Yes We Cam

Why can't we punctuate into the 21st century?

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Dec. 3, 2008

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I've been pretty tolerant up till now. But I've never been satisfied with the printed convention "Web site," "Web page," etc. It's distinctly old-fashioned, like funny hyphenated "to-morrow," "teen-ager," "yester-day." Effective for The Onion's history articles; pretty annoying for everything else.

But now the contrast is especially glaring. A few weeks ago, Google continued its quest to make our lives immeasurably better by introducing video chat. While Google is perfectly contented to plop us down in the middle of the 21st century without a blink, the coverage has been embarrassingly old-school.

"In a way that even e-mailed photos never could, the Web cam promises to transcend both distance and the inability of toddlers to hold up their end of a phone conversation," reads an article that sat atop The New York Times' most-emailed list for a few days last week. How on earth do newspapers expect to compete with the Web when they write about it so ridiculously? Also: Who still writes "e-mail" with a hyphen?

Speaking of hyphens, they exacerbate the Web problem. From the same article: "If Nana is at work, without the Web cam-equipped computer she bought to visit with him, Coulter's mother, Elizabeth, sometimes puts her on speakerphone." Ick.

Taken alone, I could almost deal with a capitalized, one-word "Webcam" or a lowercase, two-word "web cam." But this way? That's like instant-messaging on AIM. So 1998.

Feeling Con Trite

A reader wrote in with a few fun "Grammarian gremlins":

"A lot of innocent bystanders were injured." What are guilty bystanders?

"The injured were taken to a local hospital." Not a far-away hospital?

My old arch nemesis Punctuation Man is passionate about these: tired old cliches that don't mean anything, including phrases like "tired old cliches" and "that don't mean anything." Which one gets on your nerves the most?

There might not be anything grammatically wrong with them, but they make our language clunky and ugly. When it comes to indignities against English, wordiness is just as galling as an excess apostrophe.

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1. etotheb said... on Dec 3, 2008 at 05:13AM

“Are you telling me "until" can now be shortened to "till," as you did in your first sentence? That makes me want to vomit in horror.”


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