Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Emily Gordon writes:

Lately I’ve been waging an inner war against millennial modifiers. Is it Gen Y’s fault (let’s blame them!), or the fault of us ad-sandblasted, dichotomy-spurning, latchkey-clutching Xers, that everything is “kinda” and “basically” now? I often used these qualifiers myself before I started noticing how hollow and cynical they sound. I’m objecting to this: “pretty awesome” and “kinda genius” and “sort of hilarious” and “basically the best thing ever.”

It takes character, and sometimes bravery—a Franzen-style commitment to loving rather then insta-liking—to declare a person or a thing actually good or smart or funny. What’s the point of declaring your devotion to something, or admiration for someone, if you can pre-take it back just in case someone else thinks your choice is lame? It’s simultaneously hyperbolic (which, as an enthusiast, I’m fine with), disingenuous (danger!), negating (hipster disaffection masking vague woundedness), and oxymoronic (and how is that a held belief?).

Although it’s already been replaced by Dicking Around, I’m still a proud adherent of the New Sincerity. Will you join me in putting on the sweet high lonesome sound of The Secret Sisters and wearing your heart on your (corduroy) sleeve instead of hiding it in an equivocating, halfhearted irony bucket?

Related: More banned words and phrases. (continued)

Emily writes (once again):

As longtime readers will know, I sometimes ban words and phrases. Though I find many non-standard uses of the language to be useful, lyrical, fascinating, or all three, others are just irksome. Here’s one that’s on the rise, and at the top of my current list of irritants (aside from the economy, short-sighted capitalists generally, and the futile war against our brute natures): abbreviations of the short, concise, one-syllable word “thanks.”

I’m used to (but that doesn’t mean I accept) the sign-off “thx.” To me, it conveys a lack of complete thanks, a partial, lackadaisical hiss. The sound it makes in my mind is the insincere, singsong “thinkssss” that workmates we’ve all known like to say with a scrunched-up smirk and bad intentions. I have a feeling that the brilliant David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, whose book Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better I read recently and loved, would not approve of “thx.”

Now I’m seeing “thnx.” “Thanks” has only six letters. Even the silliest abbreviations are fine with me in instant messaging; that’s a fun puzzle of a medium, time is of the essence, and within it I require neither punctuation nor official spelling. But in email, especially business email, seriously, spell out “thanks.” Thanks! (continued)

I get Details because a friend of mine used to work there, and now it just keeps coming, no matter what I do. I always read Michael Chabon’s column; other than that, I marvel at the masculine anxieties that drip from it like expensive sweat. In the current issue, though, there’s a piece to shout hallelujah for: Greg Williams’ “Being Tired Is Not a Status Symbol.” Why not take the pledge to try not to say you’re exhausted when you’re really more like…well, let’s let the dictionary-and-thesaurus widget provide a few good suggestions (click, if you can, to enlarge):


Note that the Oxford American Dictionary, which kindly (continued)

“Eachother,” “sortof,” “nevermind” (I know that’s how Kurt spelled it, but I’m afraid he was wrong), “highschool,” and especially “moreso.” All are in fact two words, not one. The last of these non-words appears frequently in my statistics tracker — people google “moreso one word?” — and I’m glad they’re double-checking, because, as you know, it is not. That’sall fornow. See how typing that way makes you sound drunk? (More banned words and phrases, including “moreso,” which I include again to underscore its two-worded state. It’s overused anyway, don’t you think?) (continued)

An admirably self-effacing friend and neighbor of Emdashes sent us at least one of the links below way back in 2007, but it is only in ‘08 that this post manifests itself. So it sometimes goes with a blog of little staff. You already know that I’m nearly a lifelong appreciator of Otto Soglow, and will no doubt recall the enchanting animation of the Little King from a few months ago (scroll down through the rhyming couplets; you’ll find it).

Anyway, here’s a wonderfully detailed, gorgeously illustrated post about Soglow by Austin Kleon (classy site design, by the way); it even includes Soglow’s New Yorker obituary, from 1975. He links to an excerpt from “Otto Soglow and The Ambassador,” an essay by Jared Gardner, in The Comics Journal. There is a lot here about Soglow’s work for The New Yorker; it’s really engrossing. Read it! Eddie Campbell followed up the latter with a worthy entry of his own.

Speaking of in-depth inquiries, Richard Eder, one of the kindest and most intelligent writers I’ve known, wrote a review in the Times of the second volume of those famously elaborate Paris Review interviews. A snippet in which you’ll be especially interested, I’d wager: (continued)

15. The word “phenomena” is plural. One phenomenon, two phenomena, red phenomenon, blue phenomenon. A fishy school of phenomena.

