@: The fulcrum of our digital identities

The Unlikely Evolution of  @ (@ Fast Company) 

Once a bookkeeper’s shorthand, @ has become the fulcrum of our digital identities. How did that happen?

“In Danish, the symbol is known as an “elephant’s trunk a”; the French call it an escargot. It’s a streudel in German, a monkey’s tail in Dutch, and a rose in Istanbul. In Italian, it’s named after a huge amphora of wine…

In 1971, a keyboard with a vestigial @ symbol inherited from its typewriter ancestors found itself hooked up to an ARPANET terminal manned by Ray Tomlinson…

“It’s difficult to imagine anyone in Tomlinson’s situation choosing anything other than the ‘@’ symbol, but his decision to do so at the time was inspired,” explains Houston on his blog. “Firstly, it was extremely unlikely to occur in any computer or user names; secondly, it had no other significant meaning for the operating system on which it would run, and lastly, it read intuitively–user ‘at’ host.”

READ THIS POST because it’s wonderful. I especially love the identification of @ as the fulcrum of an email address. Because it IS one!

And then if you can resist pre-ordering Keith Houston’s upcoming book you’re a stronger person than I. (Come on. It’s called Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation. How could I/you resist?) 

In defence of proofreading

I am a proofreader.

I would be even if it wasn’t on my business card. (It is.)

I wake up a proofreader. I go to sleep a proofreader. It’s possible my dreams are pedantic.

I adore abstract art, and messy hair, and long-form improvised jazz, and unplanned weekends. But the methodical neural sequences are always running — as subtle, pervasive and persistent as those that maintain subconscious respiration and the miraculous auto-focus of my blessedly functional human eyes. I don’t switch this part of me on and off as I approach and depart the office each day.

As a proofreader, that’s the way things work, and it’s the way I work (even when I’m not at work). Just as an artist sees the world through creative eyes even in the non-painting, non-sculpting, non-drawing moments. Just as the curiosity that drives a scientist, deep-sea explorer or astronomer isn’t silenced the moment they step away from the microscope, periscope or telescope.


{image via PowerScore}

People are afraid of the red pen.

They fear seeing their writing covered in proofreading glyphs, and they resent the person who made it so.

Some editors use green or purple ink because red is ‘too aggressive’.

But red is also the colour of love, and of passion.

I do not proofread in anger. I proofread with passion. When I scrawl all over the page, I am sharing the writer’s devotion to the words they have coaxed forth. It is with love that I — as gently as possible — nurture and nudge those words just a little bit more, hoping to make them as perfect as we both desire them to be.

So writers? Don’t hate the red pen. Your proofreader actually loves your writing.

Proofreaders, don’t be ashamed to be called a persnickety, pedantic perfectionist. Wear that badge with pride (especially if you couldn’t take it off if you wanted to).

And everyone: go to as many Sydney Writers’ Festival events as you can between now and Sunday (26 May 2013). Let your brain be caressed and your thoughts provoked.

#$*&^! = Grawlix

>> A word for that: Grawlix

Until its OED entry is solemnized, we’ll have to settle for this definition on Wiktionary: “grawlixn. A string of typographical symbols used (especially in comic strips) to represent an obscenity or swear word.” I don’t think I’ll ever look at a character set quite the same way again.

%^&*@ing glorious!

Read the whole thing at Hoefler & Frere-Jones (via @GrammarMonkeys and @mental_floss)

The Oxford comma: dead at the hands of serial killers

I give a #%*^ about the Oxford comma.  I’m known for giving a #%*^ about the Oxford comma. But sadly, this sudden palaver over its threatened extinction (at the hands of its eponymous university, no less) is just a bureaucratic nail in an already-long-buried coffin. As a proofreader in Australia, I must (at least during working hours) adhere to the ‘current trends’ in Australian writing style, and that means NO SERIAL COMMAS EVER (except if absolutely needed for the sake of clarity, which isn’t any fun at all).

So as far as I’m (professionally) concerned, the Oxford comma has already been eradicated, or is at least seriously endangered, teetering on the brink of extinction. It lingers only as a ghost, destroyed by a gradual succession of serial killers*: style guides in ruthless pursuit of minimalist punctuation.

R, I, P.

Over at Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams has already said almost everything else I would say on the topic. Most importantly, she a) clarifies the extent to which Oxford University is eliminating its eponymous comma (that is, no more than most institutions already have); and b) embedded the obvious Vampire Weekend video clip.

Now, two things about this video clip: Firstly, its total number of hits must have jumped phenomenally in the past 24 hours. Secondly, IT WAS DIRECTED BY THE WONDERFUL RICHARD AYOADE (of The IT Crowd, of course). And if that isn’t a joyful note on which to end a sombre post, I don’t know what is.

*Yes, I went there.

Em dashes and En dashes: A breadth of difference

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An em dash (—) can be used for almost anything: instead of a colon (such as the preceding), to replace parentheses (such as the preceding, and current), or just to represent a sudden change of direction in logic*.

An en dash (–) is somewhat more limited in its utility. Limited to two uses, in fact: firstly, as shorthand for “from” and “to”, à la 9am–5pm; and secondly, to hyphenate two words where one is actually part of another word pairing. As in “post–afternoon tea“, or”anti–Tony Abbott“.

On the other hand, ordinary single pairings like “long, dark tea-time” and “anti-troglodyte” (respectively) require nothing wider than a hyphen.

