Blogging Pet Peeves

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I'm going to do something I rarely do. A close examination of some of the comment threads on this blog, particularly the longest ones, should show that this is rare. I have very high standards for exactitude in spelling, grammar, and style when it comes to writing and often speaking, but I refrain from making a big deal about it with others online except when it leads to unclarity.

Those who have known me the longest can testify to this. I've reigned it in quite a bit since high school, but it's a fight. In my younger days I would deliberately point out things that, if taken literally, would mean something extremely unusual. It was a sort of joke, and for some reason most people don't understand just how funny it is to think about what our words would mean if we meant them literally. In fact, they somehow found it annoying that people might enjoy thinking about such things. That's something I'll never understand.

Anyway, in the interest of good discussion I don't bother to spend time talking about mistakes in commenters' or other bloggers' writing (unless it really affects the meaning or unless it's in response to someone who is being a pedant themselves). I do find a number of things to be at least a tad annoying, though, and in many cases they're innocent things, so holding my tongue, or as it were my fingers, is desirable but hard. Since I allow myself in my milestone posts to do things I don't normally do, I've decided to use this, my 950th post, to express some of my blogging pet peeves.

This is not directed at any individual, and I don't have a hit list of those who read my blog who have done these things. Perhaps this will give you a reason to change your behavior if you do any of these, but I'm not doing this to complain about any particular person or act. Some of the items in the list are incredibly annoying and thoroughly immoral, and don't think I intend to classify the minor in the list as morally similar merely because they're in the same list. This is just my outlet to express things that I wish people didn't do.

Some of these have to do with simple issues of writing, whether spelling, grammatical, or stylistic. Some are about the meaning of words. Some are about the things bloggers or commenters might do that I really wish they wouldn't do. I'm giving them in no particular order. Well, it is a particular order, since it is an order. It's not an order based on anything important. There are surely other things I could list, and some of them are more important than some of these. It's just that these are the ten that came to mind first as I was trying to think of things that have bothered me in the process of having a blog.

1. I've noticed that a lot of people seem to prefer to call a blog post a blog. A blog is a weblog. It's a website that collects posts together. A post is one item in a weblog. Also, I sort of cringe when I see a blog post called an article, because I think of an article as something much longer and published in a journal. This one seems more of a stretch, whereas the first one just seems wrong, but it's something I find unfortunate.

Similarly, my sense of the proper naming of things is thrown off completely when someone refers to an email list as a site or a website as a list. It's a similar enough issue when people call my blog a sight. It's true that you look at a website with your vision, and thus it's understandable that someone might think it's called a websight. That doesn't mean the word came from anything to do with looking. It came from the word for location that sounds the same. It's a website.

2. I'll occasionally write a long blog post that spends a good deal of time dealing with an issue. The post will include presentations of and responses to certain objections. Then I'll discover that someone has commented on the post, and the substance of the comment is to present the objection that I had already explained and responded to in the post. This is annoying. It shows that the person didn't read the post, apparently thinking thinking they were familiar enough with the issue not to read it more carefully.

In some cases, it's even a long comment complaining that the post ignores the most obvious objections to the view the post takes, when in reality the post included a detailed rebuttal of that very objection, but they hadn't bothered to read it. That is more than annoying. I'm sure I've done it myself, but being on the receiving end shows me why it's worth avoiding.

3. I've been getting about 10-15 referrals a day from Google searches for 'homo sapien'. Presumably these are people who think the 's' is the plura ending rather than the final letter of the 'ens' ending of the present participle in Latin. 'Sapiens' is the Greek word for wise, and it's an adjective resulting from a verb form. That participial form is a standard Latin ending. It's 'homo sapiens'.

4. I've noticed that a lot of people have trouble capitalizing the 'G' in 'God' when using it as a name. Sometimes it's better to talk about a god (which requires the indefinite article 'a'). Sometimes you can even talk about the god (e.g. of a monotheistc religion or of a location or concept). Those are common noun uses of the term 'god'. When using it as a name, it should be treated the way all names are treated in English. You capitalize it.

I suspect people have this problem when they don't believe in a divine being, and they somehow think treating the word the way all other names in English work somehow lends credence to the existence of the being people generally refer to with that name. That's a silly idea, but even if it were true it wouldn't require abandoning the conventions of the English language.

5. It should go without saying that trollish behavior should make the list, so this one covers all of that. There's a wide range of trollish behavior. This includes hijacking a discussion to make it be about your pet issues, calling people names or otherwise insulting them in the place of offering arguments, insisting on interpreting things people say in the worst way possible, repeating the same claim or question over and over again when it's already been answered, etc.

