

  7. Dear Vir (if I may),

    Solid points, all. I'm interested to know why you stopped carrying a mobile.

    Your grateful—if curious—reader,


  8. Ah, my dear Hatchet, that is a pertinent question. The actual details are far too involved and boring to share here, but I will divulge the philosophical reason: back in the day before mobile phones, my parents were debating whether to buy an answering machine. They resisted for many years on the grounds that should they be away from home they probably had good reasons for it, and therefore desired to be uncontactable. Anyone who had anything important to say would wait until later and try again. Anyone else would simply give up. In the same vein, I like to say 'if I'm out, I'm out'. In addition, I find that when people are deprived of the option of calling at the last minute and prevaricating they are forced to honour arrangements and show up at the appointed time. I like a world where not everything is ad hoc.

  9. Dear Vir,

    I agree in theory with your reasons for getting rid of the mobile, especially as it applies to encouraging people to plan ahead. However, in practice, I would feel less useful, and hence less manly, if I didn't have mine.

    But of course, your logic puts me in mind of a manly hero of mine, Carlos Castaneda, who said a warrior should be unavailable, meaning unpredictable and no creature of routine.

    So I'll compromise. I'll carry mine, but I'll continue ignoring incoming calls.




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