My writing at Macmillan Dictionary Blog continues this month with posts about text messaging and comma usage.
How’s your txtng style? analyses how the language you use in text messages differs from your style in email and your prose elsewhere. I compare the grammar and style of my own text messages with what I know about others’, and I dismiss the suggestion that texting is somehow harmful to language:
New modes and styles of expression are an important part of language change and growth – they have ‘spawned all sorts of clever, funny and inventive new uses of language’, as Michael put it. Texting, like slang, is an ‘active frontier’, and the innovation and flux it illustrates is a sign of linguistic health. So long as communication is effective, and young people learn (or are taught) when texting style is inappropriate, there is no call for alarm. Despite occasional panic, texting is not ruining language – it’s just another way for social creatures to be social.
In the comments, readers have added their thoughts on texting in general and on aspects of their own habits and strategies, including abbreviations in other languages and how different phone types can influence text messaging style.
A clutter of commas looks briefly at the subtlety and diversity of comma style. Gertrude Stein admitted to a “long and complicated life” with punctuation marks; such complication, I write,
is conspicuous in the comma. From one writer or paragraph to the next, difference abounds and customs drift. This is in part because so much variation in comma use is legitimate, which allows ample room for nuance in rhythmic and rhetorical expression. Ernest Gowers wrote that the correct use of commas – “if there is such a thing as ‘correct’ use – can only be acquired by common sense, observation and taste”.
But it’s not quite so vague and elusive as this might make it sound. There is such a thing as correct use, but it may be better to think not of rules but of conventions – and to remember that these change over time and from one context to the next.
Few modern writers, for example, use commas as frequently as Dickens did; I consider the contrasting effects of ‘open’ and ‘close’ punctuation. Adrian (of The Outer Hoard) experimented by re-writing my post with his own punctuation to see where we differed, and he shares his findings in the comments.
Further comments are welcome at either location. You can also visit my Macmillan Dictionary archive for older posts on words and language.
Lane Greene follows up on “A clutter of commas” at the Economist‘s Johnson blog, saying he has “never understood why some people think that their personal comma preference is linguistic law”. Greene recalls an editor of the New Republic insisting that commas always appear in pairs. See Greene’s post for more on this strange belief.
Ruth Walker at the Christian Science Monitor joins in the discussion: “Proper punctuation can be a marvel of space-efficient communication.”