6. A lot of people like to use an apostrophe followed by an 's' to indicate a plural. This is never the correct plural ending in standard written English, no matter how the word ends. Some irregular words have no change or a really idiosyncratic change between the singular and plural. Most simply add an 's'. Some add 'es' or double the last letter and add 'es'. Nothing adds apostrophe and then 's'.

Bad: John F. Kennedy and John F. Kerry are both JFK's.
Good: John F. Kennedy and John F. Kerry are both JFKs.

The first one makes me wonder which other JFK they belong to.

7. The most annoying behavior related to blogs, of course, is spamming. There isn't a lot that I can say about spammers that I'm willing to put on my blog without being more creative than I really want to be at the moment. At least there are ways now to deal with most of the spammers without having to delete comments constantly, but only a multi-level protection grid together with some watchfulness will really do it. Trolls, on the other hand, are much more difficult to decided what to do with. Since some trolls don't intend to be malicious but are just ill-mannered and ignorant, spamming is probably more evil, even if trolling is more annoying to deal with.

8. I can't do this without mentioning scare quotes. Quotation marks are for quoting someone's exact words. I see people using them in indirect discourse, when they're usually inappropriate. For instance, suppose someone doesn't like Dick Cheney and called him a fascist conniver, as someone I know did this week. If I take issue with that description, I might say:

Dan called Cheney a "fascist conniver".
Dan called Cheney a fascist conniver.

The first might be ok if the reason I'm using quotes is to indicate that I'm giving his exact words, though the second is also perfectly fine. Since I'm simply stating that he said it, I don't need the quotes. I could have said that he called him a liar. It seems excessive to me to say that he called him a "liar". Why do that if the expression is two words instead of one? With longer discourse, this makes some sense, but not with short terms like this. It just gets worse as the number of these things piles up. If the sentence makes perfect sense without the scare quotes, don't use them.

9. Some people have email lists where they send out emails every time they post something new on their blog. I asked to be on a couple such lists before I was using a newsreader to aggregate the blogs I read all in one place. Not everyone who does this sort of thing has been willing to wait until someone asks to be on the list. I realize that people who send out blog updates via email genuinely appreciate the people on their mailing lists who have left them comments and said good things about their blogs, but saying something good about someone's blog once or twice and leaving comments now and then does not amount to a request to be on a mass email list.

When someone has a good post they want me to look at, I welcome their desire to inform me about that. That's fine when someone knows enough about me to suspect that I might want to read that particular post. I may or may not actually like it, and if I like it I may or may not consider it link-worthy. When it's a few a week, that lowers the significance of each email, and when it's at least daily I usually just delete them unless some really catches me in the description. I can get 30 emails a day on a slow day and up to a few hundred when things are busier. I'm not angry at people who do this sort of thing. It's just not a very effective way of promoting a blog to overload people with impersonal messages at great frequency, and some people with very good blogs do this. I just pay attention less to those who email me more often with something that's important enough to be just one of many.

10. The thing I find most annoying about the comments sections of top blogs is the low signal-to-noise ratio. The noise is this case is mostly trollish behavior, but there's on sort of thing that might sometimes count as trollish but isn't necessarily. I reserve that term for repeat offenders. Some people just like to chime in their two cents without really contributing. I think that's ok when someone just wants to indicate agreement in supporting what someone says. I'm not sure why someone would bother to do it when disagreeing if they aren't going to explain why.

It isn't actually very helpful to me if I explain my reasoning on an issue and someone shows up and tells me that my post is stupid without saying why. This doesn't happen that often on my site, though some of my race posts have generated enough traffic that there were people leaving such contentless criticisms. What is someone trying to do by doing this?

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Outtakes
01.26.05
from the evangelical outpost on January 26, 2005 7:16 PM

Picking Nits -- Jermey Pierce lists some of his Blogging Pet Peeves: 1. I've noticed that a lot of people seem to prefer to call a blog post a blog. A blog is a weblog. It's a website that collects... Read More

23 Comments

I share your preference regarding the use of "blog" as an abbreviation for "weblog", but I have seen online dictionaries include "post" as a valid secondary definition. I can't seem to find any now, but I'm absolutely certain that in the course of an argument about this very issue I saw the latter definition.

P.S. I hope I didn't misuse quotation marks. If memory serves, at some point in my academic career I was taught to put marks around words when defining or discussing their meanings in a sentence.

A friend of mine has a huge problem with the web usage of "a lot". People are always combining them when they're talking about alot of problems and that sort of thing. She hated it so much that her boyfriend wrote a script for the message board system they operate which replaces "alot" with "I-am-a-moron-who-doesn't-know-that-alot-is-two-words".

