On November 18, 2020

Getting the point across

By Dom Cioffi

This is an actual group text I received a few days ago from a college friend: “Yo whoz goin 2 the re-union”

I scanned those words two or three times, cringing progressively worse upon each reading.

Forget the fact that zero punctuation was used or that the grammar was bastardized nearly beyond recognition, what got me the most was that my friend actually bothered to use a hyphen in a word that didn’t require it. (I mean, anyone who replaces “to” with “2” will generally not bother to search for the hyphen key.)

Besides being the laziest combination of words I’d ever read, I was also embarrassed that a personal friend of mine would allow such syntax to represent his thoughts.

And yet, I could not deny that his point was clear. I knew what he was asking (which is the point of the written word), but he conveyed it in such a way that the message was distracted by the delivery – at least for me.

Many of you will look at that “sentence” and think it’s not a big deal. And it would likely go unnoticed if it was written by a 20- or 30-year-old kid. But that text was penned by a married 50-year-old man with two children who has a college degree and owns a successful business!

I guess I’m in the minority these days because I still think the written word counts for something. I know most people will agree with that sentiment in theory, but in practice almost all of us have forgone good grammar in lieu of speed.

I’m at the other end of the spectrum, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. When I text, I write in fully structured sentences and utilize precise grammar. I never let a misspelled word seep through and I’m always careful to make sure my message cannot be misinterpreted.

Texting like this can be tiresome because it requires constant attention.

Up until a couple years ago, I also had a horrible disdain for emojis, viewing them as pale substitutes for exacting grammar. However, I have succumbed to these tiny visual aids, realizing that they can be helpful in conveying subtlety and nuance.

I’ll be honest, I’ve tried to break this perfect texting habit. A couple years ago, I made a concerted effort to drop punctuation and capitalization, convincing myself that it was a means to faster communication. In the end, all it did was give me anxiety. Every time I hit “send” on one of these cob-jobbed missives, my heart rate would shoot up, fearing the recipient would either identify me as a millennial poser or an idiot.

I decided that, while I text much slower than average, I cannot deny that I am someone who enjoys fashioning well-constructed sentences.

I blame my texting handicap on my years working as a newspaper editor. Those in the profession know that to be a good editor, you have to understand every corner of the grammar and punctuation universe. It is inconceivable for an editor to allow poor writing to be published on their watch, taking it as a personal affront when something slips through.

So, when I see the written word, my brain has to scan it for accuracy. It’s a burned in habit (and highly annoying when I’m trying to read for pleasure).

In many ways, it’s like a game: There’s a thought to be conveyed and you have to come up with the best way to convey that thought in the least distracting way without destroying the author’s original voice. That means the reader cannot know they are reading; the thought must bleed from the words with zero distraction.

I’ve tried to convey this grammatical appreciation to my son, but he simply stares at me with a glassy-eyed look that says, “What rock did you crawl out from under to think that constitutes fun?”

Nevertheless, one of the deals I have with him is that I’ll pay for his monthly phone bill, but he has to text me in clear and concise sentences – or I take the phone away. I can’t tell you how many times he’s texted me and then gets frustrated because I won’t reply. Inevitably, another text will arrive, this time with a sentence or two that resembles something from the planet Earth.

This week’s feature, “Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds,” is a new documentary from Werner Herzog that details some cosmic visitors that are definitely not from the planet Earth.

Apple TV+ just released this film, and while it does seem a bit rough around the edges in terms of production, the content is genuinely intriguing.

Check this one out if you’re in the mood for a compelling interstellar documentary that will undoubtedly make you feel even smaller than you already do and certainly teach you a thing or two about meteors and comets and how their presence influenced mankind.

A spacey “B-” for “Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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