Thursday, March 26, 2009


Been thinking a lot lately about words and language and the internet. I've always been a word buff and love learning new words. I like to use precisely the right word when possible. (Sometimes, as I get older, they seem to go missing.) Nuances, subtle shades of meaning are important.

It has always irritated me when people say,"Communicating on the internet is hard," or "It's too easy for things to be taken the wrong way." I've had people misbehave on my email lists for years and then blame those who took offense for not understanding them properly.

But think about it: Is communicating in writing on the internet any different than communicating in writing on paper? I don't think so. What is different is the amount of thought that is put into it. People will say that spelling and grammar don't matter in email, but those conventions exist for a reason. They make communication clearer and easier. People will write things in an email that they would never commit to paper. They will send an email un-proofread because it's just email.

Sometimes, too, I think that people do not communicate well on the internet because they don't read well. They skim. And all too often, between the sloppiness of the writers and the lack of skill of the readers, the meaning gets muddled.

Then, too, I have seen people write things on the internet or in email and then express surprise when they draw an unfavorable reaction. They almost always say the same thing, that the offense is in the mind of the reader. But in reality, the offense is in their words. People seem, for whatever reason, to more readily deny the clear meaning of their words online than in print.
Maybe it is because much of online writing is done in haste. I, personally, have a read-three-times-rule for any writing that is prompted by emotion. After I write it I make myself go back at least three times and read it, with at least thirty minutes of thinking about something else in between. This has saved me from many emails and blog posts that were better not shared!

For this communication thing to work, online or off, people need to understand what words mean, use them properly and carefully, and then own them. If we want to communicate more effectively online, reading effectively written items--good books, old letters, even well-written blogs--can be a tremendous help. And we should always, always give things a second read--I usually do this aloud--just to make sure that we are clear in what we are saying.


The Parson's Wife said...

Hmmmm, I think, er, uh, you may be speaking of me. LOL

Petersen said...


Jane said...

Nah, TPW.

I read your blog when I want a dose of pure happy.

Your writing gives the sense of your joie de vivre and is always very clear. :)

Elephantschild said...

What your pastor said.

Unknown said...

I agree with you that people need to think about things before they write them, at the same time I do think that expressing oneself through writing can be difficult. A blunt person can seem offensive and rude when there is no body language and facial expressions accompanying what they are trying to communicate. It isn't the writing itself but the absence of those other indicators that we take for granted when have an "in-person" discussion that I think cause the difficulties. I've given up most communication online because I just don't have the ability not to offend most of the time.

Adriane said...

You bring great joy to a proofreader and copy editor's little heart. What you said . . . x 2!

Susan said...

Sometimes it's not carelessness in words, but that the words betray what was previously hidden. The carelessness may not be a miscommunication, but an unintentional communication of what the person ought not to think, and especially not communicate. I know I do that, and I think everybody does sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Very well written! Amen!


Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake said...

Heartily agreed. English is the most expressive language (if certainly not the most precise) ever to emanate from the mind of man. The non-apology of "I'm sorry you misunderstood me" is a cop-out, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

I think it is very true that misunderstandings can take place because of lack of body language to cue you...however, we all know that. We know that we are communicating in writing and that the other person cannot see us, thus should take more care to express what we mean.

I get into more trouble in forums because I'm more careless and more likely to make an offhanded comment, or assume the people know me well enough to know I'm not being serious. I don't do that on my blog, is just a matter of taking a moment to realize that none of these people really know me. Even if I've been conversing with them for years online.

Jane said...

Kim, I understand that difficulty, that is why we need to be careful which words we use. I think, too, that some people have a tendency to try to use body language that is at odd with the words. You see this a lot with sarcasm, where a person will say something pretty cutting and then wink, or laugh, or say "just kidding." This kind of dovetails with what Susan said about unintentional communication.

By the way, I'm definitely not talking about you. :) I know exactly what you mean about the bluntness issue. I've had to work really hard at writing in a way that conveys what I want to say without being too harsh. And I don't manage it all the time. :)

Evan--you hit on a major peeve. At our house we call that a "politician apology." :)

Dana-I used to get into so much trouble on forums!

Stephanie said...

Many times I would like to improve my written communication skills, but truthfully, where do you go to do that? Is there some sort of adult refresher program I can purchase?

Marie N. said...

This is why I enjoy reading your blog so much!

Thanks for sharing your technique (three proof readings separated by thinking of something else).