Based on Mental Floss (where knowledge junkies get their fix). ]

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{ via ilovetypography }

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So the next time someone tries to tell you there’s no difference between an em dash and an en dash, might I suggest you draw their attention to the difference between forMication and forNication?


And if they STILL insist that the difference doesn’t matter, why not offer to release a bucket of crawling, gnashing ants in their general direction.


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* But not all at once. Consider the absurdity of the following:

“Em dashes can be used for almost anything — instead of a colon — such as the preceding — to replace parentheses — such as the preceding, and current — or just to represent a sudden change of direction in logic.”

… THAT doesn’t work at all.

Love thine Word Nerd

Richard Glover’s column, Revenge of the Word Nerds, in today’s Sydney Morning Herald (Spectrum section):

The language police have no interest in the content of what is being said; they don’t even have much interest in language itself, in all its slippery, transgressive glory. They just lie in wait, like cats before a mouse hole, waiting for an error to occur.

Then they pounce. And there is much delight in the pouncing…

Full article at  smh.com.au (because nobody actually buys the hulking Saturday paper nowadays).

Thank Gaia I know that Mr. Glover’s ire is all in good humour (he’s a very good-humoured sort of bloke). Of course everyone knows that Grammar Nazis never mean to offend, much less condescend. Sports fans will correct you for saying “points” instead of “goals”(or vice versa). Fashionistas love to commentate when people-watching. A tea lover will happily waffle on forever about Buddha’s Tears (if you let them). And likewise, we linguiphiles just can’t help ourselves when faced with something within our very trivial sphere of interest.


SO PLEASE REMEMBER TO KINDLY INDULGE YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOOD WORD NERD: She’s not pouncing, she’s just enjoying the small pleasures in a pedantic life.


(And besides, without a keen editor, every newspaper, magazine, book, journal, and other miscellaneous printed reading matter would have met that great pulp-mill in the sky long ago, condemned to death by the dire lack of media’s two most essential requirements: credibility and readability.)

RELATED POSTS: Being a Snark (and some shameless self-promotion)

Vegetarian develops insatiable addiction to Savage Chickens

A flow chart of my relationship with Savage Chickens:

Discovery: “Oh cool. I like Post-its. I like Pythonesque, punilicious quips about Hot Yoga/The Slim Reaper. I like tofu.”

Dabbling: “I’m not going to be able to stop until I’ve seen the entire back archives, am I?”

Addiction: “Just one more…”

Obsession: “Sure I’ll eat/sleep/study/work/listen to my lecturer… after I’ve finished trawling the archives.”

Closure: (days later) “Done!… More please?”

Subscription: “DING! You have ONE new Savage Chickens email.”

Twitter: *Tweetdeck ‘new tweet’ chirp*


More blog-appropriate proof (v.) that these Post-it-icisms are truly brilliant:

A minor revision re: lolcats

I may have been rather heavy-handed in my universal (and well-publicised) dismissal of all things lolcat. As of now, I would like to officially revise and clarify my prior stance:

a) I still despise the term ‘lol’ (or ‘LOL’ or ‘lololol’, and so on and so forth), whether written, typed or spoken. Maybe we can still be friends if you choose to use it, but I won’t reciprocate (I prefer ‘BAHAHA‘).

and

b) I still want to fix every lolcats caption so that it has correct spelling/grammar/syntax/everything.

BUT…

c) Lolcats can be … REALLY STUPIDLY FUNNY. Especially when related to the topic of grammar/editing/linguistics/quantum physics.

Humour-wise, I place them in the same league as Man Hiding Out in IKEA by Covering Self in IKEA Bags, and this Male Model Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray From Page One Backstage At NY Fashion Week.

If your moronic, miscaptioned cat photo teeters on the brink of irony, with one lolpaw dipping into metareflexivity, then I am likely to find it snortingly funny. I will say ‘BAHAHA!’. Possibly out loud. (But I still won’t say ‘lol’).


Being a Snark (and some shameless self-promotion)

Word Nerds of the Web, Unite!

Why The Internet Could Be the Best Thing That Ever Happened To The English Language: Online epiphanies of an inveterate grammar snarkBy Olivia McDowell.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Snarks are not alone. Hence the above article (read it all here), which I wrote last year as part of my Online Journalism course. And now my little rant has been published in No·men·cla·ture, the online fruit of that course, and I feel duty bound to spread the word: Snark is cool! So please, read on.

Haters of lolcats and lovers of grammatical perfection, you will not be disappointed.


A bit more about snark…

  • The word ‘snark’ — which began life as a portmanteau (snide + remark) — now also refers to a nark (informer) with snarking tendencies: see detailed etymology here.

  • Lewis Carroll — widely credited with having invented the portmanteau during Alice’s second trip, Through The Looking Glass — also wrote the fabulous nonsense poem, The Hunting of the Snark.

  • It’s been said that Snark is the language of losers. Witless, angry, petulent and belittling. That it wishes it were Jon Stewart (who is just awesome, by the way), when it fact it’s more like, well, Bill O’Reilly.

  • To me, a snark is someone with a pedantic eye for detail, and a penchant for picking out minor details — right or wrong — then waffling on about them for no other reason than pure self-indulgence. A snark is cheerily particular: specific, but never angry.

  • ‘Snark’ is also another name for the Irony Mark (؟).