Letters and Such

About once a month, someone will comment here about my use of language or some typo/misspelling I missed. In some cases, I just fix the typo and move on. I post these jeremiads from all sorts of devices, and I read them once before posting. That means some hilarious spellcheck issues from time to time, which I often leave in place, just for yuks. But the spelling and punctuation are sometimes out of whack.

From time to time, I reply and explain why I left “gorilla war” in the text rather than fixing it. C’mon, that’s comedy gold people. I’ll briefly go over my casual writing versus formal writing stance. I guess the readership has grown to the point where most readers simply don’t know my style guide so I thought it might make a worthwhile post. I actually have a strong interest in writing styles, and I have strong opinions on the matter.

My first rule of writing is that it has to be readable and clear. I get that the grammar police struggle to read and understand anything with a typo or misspelling, but most people, I think, appreciate clarity and simplicity in their choice of reading material. If you can punch up the copy with some zingers, then all the better. Who among us does not enjoy a good dick joke now and then?

The reason anyone writes anything is to communicate information to the reader. That assumes the reader is there to receive the messages you’re sending him. If the reader is here to grade my penmanship or fidelity to the rules of grammar, then that person will enjoy the coded message embedded in this post I cooked up just for him. The key for that is chrysanthemum.

As an aside, the reason academic work is never read is because it is deliberately made unreadable. The ridiculous neologisms and insider jargon are a deliberate barrier to entry. It’s a good way to get published in a “peer reviewed” journal without ever stating anything that can be held against you when the fads change. “Compellingly develop functionalized methodologies” will never get you in trouble, since no one knows what that means.

The second rule for me is that grammar is optional. The purpose of commas, spaces, hyphens, sentence structure and so on is in support of the first rule. The flow of the text should relax the reader, so they are more willing to engage the writer through the text. Throwing a comma in that stops the reader’s eye, simply because the style guide says you are required to set off subordinate clauses with commas, strikes me as a violation of rule one.

Just as important, in this sort of writing, is the need for deliberate ambiguity in order to get the reader thinking about the topic. The loosey-goosey use of language to create some confusion, followed by a few well defined points of clarification can really drive your point home, without beating the reader over the head. As with most things in life, form follows function in expository writing, blogging, fiction, signal intelligence, etc.

My third and final rule is that you write for the purpose of the writing. No one wants dick jokes in their how-to books. At the same time, a dry recitation of facts makes for terrible fiction. A blog should be close to being a stream of consciousness thing. I write these posts in about 30 minutes, read over them for obvious mistakes and then post them. I keep a running list of crackpot ideas that came to me on previous trips to the opium den, so I pick one and go at it.

No one is coming to my blog for answers to life’s tough questions. I’m not compiling research data on the Zika Virus. More important, it’s free. That means you get what you pay for here. I do this for fun. When I finish my book, I promise I’ll spend more time proofing it than writing it. That’s a different medium with different rules. If you want the Queen’s English, buy her book. Here, it’s whatever pops out of my head at the moment, naked and raw baby!

Finally, there’s the issue of formatting. People read off tablets, phones, desktops and who knows what else. Paragraph and sentence structure needs to respect that fact. That’s why I write some of these on tablets. If I can write it on a tablet, I think it can be read on a tablet. But that’s something I don’t think anyone has quite unriddled. Writing was much easier when it was printed on paper in a standard format.

What I have developed for my use is a couple of formatting guides. I stick to 800 -1000 word rants. Those Ron Unz 10,000 word essays are too long to read on-line. The other thing I do is try to keep the paragraphs around five lines. Standard length paragraphs that you see in magazines are somewhat dizzying on a tablet. I don’t know if it works, but it forces brevity, at the minimum.

So, there you have it, the Z Blog Style Guide.


36 thoughts on “Letters and Such

  1. After more thought, why do we get all bent out of shape when a TV station has a slide “School is two easy” or a Chicago school prom theme is announced as “This Is Are Story,” yet we don’t take to task someone whose writing we like? Someone mentioned writing style. Well, writing style has nothing to do with using the wrong tense or misuse of words.

