Sunday, September 07, 2008

In which Auntie Jo loses it and levels unwarranted criticism at people she doesn't know

Y'know how everybody has pet peeves? And how those pet peeves are totally incomprehensible to the rest of the world? My pet peeve (this week; it might be different later) is bad writing.

Not that I consider myself a great prose stylist, or anything, but dayum. I mostly avoid the worst breaches of English writing. Mostly. This is not something I could say about a lot of stuff I've been reading lately, both online and in print. Thus, here follows a list of the things that make Auntie Jo get out the wire hangers and start screaming about pronouns:

1. No more passive voice--EVER!

I don't recall where I saw it, but I ran across the phrase "Birth was given to the idea..." and immediately stopped reading. "Birth" is never "given" to anything. One can give birth, or one can be born, but for Frog's sake, don't use the passive voice to describe the act. Gaaah. This one sets my teeth on edge.

2. Periods are fun in moderation.

Run-on sentences can be used to nice effect, as can sentence fragments. I'm fond of fragments myself. However, if you're consistently expressing yourself outside the subject-verb framework, you might want to stop writing prose and get a gig writing bad free-verse poetry. 

3. If you're writing for a public audience, can the racist and sexist slurs.

On second thought, don't. I want fair warning that you're an asshole.

4. Paragraph breaks: We haz 'em.

This one's a tendency that a lot of bloggers have: they write and write and write and it's lovely stuff, but you can't tell where the hell you are in the essay because there are no damn paragraph breaks. 

Here's a hint: Hit enter twice and continue with a new thought. 

Yes, this is a structural complaint rather than a stylistic one. How, though, will I ever be able to follow your style--or your substance, for that matter--if I can't find my way out of one huge long unending jeebus grits where's the next paragraph column of text?

5. Adding -y does not make it an adjective. Adding -ly does not make it an adverb.

Fashion magazines do this all the time. You can't just create new words by adding sometimes-vowels to the end of 'em. (Well, you *can*, but you get my point.) I was flipping through a girly mag that somebody'd left behind in the breakroom and stopped dead when I hit the descriptor "Studio Fifty-Four-y." Good thing I carry ammonia capsules with me, as that unbridled use of the adjective-mode gave me the vapors.

6. Tame Cute.

Our local birdcage liner is bad, bad, bad about this. An otherwise serious wire story about, say, Pakistan will be headlined with a pun. An otherwise serious local story about high-school dropouts will contain clever double-entendres and wordplay. Yes, we know you're smart; you wouldn't be writing for a newspaper otherwise. That's enough.

7. There are different writing styles. One of them is appropriate for your use. Find it.

You don't have to be formal on a blog. You *can* be--there's no law against it--if you're doing a thoughtful, well-reasoned essay. Likewise, you can occasionally (VERY OCCASIONALLY) toss a little fillip into a piece of serious writing. The trick is to know, not only your audience, but the purpose your writing is filling. 

8. Spelling correctly is fun!

That's what the great gods of the computer world made spellcheck for.

9. Profanity, used in excess, can be really fucking annoying.

I kid you not: I read a blog post t'other day that was so full of f-bombs and s-bombs and q-bombs and the like that I couldn't follow the writer's train of thought. Stylistic trademarks aside, calm the hell down and try to write clearly, okay? (This is my big bugaboo, made worse by the fact that My Sainted Mother reads this blog and probably has to scrub her eyeballs afterward.)

10. And finally, please, for the love of all that's holy, have a point.

Even if it's just venting about other people's writing.

(Bonus peeve: Did I mention that plural words are NOT formed by the addition of apostrophe-S?)


Anonymous said...

What's the q-bomb?

Jo said...

The Q-Bomb is what happens when your eyes glaze over at the lack of creativity and you just sort of... ... ...drift.

Anonymous said...

Yeah--and how about choosing the correct "their, they're and there"? Seriously, weren't people paying attention in second grade English?

Another one of my peeves: posting in all CAPS (are you shreaking?) or all lower case. Oh--and spelling things that begin with the letter 'c' with a 'k' (as in Kountry Kafe).

Bardiac said...

Want to come teach my first year college writing class?

You'd have fun, really. No, really!

Penny Mitchell said...

Okay, so, seriously...when writing to my dear friend Jo that I got all A's this semester, I would really like to write that I got all As but it just does not look right.

I TOTALLY agree about the overuse of apostrophes in this country. But in this case, I bow to peer pressure.


shrimplate said...

Something that can be very interesting about writing but seems to be a lost on many who do it is that writing need not have a point.

At all.

Having said that, I fucking agree with everything in your post.


Anonymous said...

Pssst, Anonymous. Auntie Jo asked me to tell you that you didn't ell-spay eck-chay.

For next time, note that "shreak" isn't a word, but we have one like it in English, which we call "shriek".

Best wishes,


may said...

this explains so much. now i know why you never read my blog.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful... I almost shot iced tea out of my nose after reading this...

Now I have to go back to my blog to see if Auntie Jo was directing any of this towards me...

I do admit to being guilty about the pronoun agreement thing that I was sure was going to be one of the points, given the title of the post...

I always use "they" instead of "he" or "she" when detailing patient stories... My way of deluding myself into thinking I am HIPPA-compliant...

Hmmm... can you spell-check a comment???

Jo said...

May: *snooooork*.

Er, I do hope that was a joke.

Lola said...

Nice! I'm going to pass this along to my husband, who used to teach newswriting to undergraduates. I don't know how he can stand to read our local birdcage liners, but he does. One of my huge pet peeves in terms of language is the use of impact as a verb, as in "She really impacted those sales." It has become accepted as correct usage in corporate America, and it should not be! Next up--"impactful." That's my next language pet peeve...

Thanks Jo!

Joy K. said...

Lose: 1. misplace 2. allow another to win

Loose: not tight.

How hard is it?

Anonymous said...

Kudos, all of you. It pains me to see that some folks mistake the ease of blogging for a license to suspend the rules of conventional syntax or common sense. And it's so nice to see that I'm not the only one bugged by it!!

Anonymous said...

As usual, all I can say is "Right on,
right on, right on."

That, and could we puh-leeze remember subjective mood. Example: "If I was a cad, I apologize." "If I were a cad, I would never apologize." I mean, how hard is it, people?