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Laz-E-mailer Strikes Again: Verbicide Count Increases as Apathy Spreads
A friend of mine told me about an email they’d received over their company’s customer service line last week. The writing was short, scrambled, and hardly understandable. After a few minutes of trying to decipher the message, my friend gave up and dialed the number of the person who wrote it in order to find out what exactly they were asking for.
My friend expected that the phone number would connect them to some foreign customer service department overseas, a random little office of cubicles somewhere in the digital cosmos where English was not a first language. That, then, would explain the communication hiccup. No harm, no foul.
But it wasn’t so. The number dialed directly to an office in Tennessee. More than that, to a phone owned by a seasoned Federal employee who was, not only a native English speaker, but was being (we assume) well-paid to do what it is they did.
When this Emailer answered the phone, my friend was apologetic, confessing they couldn’t figure out from the message what this customer was wanting. The Emailer apologized, saying something to the effect of, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot to run spell check before I sent that out.’
Ah. The devious Spell Check, the sidekick of our infamous felon.
It is an all too often relied upon feature of word processing programs to which the ineffective writer immediately passes the buck. But neither Spell Check nor his captain is responsible for grammatical errors, punctuation problems, incomplete sentences, parts of thoughts…
Sorry to break it to you, but…
…ineffective communication cannot be rectified with a spell checker.
Alas, the Laz-E-Mailer has struck again.
Perhaps as a person who puts an uncanny amount of time into the formation of thoughts into the written word I’m biased in this, but, I’ve wondered this very thing for a very long time:
When Did Emails Stop Being Mail?
Think of it. It’s right there in the name! Sure, it’s electronic mail, but it’s still mail. Can you imagine receiving a letter in your (literal and physical) mailbox that read like a hacked out email message?
Heard about the new deal u scored. congrats! thatll b a nice bonus see u 2nite John
To me (and, again, maybe I’m biased) this reads more like a ransom note or stalker’s message than a friendly exchange. I can just picture little single-letter, multi-color cutouts from magazines crookedly pasted onto a clean sheet of printer paper and slipped anonymously under my office door.
And who is this note to? Is it for John and the note-giver will see them tonight? What if the deliverer slipped it under the wrong door? What if John never gets the message? Or did John write it and forget (or decide not to) include a closing? And what’s with the shortening of words and the absence of capitalization and punctuation? This isn’t texting! This isn’t some quick exchange of ideas by the few tappings of thumbs to phone done under cover of a conference table during a particularly boring yet mandatory meeting.
“The greatest cause of verbicide (the murder of a word) is the fact that most people are obviously far more anxious to express their approval and disapproval of things than to describe them.”
– C.S. Lewis
He is a sure-fire criminal, this Laz-E-Mailer. He strikes at all of us when we let our guard down (yes, even I have been a victim of the Laz-E-Mailer’s verbicide). He is ugly, impatient, and must certainly have ADD because he can’t seem to hold onto a thought long enough to complete it or, if he does complete it, to explain it.
Though it may seem silly (and, granted, I am making a little fun here), verbicide isn’t something to be laughed at. Entire civilizations now gone prided themselves on the accuracy of their written language; it is by those documents that we know about the very details of their existence today. Those ancients decorated their halls with language, perhaps carved it into stone to send messages across time. Scribes spent painstaking months recording manuscripts by quill and ink onto parchment and then bound them into rare and valuable volumes. Even today, writing is so powerful that arguments ensue over it. And think of the violence of the mass book burnings of World War Two. Yes, writing is that important.
And language is not only useful, but also beautiful. There is beauty not only in the sounds made when speaking well but also in the design of the characters made to write those same words. Take the Mayan hieroglyphics and their ability to tell a story even by use of a single image; or the delicately frayed and whimsical pattern of Chinese characters; or the artistic variation of round, straight, thin, wide, tall, and short symbols that come together to form the words you’re reading right now.
Can we say that the messages people compose today—to include both the physical and electronic varieties—take for granted the power and beauty and communicative force of the language in which we write? My answer is YES.
Jerry Seinfeld recently did a stand-up routine on The Tonight Show wherein he mentions how cell phones have redefined who the “important people” are in our lives. Though he jokes about this travesty (and, indeed, his portrayal is funny), he hits on the head a truly sad fact of the time in which we live. About texting, he says:
“I decided I only want to hear my half of the conversation. This is what I have to say. I think we’re done here.”
To me, this one-sided mindset isn’t exclusive to texting. It’s more and more how people see casual, day-to-day writing overall: no greeting, no closing, and hardly enough of a body of information to completely explain the ideas and concepts we’re trying to communicate. It’s no wonder communication skills are reaching an all time low (and not even in the US, but in Canada as well!), even for high-paid executives who we assume should know better, but don’t.
There is one way to rid ourselves of this verbicidal monster and reestablish a sincere affection for the craft of writing. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that we all gather fresh feathered pens (though Mountain Owl does prefer hers fluffy blue) and take up calligraphy. But consider for a moment that people killed and died in order to learn how to write, how to read; that once upon a time learning to read and write was a skill of power and authority and only taught to kings and nobles; they were once skills that common, ordinary folk only dreamt of and suffered to acquire.
If people would only realize that writing is still a NOBLE thing, how much more care they might take in it! Or has the commonplaceness of the craft led to a worldwide communicative apathy?
Putting the Laz-E-Mailer to Rest.
When you write your next email, take into consideration these factors to assure the Laz-E-Mailer hasn’t gotten the best of you:
- Is it clear who the letter is to? Think of your opener—“Dear Mike”, “Hello Susan”, “Hi Jerry”, etc.—as the equivalent of a virtual hug or handshake when you’re meeting a friend or colleague for lunch.
- Did you acknowledge them as you would if they were meeting you in person? “How are you doing?” or “Thanks for the heads up on that deal I just closed!”
- Are your sentences complete? Try reading your letter out loud to yourself. If they don’t make sense as you’re speaking, you need to revise.
- Have you successfully conveyed the thoughts and ideas you wished to communicate? If you have a hard time composing your thoughts, scribble a quick list on a notepad and check them off as you go through your letter.
- Did you end with a closing farewell and sign your name? Again, your “Sincerely”, “Thanks”, or “Kind Regards” followed by your name is like a goodbye hug or handshake. You wouldn’t just shuffle Grandma Betsy out the door without so much as a farewell, would you?
There you have it: Mountain Owl’s meager attempt to save you from that dastardly devil, otherwise known as the Laz-E-Mailer. No need to be formal or use big words or fancy punctuation or complicated compound sentences. If you write how you talk, you can easily defeat the Laz-E-Mailer! (Unless, of course, as Jerry says, talking is too much work. In that case… I can’t help you.)
Here’s to Happy Writing, and to avenging the written word!