    • Differences in degree and context. “School is two easy” is never correct. That’s a hard mistake for any literate person to make. Presumably, the TV station has editors who proof read these things. “School is to easy” can easily be a typo in a blog post or e-mail sent from a phone.

      My sense is the grammar police are people who cannot see the difference between the guy pushing an old lady away from a speeding bus and the guy pushing the old lady in front of a speeding bus. To the grammar police, they are just men who push old ladies.

  2. As long as you don’t write “loose” when you mean “lose” I’m totally cool with whatever and however you write.

  3. “No one is coming to my blog for answers to life’s tough questions.”

    I wonder, Z. Not answers, perhaps, but I certainly do come here to discuss life’s tough questions. Your perspective on the important questions of the day is the very reason I come here, and your words inform my opinions about same. You must know this, right?

  4. Your writing style is fine by me. Blog posts are informal by nature, and the brain can auto-correct typos, misspellings, and ungrammatical constructs. I read your posts because they challenge me and are not simply reinforcing what I think is true. Thanks!

    • Your prose style on this blog is crystal clear. I understand what you mean when you point out that this is informal communication, off the cuff, and not edited as one would do for publication. Are you truly writing a book?

      This blog is a daily read for me. I’ve gone to some of the links you post on the sidebar as well. I like reading your Disqus comments too. The ones on NRO are always entertaining. However, some of the ideas you have or slants you take are different from what I believe or profess, so this blog is challenging to me, not just a mirror. Buy you a beer.

      • Thank you for pointing out the Discus posts!
        Commentary is my favorite part of the Web, and I can’t get enough of zman.

  5. By the way, there seems to be a new filter here.

    I usually post under a short common first name, which is easy to remember since its my actual first name, but preserves anonymity because its fairly common. In fact sometimes I see other commentators using the same name, and have to comment as “the other __” or throw in an initial to prevent confusion.

    After writing the captcha thing a half dozen times, I noticed my comment was being rejected because my user name was too short! I’ve never had this happen to me. I’m not posting this to complain, more as a heads up to other commentators that they could get comments rejected because their user name is too short, which is unusual enough to not occur to people right away.

    • I think there is a word limit to comments, but i’m not sure.

      I used to read Chris Hitchens just for the quality wordsmithing. I can read just about anyone if they come about their opinions honestly and state them with some skill. Most of what passes for political commentary is both dishonest and poorly argued. How a guy like John Fund, for example, manages to avoid living under a bridge is a mystery to me. Then again, TV writers exist in a world not connected to the one on which I reside. I tried reading a Greg Gutfeld book once and it was like a bad smell.

  6. I disagree with most of the opinions on this blog, but come here for writing style. The same goes with Steve Sailer’s blog. The best writer on the blogs on the left, by the way, Steve Gilliard, has been dead for some years, and there is no one really on the left to replace him. Matt Taibi is mainly a magazine columnist and his stuff tends to be overlong for the blog format.

    You are correct that brevity is key in this format. This used to bother me, but I’ve decided its OK. Formats change with technology. In the really old days, if you wanted to be a serious writer, you had to write in epic poetry, in somewhat archaic language. In the West in the 14th century, people started experimenting in writing in vernacular language, shorter more lyrical poems, or even prose for writing fiction and found that that worked too. The novel was only really invented in the 18th century and is now dying.

    I want to highlight the discussion of academic writing as being deliberately bad. This is especially true of government communication, including (even more so) internal government writing. Not only does can this possibly prevent you for being held accountable for something you communicate, since you don’t actually communicate anything, but if you are powerful enough you can get an enemy to be in violation of some rule by essentially making the rule up on the spot, and then pointing to some opaquely written regulation and getting everyone to agree that it says what you want it to say at the moment. And corporate communication is almost as bad (bureaucracies of large corporations tend to mirror government bureaucracy after awhile).

    Grammer should be a tool for use in communicating clearly, not an end in itself. My experience with people who treat it as an end in itself is that they are usually completely uninterested in content.

    • No one except you has mistaken Sailer’s prose for what makes him great. Right wing mind parasites may be invading your brain. There is no cure for this condition.

  7. When I was in school I was a world-class research paper writer. Footnotes, bibliographies, perfect spelling and grammar. A+ work. And boring.

