December 2009


always hard 2 red

I must come out of the closet: I am a spelling and grammar Taliban.

Maybe that’s a bit too dramatic. I’m not perfect and I do take shortcuts along the way.

Ultimately my goal is to communicate ideas—and each as clear as possible.

I’ve ceded some strict middle- and high-school rules. I’m not as insistent that periods go inside quote marks as I used to be, and there are times that I’ll use a bit of British spelling and style inside an otherwise American paragraph or document. I don’t give an damn about split infinitives as long as the point being made is explicitly clear.

That said, I do expect people to attempt clarity and understanding.

Which brings me to always hard, the (relatively) famous blog written by a closeted teenager in Oxford, England. There are lots of people who love the blog and its author, one “Josh”, presumably a pseudonym. Honestly, I don’t know—I read the blog, initially titillated by the idea of a closeted teen exploring his world, but gave up because I cannot be bothered to take the time to figure out what he’s saying:

just saw nicholas outside putn lights on a christmas tree hes got, hes going away for a week over xmas nd asked if id feed dolce and pepsi. as a joke im like ‘ummm, yeh, but its gonna cost big time over christmas’ nd before i could say i was just messn around hes like ‘yeah of course, double rates fine’ nd then i felt awkward nd tried to say no, but he was like ‘really josh its fine’. hope he doesnt think im a twat. source

The thing is that yes, it’s readable and understandable. However when I’m faced with several paragraphs of this, it’s always hard for me to slow down and translate it into English that I understand. The blog is full of posts like this:

i hate it when everyone is talkn about girls, cos feel a bit arkward, nd i always know that its just a matter of time before some starts telln me that kaytee likes me. ffs nik was goin on and on, like propr questioning me like dad does, nd everything i said hes like ‘why?’ or ‘why mate?’ tryn to make it sound friendly. nik called alex a gayboy, sorta like jokin, well glad i didnt have that as well. source

Maybe it makes the blog more authentic, but it makes me wonder if the shift key on his keyboard is broken. It makes me wonder how you can go from awkward to arkward—maybe I’m missing the boat.

I gave up because I just couldn’t be bothered to try any longer—maybe that makes me a curmudgeon or some kind of Communication Taliban.

well embarrasing cos i saw frank walking out wh smith nd he saw me nd came over nd hes like ‘hi josh’ in the most gayest camp voice ever. i swear he did it worse than normal. was SOOO embarrasing. i said hi and stuff nd it was just arkward so im like ‘we gotta go cos we are getn the bus, bye’ nd i just turned around before frank even said bye. now hatty nd jess are sayin i was fuckn rude, nd kaytee said he will deffo sack me after xmas. feeling well bad now nd dont know what to do 🙁 source

Actually, I have to confess that when I do bother to read always hard, I wonder how easy it is to consistently misspells words the same way each and every time: arkward appears again.

I bring up Always Hard because I was just introduced to “a gay hockey kids life” (via Outsports). It’s written by a closeted hockey player in a, as he puts it, “boring burb of minneapolis.” Not Minneapolis, but minneapolis. (I have to force Word to accept the lowercase m, it swears the word is misspelled.)

sowe we met up wit some buds n this one kid is toly like the first kid i ever really had a crush on. i remember like sittin in church when i was like 12 n i guess i was starin at this kid … i mean i knew him cause he played hockey, but i was like starin n my older bro was starin too but at his sister, n he caught me n was like mikey u like her too, shes toly hot. im like man i dint even notice her but said yea she is. thats the thing, i just never even really noticed girls n dint think nething bout it till like later when im like man thats weird it must just be like some kinda phase but ill grow outta it. n i prety much thought that till like a year ago that id change and grow outta it. its sorta funny cause it was just like lil by lil that i realized that somehow i was like diff from all my friends and it started as like this lil weird thing, like i liked brocoli n they dint n like the longer its gone has become like this giant thing like im a hampster n there like elephants. source

From my perspective there’s a lot here to sympathize with because it resonates with me, and probably every gay guy upon reflection. But the run-on sentences—if you can even call them sentences—make it difficult to read. I might note that the above quote is only half of a paragraph. The blog is full of amazingly long (for the blog-o-sphere) paragraphs.

I guess I can understand the need to be creative with spelling and sentences in places where length matters—say when you’re texting or Twittering. Personally I find the 140 character limit on Twitter to be wonderful because it sometimes forces me to completely reframe and rethink what I am trying to communicate. I’ve had to carefully come up with alternative sentence structures and synonyms to fit within the limits and not abbreviate or use text-speak. For me it’s a game that I usually win.

There’s another reason I dislike constant misspelling and ignoring of grammar rules: it makes language hard.

Seriously, when I’m trying to communicate with people in textual German, I hate it when they use short cuts. It makes it all the more difficult for me to understand what they are trying to say, to figure out which words are the nouns, which is the verb, and grasp the bigger picture. Misspelled words (either accidentally or intentional shorthand) are the bane of my German existence. Sure, it’s probably easy for a native speaker to understand what’s being said, but I’m not. I don’t have the skills to recognize that the word is misspelled and fix it without second-thought.

Instead I spend 10 minutes wondering what I’m not understanding before realizing that a word is misspelled.

I doubt my blog is even close to perfect, either in spelling or grammar, but I try to make clear what I want to say.

4 comments to always hard 2 red

  • it took me about 5 posts before I managed to sync with Josh’s lingo (ffs. lol). after that it’s been easy coz he is almost always consistent and, of course, as I’m English as well, I’m used to the idioms he uses. I can also say that having chatted to him, he’s a toly (lol) nice guy.

    I’ve not read the hockey guy’s blog and there’s another that I gave up on, mostly coz the textspeak is inconsistent so each post needed too much deciphering.

    what must you think of my blog tho? I’m not exactly a paragon of linguistic virtue!


  • Wow! I thought my writing was horrible, but this stuff makes me look like an English teacher.

  • Dan Trinly

    Not used to reading what the new generation thinks of as language, it took 10 or 12 entries for me to figure out what ‘ffs’ meant. (Is my face red.) I’m glad I trudged through, because Josh has an innate sense of story. It’s nothing complex or subtle, just this natural way of keeping you interested. I have read his blog faithfully now and find myself rooting for him as he continues on his quest to, well let’s face it, to get laid. Start from the beginning and follow it, and it reads like a novel written by a very authentic voice. You’ll get the lingo eventually.

  • torchy!- Your writing is fine. I can understand it immediately and I am able to focus on what you say and mean instead of trying to figure out what you’re saying.

    Cynical Queer – I’ve never found your writing to be bad–an remember I spend a great deal of my life fixing other people’s writings.

    Dan Tinly – errr… I haven’t figured out what ffs means, possibly because I haven’t read always hard in great detail in awhile. Before torchy! vouched for Josh, I’ve often wondered if Josh isn’t really what he claims to be but is actually a professional writer writing as a teen, one who’s developed a very good and remarkably consistent voice. When I do sit down and read his work, I do find the story engaging and complex–and authentic. I do root for Josh ultimately… I just don’t read him that often.