Elements of Style in Posting

I do not propose to offer Owlcroft and Wright's compendium of instructions like a Strunk and White (although, to paraphrase Mark Twain, he knows everything about language usage and I know the rest). This is more of a request for my own satisfaction in reading others' posts.

First, I very much appreciate paragraph structure for ease in reading. Separating out the points being addressed helps me know the direction of argument. It also helps in searching for points I want to remember or respond to, when looking back over the post. If one is not attempting James Joyce stream-of-consciousness it would be a nice gesture to break out the ideas into paragraphs.

I don't think anyone here does this, but skipping capital letters is also unhelpful for the reader. My eye notices the capital letter that starts a sentence, so it aids my scanning.

Auto-correct and spellcheck won't prevent incorrect usage such as apostrophes where they are unneeded. In this category is the plural form of proper nouns. I think this usage question has drifted over time, but currently I think the approved form is "Clintons", not "Clinton's".

Another apostrophe issue is "it's" vs. "its". The former is a contraction for "it is". The possessive form is just like his, hers, theirs, ours---"its" is the correct form for possessive.

A confession might be appropriate here: I will sometimes edit a poster's thread title to change a clearly incorrect usage or spelling. I usually leave alone the issue of which words to capitalize in a title. The rule, I believe, is always capitalize the first word, then do not capitalize articles and prepositions, except when quoting within the title.

More in the nature of etiquette is the uncertainty of conveying irony or sarcasm. Some here suggest positively identifying such---it might make a smoothly ironic post feel clunky by adding a disclaimer, but it will help preserve comity.

That's all. I am greatly enjoying helping to support our community and its informative and entertaining discussions. Thanks to all who have shown their appreciation.


Sarcasm = /s after the sarcastic sentence or phrase...


Maybe we should put in a request for a sarcasm font...


I vote for comic sans.

(Wait.... should I have written that comment in comic sans?)


So, stream-of-consciousness posting is discouraged?

Not a rule. I spoke personally---it discourages me, my eye tends to slide down the page.


Thanks to owlcroft for mentioning a name for unneeded apostrophes: "greengrocers's apostrophe". A similar issue is quotes for emphasis when neither quoting or suggesting a questionable use, as in a sign that says ""Fire Exit" with quotes as part of the sign.

I'm not so sure about these suggestions because, after all, one can be a sniffer of carrion, premature gravedigger, seeker of the nest of evil in the bosom of a good word, you, who sleep at our vigil and fast for our feast, you with your dislocated reason, have cutely foretold, a jophet in your own absence, by blind poring upon your many scalds and burns and blisters, impetiginous sore and pustules, by the auspices of that raven cloud, your shade, and by the auguries of rooks in parlament, death with every disaster, the dynamatisation of colleagues, the reducing of records to ashes, the levelling of all customs by blazes, the return of a lot of sweetempered gunpowdered didst unto dudst but it never stphruck your mudhead's obtundity (O hell, here comes our funeral! O pest, I'll miss the post!) that the more carrots you chop, the more turnips you slit, the more murphies you peel, the more onions you cry over, the more bullbeef you butch, the more mutton you crackerhack, the more potherbs you pound, the fiercer the fire and the longer your spoon and the harder you gruel with more grease to your elbow the merrier fumes your new Irish stew.

That's clear enough, isn't it?


Do the Bulwer-Lytton awards have a category for blog posts? If so, I think we have a winner. :grinning:


A greengrocer's apostrophe corrected by an itinerant copy editor:

And why it's called what it's called:

And lots more apostrophe fun here.


Shouldn't that be "lot's more apostrophe fun here" ...? :grinning:


Geez, I hate stream of consciousness writing. I am frequently subjected to it at work when I have to read something that was dictated and instead of written and is just all over the place.


Are you trying to raise my bloodpressure with those apostrophes?

"/s" is properly a closing tag. One should always preface one's sarcastic remarks with "s", and begin a rant with "r". Don't forget to close your rant with "/r". Tags are read from inside out, e.g. "r s <sarcastic rant here> /s /r."

Well put. It is an esential of sound prose.

That is not only very true, but such skipping is also rude: You are not worth the time and effort for me to press the CAPS key.

Somehow, daunting as the task was, the human race has survived tens of thousands of years with no special marker for sarcasm. Did I need to mark that off somehow for it to clearly be sarcasm? What is wanted is a bit more thought and care as to our words: think before you type (and after you type:Edit is available).

As I believe I said before somewhere here, writing and speaking are in some ways like driving a car: you can do it with relatively minimal effort and concentration and usually get where you're going OK...but it's a lot more likely that you'll have an accident at some point than if you bore down on the task with full thought and effort.


There's a term for that, too: "scare quotes":

quotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts.

The usual [mis]use is trying to emphasize a word or phrase. A competent language use does not need mechanical marks to convey sigfnificance (unless we include italics).

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I take that as referring to when the validity of meaning of the scare-quoted term is being questioned, as a compact version of saying "so-called".

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And now for a responsible opposing viewpoint...

I too appreciate well written prose, but I also know that most people have not had the opportunity in their lives to spend time with editors and style books. So I tend to overlook most of the points raised in this thread and focus on the ideas the writer is trying to get across. I wouldn't want any potential poster to think that a post would be unwelcome (or its ideas devalued) if it wasn't style-perfect.

That said, I do agree about the importance of paragraphs. Not because of any esthetic sense, but because cramming every thought into one stream of words (James Joyce aside) makes the points harder to tease out.


But the problem is that slapdash prose often does not present properly "the ideas the writer is trying to get across." There is obviously a broad gap between utter gibberish and slapdash prose, but never think that what you clearly mean to say is getting clearly said by your words. As I have said at length elsewhere, this is the "mental telepathy" fallacy: "as if the ideas in one's mind have the force to communicate themselves to others' minds almost independent of the words used in writing or speaking them." It doesn't work that way.

Like computer codes, English has a grammar with rules, and if you breach those, you cannot expect that your intent is automagically perceived anyway. Very often it is, but another consideration is that any solecism will be perceived by some fraction of your readership or audience, and that perception is a small but real distraction from the flow of your thoughts, a sort of "speed bump" on the road to communication.

No one expects a forum post to stand against, say, an essay by Gore Vidal or an extract from Herbert Read. But basic grammar, which does not (or should not) require profound studies in recondite tomes, is important. It says to your audience or readership that you have taken some care in arranging your thoughts to be, as the title of Jacques Barzun's book puts it, Simple & Direct.

That requires not so much of special learning as a dash of patience and attention to how one is saying his say. That's the bottom line: patience and attention.


Well, so much to say.

First, can one find a thread like this anywhere else?

Second, as I read this, I am laughing out loud at both the ease with which reading it has lifted my spirits and the enjoyment I have as I am reading all of your posts. My wife wants to know why am I laughing out loud and really, it's way too hard to explain.

Third, what is the convention for using .....I do it quite a bit and well...like to use it....!

Finally, I am fine with Tom editing my posts. Plus, Owl, just a note to you, I have tried to raise my game in my writing style and grammar usage over the last few months while posting. doesn't let me be so lazy!