Gretchen McCulloch and the ‘new way’ of writing

January 6, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, writing.
Gretchen McCulloch, the author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, has written an interesting piece for the New York Times hailing the new freedom that Internet writers, especially texters and Twitter scribes, have in using the language to exhibit their meaning and emotions.
They’re doing for the written word, she argues, what we once thought only sound and vision could do — convey the emotions of the moment.

The reason we once found speech easier for imparting emotions isn’t an inherent property of sound waves and voice boxes. Rather, it’s that we’re more used to employing a broad range of styles in face-to-face communication. An expansive palette of possibilities lets us convey nuanced meta-messages like solidarity (by converging toward someone else’s linguistic style at a given moment) and double meaning (by noticing when what someone is saying doesn’t match with how they say it). Source: Opinion | We Learned to Write the Way We Talk – The New York Times

Along the way, she manages to dismiss the standard rules of English usage and those who would teach and enforce them.

A formal, disembodied style does have a place in the pantheon of linguistic genres. But the problem with this tradition is that it’s a jealous god — rather than say, “Here is a style that’s useful sometimes,” it says, “Here is the only correct way to write, and any variation from it is Bad and Wrong.”

I do not share her enthusiasm for this new type of writing, although I see some value in it — occasionally.

The rules of English usage have developed over a long period of time, and they are not to be dismissed as lightly as she seems to want to do. There are many good reasons for these rules, even though some are ossified. Chief among those reasons, to my mind, is the discipline it takes to use them.

Breaking rules is one thing. Knowing that you’re breaking them, and knowing why, is a far different thing.

In any event, if you are interested in the development of the language, you should read this article, but I would warn you not to be so taken in by the author’s enthusiasm that you miss the implications of what she is saying.

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