    My best friend was a free spirit who wrote the most fascinating stories. Witty, entertaining, all that good stuff. How I longed to be like her. No longer held prisoner by grammatically correct full sentences with commas and semicolons galore.

    I will never be Joyce, but am now a liberated recovering research paper writer.

    Thank you for your excellent essays. They speak to so many of us. I hope this one will set some free.

  8. Good Morning Z,
    I presume this morning’s post was in response to vladthegrammarnazi’s post of yesterday.
    We don’t need no stinkin’ cogitations from some Title 1 Mrs Grundy here in the lair of the Zman.
    You’re doing fine without his superfluous advice.
    Impale him and stake he rode in on.
    All the Best,

  9. A century after Canterbury Tales, the change in spoken Anglo-English meant no one could read Chaucer, or so said a professori in the language graduate department. Or, maybe no one gave a rat’s a$$, and that was the cause of the demise and collapse of England’s/Britain’s empire. Their, there, they’re is a difference for disciplinary reasons.

  10. There’s to, two, and too.
    Then there’s Lectern, and podium.
    I find the short paragraphs quite suitable for electron media.
    I find myself using {/sarc}, as well as (sic), as the new punctuation FAR too often.

  11. Yeah, I notice your typos but only because I am jealous: my own stuff has far more than you produce.

    By the way (and isn’t everything by the way in the end?) I like your comment on “Compellingly develop functionalized methodologies” because it reminded me of a character in Dilbert whose sublime response to the question of what he contributed to a project was he was “leveraging synergy across all platforms.”

    I think if we could leverage synergy in functionalized methodologies we’d be even more famous.

  12. To, too, two. Their, there. Woman, women. Your, you’re. I suppose the readability of your posts would be enhanced by making the correct choice of word in these instances, but there’s no reason for nitpicking. As long as you don’t post anything on the sorry state of education in the U.S. I am certain your readers will take you seriously nonetheless.

    • This is where spellcheck let’s us down. We’ve all become so used to those little red squiggly lines under misspelled words that we tend to focus only on those when proof reading. Another one that slips through the spellcheck is “its and it’s.”

      I’ve often thought that an add-on to spellcheck would be a commonly misused word checker. It scans for any of these words that spellcheck tends to skip and/or people tend to misuse.

      • I’m not saying to go on changing, but if you want to take advantage of the grammar checker in ms word, you can go to file -> new -> blog post, then cut and paste from there into the text window in your browser. That way, not only will you see the red squiggles, but you will also see the blue ones when you write to instead of too (assuming you turn the grammar checker on). And the text you are cutting and pasting shouldn’t make html throw up all over itself.

        My advice: don’t change anything and ignore the word police.

        • One of the weird things about pasting from Word in this software is you get some weird formatting issues. It’s why I stopped doing it. Word is pretty good with spelling and even grammar, but cleaning up the formatting issues is just as hassle. The reason, I suspect, is that under the hood, it’s xml under the Word document. That’s great for many reasons, but it seems to be a problem for a lot of web software.

  13. Wait, Chrysanthemum, that’s a sled, right?!

    I notice your typos, every single one, but I don’t give a shit. If I’d ever earned 1/100 of your readership, I might have 1/100 of a valuable opinion about your writing. But I never did. Your writing works, QED. You’re not reading your critics’ blogs; they’re reading yours. That’s a clue as to who writes more effectively.

    I’ll buy your book btw. Didn’t know you were writing one.

  14. Well, I like your writing just as it is.
    Yeah, I sometimes stumble over a typo or a repeated word, but so what. I still get the jist of what you meant, and as you said, it’s all free.

  15. Grammar nazis are like Dave Barry’s humor impaired. The humorless get the joke, they just don’t ever think it’s funny.

    The humor impaired aren’t aware that there even was a joke and as likely to analyze the joke for its logical inconsistencies or historical inaccuracies as anything else.

  16. With two exceptions(,) the grammar and spelling Nazis I have known were much stronger in grammar and spelling than they were in contributing ideas. Those are things which can be learned to perfection.

  17. Right on. Re., “I write these posts in about 30 minutes….” Lucky dog. I’m a bleeder. It would take me at least a couple hours to turn out a first draft of something comparable.

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