:)

Funky, quotes around the names of words should be treated separately. In philosophy and linguistics, you don't talk about words without putting single quotes around the name of the word. So if I wanted to define 'race', I would talk about the word 'race' and not race as a concept. Some people do this with double quotes, but single quotes are the agreed-upon convention within philosophy and linguistics.

Scare quotes are altogether different. Those are usually intended to signal that you don't agree with the use of the term in that context but want to mock your opponents by using their term. Often it's just an excuse not to find a positive word of your own, so you use the word you say is not accurate. My point was that scare quotes are inappropriate in indirect discouse. In indirect discourse, you're simply reported that your friend said something. What your friend said didn't have that sarcastic use, so you shouldn't use scare quotes.

The problem with writing 'a lot' as one word is not limited to the internet. My students do it a lot on their papers. You'd think spell check would catch it. Actually, I think it does. What does that tell you about those students?

It surprises me that no one who does this realizes that 'a whole lot' wouldn't make much sense if 'a lot' is one word. Then again, people think 'a whole nother' makes sense. Oh, well.

Did you mean to say that you've "reigned it in quite a bit since high school," as in ruling over it? Or did you mean that you have "reined it in," as one would a horse so as to better control and restrain it? It could be either, I suppose, but (as a one-time copy editor) I've not run across the former. :)

I'm sorry: I forgot to say that I appreciated the post and read it with an eye to myself to see if I were* guilty of any of the annoyances you listed. (Maybe the email notices, although I asked people to let me know if they wanted to be removed.)

Thanks for the "Emily Post" guidebook to blogging (are my quotation marks appropriate?).

*One of my own anal-retentive pet peeves: the failure of many to use the hypothetical tense (i.e., "were" rather than "was") when appropriate. (Again, are the quotation marks . . . ?)

A few of these are rather subjective. Take, for example, the post/article matter. I tend to think of blogging and writing as two different things, even though they are on the same page and in the same format.

To me, a post is "This is what I did today" and an article is "This is something I wish to share with you about ____."

Does it make more sense when it depends on the kind of writing one is posting to the blog?

Doug:

When one posts a bulletin, is that personal or informative? Or can it be either or both?

Personally, I'd go with essay rather than article for the more informative posts.

But that's just me.

Jeremy,

I have wondered at the best terminology at times for certain things. People who are outsiders to the blogosphere don't understand and I really think the term weblog is a little less difficult to get as a concept. For insiders blog is cool in more than one way. I have switched between terminology blog entry and blog post to decribe a particular peice of writing. In a newspaper or magazine it is a story or article, but those don't work for a blog. If you could get us all on the same sheet of music I for one would be grateful.

Dr. MR: I think you might be right. I might be colored a but by all the bad puns, whether deliberate or not, in Christian worship songs involving 'rain', 'reign', and 'rein'. If I was trying to do it in this case, it was unconscious, but I wouldn't put much past the little punning homunculus in my brain.

What you're calling the hypothetical tense is normally called the subjunctive mood.

'Essay' is better than article, though it still seems wrong to me unless you call it a blog essay. I just don't think of something as an article until it's published. I've never heard anyone in academia talk about writing an article. They're writing a paper. When it's published, they might call it an article, but 'paper' is usually the preferred term even then.

A nice list. (2) is a major pet peeve of mine, as well.

RE: quotes: there are some cases where I think it is appropriate to use quotes to indicate direct discourse, even when it's only a single word that is being quoted. If I wanted to discuss a blogger who wrote, Dick Cheney is nothing but a neanderthal, I might very well say, Marty McBlogger wrote a post in which he described Dick Cheney as a "neanderthal". It would feel odd, if not necessarily incorrect, to leave the quotes off in that case.

About (4): how do you feel about noncapitalized "god" in a context like this? George Bush sets time aside every morning to pray to his god. That's not a proper name, but I think it's the sort of thing that some Christians might get upset about. Likewise, reference to the Christian god seems to meet your not-a-proper-name criterion.

Ack! I just realized that I call all of my online "essays" articles and all my fluff-stuff I label them as "blog". Maybe it's because the backend of my site uses such terms as "articles" and "publish" when describing alot of the frontend. I could help it. =)

Jonathan, that seems perfectly fine to me as far as grammar goes. There are weird elements of current convention, at least in the U.S. I definitely wouldn't correct it on a student paper the way I would if they're using it as a name but not capitalizing it.

Theologican and biblical scholar N.T. Wright argues that the way you do it in your examples is the best practice, at least for the project he's up to, which involves saying things like "the early Christians worshiped the same god as the ancient Hebrews".

I wonder if it's more complicated, because I suspect a lot of people who would capitalize it in the examples you give would think they're using it as a name.

