Work of Art - Adding s’s to our yes’es

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By Art Trujillo

The first thing I reach for in reading a newspaper is the opinion section. And when going online, to read other newspapers, I click until the editorials, columns and letters to the editor show up.

In short, I luuuuve to read other people’s opinions. But that (reading others’ opinions) comes with a price: namely fighting my urge to correct people’s spelling, grammar and punctuation. Often, I miss the points others make because I’m too busy chasing commas, run-on sentences and words that dangle.

I’ve noticed a gradual decline in people’s ability to spell: the your/you’re issue appears insoluble as does the wont of some to over-punctuate.

Let me explain:

A friend and I have a term for the excessive use of punctuation. We’re both familiar with a young woman who likes to belt out her punctuation marks, like this !!!!! or interrogatively, like this: ????? We even tack on an “ism” to her name to give the term legitimacy. Our belief is that “less is more,” and that “you can’t hear when everyone’s screaming.” Each added mark of punctuation screams, and how much screaming can we tolerate?

Imagine the scenario waaaaay back in the ‘60s, when I carpooled with a fellow teacher thrice a week, from Zuni to Gallup. The rules were that the driver determines what we listen to on the radio. That was a loooong time before the advent of tape and CD players in cars, so our choices were one of two radio stations in the area.

My car-mate, Viola, liked to listen to music while speaking loudly. If I winced, in a manner that indicated I failed to understand her, she’d get loouuuuder, but in doing so, she’d also crank up the radio.

Two seconds later, the radio would be toooo loud, so she’d crank up her own volume. Radio not loud enough? No problem; let me turn the knob juuuussst a touch.

And experiences like that convinced me of the goldenness of silencio, or at least of modulation.

So now we have issues with volume, elongated words and non-stop punctuation. Locate an online discussion and you’ll find someone invariably peppering his or her pronouncements with a plenitude of problematic punctuations. A common post will read like this: “How can we cope with a $15 trillion deficit?????

Once, because an Internet poster kept making repeated appearances — fraught with multiple marks of punctuation — on the comment section of the Sacramento Bee, I sent a post with some 50 exclamation points and 25 question marks, tucked neatly between brackets, at the end of my post, inviting the previous poster to feel free to use them as needed. We feared there’d be a shortage wrought by that exclaiming, questioning wastrel.
The March issue of Atlantic contains an article by Jen Doll, titled, “Why Drag it Out?” It’s about the tendency of some people not only to drag out speech but writing as well.

Accordingly, a modern text on a cell phone would read, “Hiiiii” and “How are youuuuu?”

According to the writer, “Adults are adding o’s to their no’s, s’s to their yes’es and i’s to their hi’s.” And Dell correctly points out that “like” is used for quotations and “so” for intensification. So like get used to “I’m like ‘wow, that’s so funny.’”

• • •

I left the teaching of language more than 10 years ago and thus missed the coming of texting, in which people believe they need to use elliptical, telescopic communication in order to finish before the traffic light changes.

I suspect that the use of initialisms, such as LOL, YOLO, OMG and LMFAO will be with us forever, and indeed some already have been. I was writing “because” on the margins of student papers waaaay back in the ‘60s, when they’d write “co’s.” And we’ll never solve the there-they’re-their problem, but I still keep trying. My worst nightmare involves my lecturing to an English class and having a student raise his hand to ask, “Can you explain the difference between ‘lie’ and lay’”?

One conscientious student (not in my nightmare), who later became an editor, asked me if I could explain the there-their-they’re conundrum “once and for all.” I couldn’t. If 16 years of schooling failed to teach him, how could I expect to do it in 10 minutes, especially when on deadline?

We’ve all heard people lament that the written word simply can’t carry the nuances of spoken language. In face-to-face contact, or even on the phone, we can use tones, pauses, volume, registers to convey anger, anxiety, joy, pleasure, etc. It’s harder to do so in writing. It’s easy for the written text simply to fall flat.

And maybe that’s why people try so hard to have the written message replicate speech. Maybe that’s why people write “Hiiiii, how are youuuuu?”

Welllll, try it. Imagine yourself as a state legislator who favors keeping senate and house emails out of the prying eyes and hands of the pubic, but you also want people to believe you’re at least open-minded.

So when it’s your turn to speak, you utter a “welllll . . .” and that can only mean, “My mind’s not made up yet.”

This topic needs to end now, as it’s become waaaaay too complex.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 234, art@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.