16. The word “criteria” is, too. One criterion, two criteria, one Criterion Collection, several (I think) Criterion Cinemas. That’s the one in New Haven, which is a good one. (More after the jump.) (continued)

Actually, just one today, and it’s not really a word or a phrase. It’s this: all lowercase everything all the time. You’re off the hook, E.L., a writer I know—I just decide to forgive him, because his plea for understanding of the lowercasing is a signature to all his emails, which indicates forethought and genuine regret. PK, you too can breathe easy as far as I’m concerned, since you had a well-researched esoteric-typographer rationale (remind me what/who it was so I can link to it). IMs—they call for lowercase; speed is paramount, so spare your precious bodily shift key. The occasional quickie email. Of course! Of course, me too. But real emails, which are, after all, letters, deserve real capitalization. Especially proper names. It’s all we have (continued)

Vindication at last. Lola Ogunnaike writes:
Mr. Troutwine is not alone in thinking that an e-mail sender who writes “Best,” then a name, is offering something close to a brush-off. He said he chooses his own business sign-offs in a descending order of cordiality, from “Warmest regards” to “All the best” to a curt “Sincerely.”
When Kim Bondy, a former CNN executive, e-mailed a suitor after a dinner date, she used one of her preferred closings: “Chat soon.” It was her way of saying, “The date went well, let’s do it again,” she said.
She may have been the only one who thought that. The return message closed with the dreaded “Best.” It left her feeling as though she had misread the evening. “I felt like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of formal. I don’t think he liked me,’ ” she said, laughing. “A chill came with the ‘Best.’ ” They have not gone out since.
“Best” does have its fans, especially in the workplace, where it can be an all-purpose step up in warmth from messages that end with no sign-off at all, just the sender coolly appending his or her name.
“I use ‘Best’ for all of my professional e-mails,” said Kelly Brady, a perky publicist in New York. “It’s friendly, quick and to the point.”
“Perky publicist”! That’s catty for the NYT, but it speaks volumes. (It’s the perky and the alliteration, publicist friends, not the publicist alone.) I do use “Best” myself, by the way. If you see it (with work-related exceptions), or the even more dreaded blank subject line, it is not an ambiguous sign. (continued)

12. “hehe” for “hee hee.” “Hee hee” has been a written representation of “If you could hear me, I’d be laughing” for some time (I’ll check the OED; I bet it’s centuries). You’re only saving two letters this way and it looks like the word “he” twice. What’s next, “sheshe” for goddess types?
13. “Let’s see, I need the tuna on whole wheat.” There are also available phrases for this, e.e. “I’d like…” and “May I have…?” You need a blood transfusion, or a scalpel, or a new hed and dek pronto because it’s press day. You might even need a drink or a slap in the face or a pinch. You probably don’t need a sandwich. Be nice to the poor deli people; all they hear all day is how much people need that thing, right now, hurry it up, I’m busy and important (and rude).
14. “Moreso” is not a word. It is two words: “more so.” If you’d like to be convinced further, since you have trust issues, here’s the Word Detective on the matter: (continued)

comments are off

7. kid lit
8. lad lit
9. chick lit
10. Sick-Chick Lit
11. tween

Banned words and phrases 1-3 and 4-6. (continued)

4. Ya think?
5. “Females” (that is, women)
6. “Huh, yeah, I think I might know your byline.” (I know this is practical, in a vague social journalistic-ego-soothing way. But it’s kind of terrible.) (continued)

Image from the just discovered Other People Exist ("Studies have shown that even when they are no longer there, other people continue to exist, with thoughts, feelings and desires just like you"), also the source of this wonderful screed against... (continued)

Says Jeff Hunt at Here and There, who, in his preoccupation with capitalization, is surely a person after my own heart:

I was reading an article on online journalism in The New Yorker by Columbia University's Nicholas Lemann, and suddenly all those uppercase Is starting popping off the page, stabbing me in the...nevermind.

It became so, so clear, right there, in a single instance as I boarded my BART train ─ internet should be treated as the internet itself would treat it.

You may thinking such a basis is ridiculous, and that, if carried out to its logical conclusion, the word may end up looking something like "nturnt."

But really. Why capitalize? The internet is no longer novel or particularly well-revered by its users. Its ubiquity increases worldwide every hour, and even my mom has a web-connected computer at home now.

I cast my vote: it's time to lowercase the i in internet.

Post-script: I also abandoned capitalizing the w in web, and have never understood why some people want website to be two words.

I would have a few copyediting cavils here if I were being hopelessly petty, and never mind is only one word if you're Kurt Cobain, God rest 'im, but that would be foolish, because boy, do I agree. (continued)

1. The Daily Iowan talks to Sasha Frere-Jones, who's been traveling. 2. The Morning News has a spirited conversation with Jonathan Lethem, who notes, for instance, "First of all, I think my so-called originality—which is just as often called my... (continued)

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