Monday, January 14, 2008

What Not to Write

By Mitchell

As read in The Corner at the end of last week, a wise person writes Jonah Goldberg as follows:

Hello [writes Jonah's correspondent] , I wonder if you could help me save my sanity. The use of periods in the middle of sentences in order to emphasize the gravity of a statement has to be absolutely the most annoying online cliche I have ever seen. [Jonah had described something as the "Most. Painful. Thing. Ever."] Everyone does it. Everyone. It was interesting maybe two years ago when whoever it was (you? I wouldnt be surprised) started this stampede, but I cannot take it anymore. Every blog, every commenter, every diarist, does it and thinks they're being clever.
Well, it isnt clever anymore. Now it's like the visual equivalent of the sound of a broken whiskey bottle being dragged across a chalk board. Please spread the word to your brethren that many of us toiling out here in Readership Land are about to snap. Much obliged!

[Jonah replies]: Noted! Actually, my pet online peeve are people who use the phrase "Just sayin'" as a cutesy way of saying something barbed. I've done it a couple times without catching myself. But I really can't stand it.

Both Jonah and his correspondent are right here. We try very hard at this site to be analytical, concise, and (on rare occasion) profound. What we don't go for is clever or cute, especially when it borders on snarky. To the items listed above I'd add, "Umm," which is almost always both cutesy and snarky. Forget about the broken whiskey bottle and the chalk board; it's a sure inducer of projectile vomiting. As anyone who reads our Rules of the Road knows, something like that'll get you booted right off this site, unless you're willing to pay an exorbident ransom to the Managing Editors.

There's nothing wrong with irony, as long as you don't allow it to become your world-view. It might have been fresh when it started, but by the time I wrote this description in my as-yet unpublished novel, the ironic lifestyle had already become a parody of itself:

In one of the front rows, I recognized Mark Westerman, the beat reporter from the Troyville Sun, Moon and Star, who’d been covering the campaign. Westerman was one of those smart-ass punks who figured that he’d do some time in journalism before writing the great American novel, wowing us all with his hip post-modern observations on the irony of life. In reality, the irony was that he didn’t get it, not at all, so busy was he trying to apply that post-modern spin of his to the political scene. He figured he was too cool, too preoccupied with being hip, to be seen talking to mere politicians; but he also knew that lowering himself to speak with them gave him the opportunity to talk down his nose to them in his articles, which would be even more ironic, and in an ironic kind of way this actually made him more diligent than most local reporters.

Life is rich enough in irony without having to pose for it, but the danger is that when you see life as being too ironic, you lose sight of most of what life is all about, especially meaning. And if you're trying to advocate a particular point of view, you're almost sure to find yourself preaching to the choir and turning everyone else away. And I think most of us are capable of better than that. Aren't we?

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