Two Tickets to Paradise: Help Me Help You
by Richard Wallace
I've been thinking a bit lately about how we communicate. Written communication has its advantages over oral/aural, but there are a few disadvantages as well. At first thought, that is, let's have a look. I'm specifically thinking of emails/forums/texts/fortune cookies/greeting cards versus human to human speech, although anything written down belongs with the former. If it's written down, it's not subject to your nor anyone else's ability to recall it; you can look it over again and again to be sure exactly what has been
The permanence of the written word is an advantage only for those that prefer to comment about things they actually do have some knowledge of, or good reference materials handy. It's a bane for those that seek to make a big deal out of your error until it is exposed as a non-error, at which point you or whomever pointed out your original correctness will be informed how big a deal it isn't by the miscreant.
The advantage of spoken conversation is that inflection can be used to a great extent, but this is actually not so much an advantage as a crutch. Using inflection, accents, hand gestures, figures of speech that don't translate well to the written word; these are all ways of avoiding broadening our vocabularies to the point that we can say what we mean. Even great conversational tools like sarcasm and baby talk are nearly impossible to match in text, leaving us to find actual words to write what we want to convey. I know someone that says "You know what I'm sayin'?" every other sentence. I suppose it's good that she realizes that, of course not, no one knows what she's saying, but it's kind of sad too. I have no idea how she would communicate in print. And yes, I was being sarcastic about sarcasm and baby talk being great conversational tools, but you might not know for sure if not for this sentence, would you?
Written communication has the 'locked vault' aspect as well, which really can't be beaten for accuracy. When you write it, it's still only in your head until you allow someone else to read it. You can change any or all of it, so what, it belongs to you. You can't exactly practice what your saying in conversation, just your opening line. Okay, I've practiced give and take conversations several lines deep, but I'm anal-retentive like that, and a caffeine junkie. You have to be quick and keep your options open because people rarely respond exactly as you thought they would, especially women. These seeming disadvantages to the written word, no winking or nudging, no imitating of well-known celebrity/character voices when you type, these tend to strengthen our abilities to communicate rather than hinder them. If you have to get your point across without the easy tools you (hopefully) will learn to use the ones you have better, more efficiently.
Title time, this is where I throw the man-fur out the window and buy a man-purse, somehow tying all this together with the half of a thought that I had when I started. Help me help you. Please let's all stop saying/writing things just because we know people know what we mean to say and it's so much easier than thinking of the right thing to say. If you have to put j/k after it, then just don't do it at all. If the idiom makes no sense in type then don't use it. If you have to leave a detailed note about what you're referencing then it's best to drop the whole thing. It's my column, so I will continue to make references without explanation. I'm a hippie, and I'm naked because I smoked all my clothes!
And for crepes' sake STOP saying "on acid" to describe things, it's lame. I was a teenager in southern California in the 80s, so I've smoked some stuff and taken LSD and mushrooms on a number of occasions; geez, I think 'Get High' was my eighth period class first semester of 10th grade. Perhaps it is because of those experiences that my mind has been adequately expanded to the point that I can choose words to describe what I want to say, I don't know. If you've never done these or other hallucinogens then you're probably more likely to describe "Peewee's Playhouse" as 'Captain Kangaroo ON ACID!!1!', but believe me, everyone knows that. Not that you haven't earned the right because you haven't had your mind expanded or any such nonsense, but because anyone who has tripped isn't going to consider using the reference where it doesn't apply. Neither am I suggesting that you head to the park and score some windowpane so you can use the reference, I'm saying that the reference is virtually meaningless and very lazy writing. "Hillary Clinton ... on CRACK!!1!" is even lazier, how does nobody see how overrated and unimaginative Chris Rock is? Besides, there is a generation of recreational pharmaceuticals that came of prominence after my chemical retirement, why not reference things as 'like Larry King ...ON GBH!!1!', I won't bitch about it being an inappropriate reference because I won't notice. I might bitch that I don't get it, but there really is no pleasing me.
Oh, Elements of Style is online, who'd a thunk that such a handy guide to better writing would be available on the internets, yet there it is. Bookmark it, and just for fun; look for the three rules that I know I've broken in the last few paragraphs. Don't tell me though, I'll just end up editing this to make you look wrong for correcting me.