6. A lot of people like to use an apostrophe followed by an 's' to indicate a plural. This is never the correct plural ending in standard written English, no matter how the word ends.

Not true, at least according to "Eats, Shoots and Leaves". Admittedly, that book refers to British English, as opposed to American English, but it does take pains to point out the differences between the two. According to ESaL, the plurals of individual letters require an apostrophe ("dot your i's and cross your t's"), as do the plurals of words ("What are the do's and don't's?").

Additionally, while British English doesn't require the apostrophe in the plural of an abbreviation, in America apparently, we still do. (Though I would argue, that it is increasingly acceptable to omit the apostophe when making an abbreviation plural.) Thus, "We sell CD's, DVD's and Books" is acceptable in either version of English, and the apostrophes might even be mandated in the American verion. This runs counter to your "JFK" example.

My sense is that this the way things used to be done. I think it might even have been done with all plurals at one point, not by every user because it was not standardized of course, but by many. There was also a common tendency to use apostrophes in past tense endings, e.g. Hume saying that someone chus'd to do something (now we would say they chose to do it). I think I remember the plural endings with apostrophe-s throughout Locke and Hume as well, but I don't have it at hand to look for any. My sense is that there has been a growing sense that you don't do this anymore in formal written English, and the last vesitges of it are still being removed. So this isn't some innovation in how to write plurals. It's more of an old fogey digging in its feet when all other plurals have moved on. I say it just needs to give in, mostly because it needlessly leads to confusion with possessives.

All good points. Amen to #2!

I don't think that apostrophes in plurals was ever considered acceptable in Standard Written English except for the cases I mentioned. Certainly Lynne Truss (author of ESaL) doesn't think so. The "chus'd" example is a semi-appropriate use of the apostrophe as the apostrophe is replacing an absent letter--in this case, the "e" from the "ed" ending. That follows the same rationale as why we use an apostrophe in contractions. But that example doesn't indicate that "'s" was ever commonly accepted SWE.

The "'s" for abbreviations seems to be slowly disappearing, but the "'s" for letters and words is still deeply entrenched. And rightly so in my opinion. There are almost no cases where such a use causes ambiguity; context almost always makes clear if the "'s" is a possesive or a plural for a letter or word or number.

Maybe you're right. I just looked through Locke and didn't see any of what I had thought I was remembering. I couldn't find my editions of Hume that keep the older spellings. Sam just moved my bookcase that contained those, and everything is out of order with some things seemingly gone altogether.

It annoys my family exceedingly that I love to correct their English. I even like to have mine corrected. Here's something that annoys me, not that you asked: words like [i]blog[/i]. Is it really so difficult to type [i]we[/i]? In case you're wondering, yes, I am difficult to live with.

The word 'blog' is a word in the English language. It existed and was in use before I knew about blogs. You may claim that those who originated its use were immoral or at best lazy. I won't take a position on that. I do know that the word is a genuine word now and in fact is now the preferred term.

Interesting post - I have a question about punctuation and quotes being used at the same time. I'm seeing American writers put punctuation outside of the quotes as you did in number 3: It's 'homo sapiens'. I would have written it It's 'homo sapiens.' which is how I was taught many years ago. Are we intentionally moving toward the British way of doing it, or is this sort a quirk of your own? I don't mean that in a rude way - I read a lot of British literature and my Bible is the AV and I often spell things the British way without thinking just because I'm used to seeing them that way.

The ' mark signifies not a quotation of someone's words but that I'm talking about the term in question. I can talk about the person Rodney, or I can talk about the name 'Rodney'. Since the name I'm talking about doesn't include the period, I don't put the period inside the single quotes. It's the same with the term 'homo sapiens'. If I'm talking about the classicatory category, I won't use quotes at all. If I'm talking about the term, I will. In neither case am I quoting someone's words, so that convention isn't relevant.

As for the quotation difference between British and American formal written English, I think I do both, depending on the features of the case in question. If I quote a whole sentence, it makes sense to put the punctuation within the quotes, because the end of the sentence quoted occurs and then you end the quote. If I quote a part of a sentence, but I say nothing after it, then there's no sentence end within the quotes, but I have to end my sentence, so I'll put it outside the quotes. So I tend not to follow either convention absolutely. I do what seems best, and this is a case where there might be good reasons to follow one or the other convention, depending on the circumstances. Not all conventions are arbitrary.

On the apostrophe issue, Geoff Pullum has offered a convincing account of when it should be used. It should not be used as a general rule for these cases but only when it would be confusing not to. You can talk about WMDs without using an apostrophe, but you can't talk about I's without doing so, or it looks like a form of the verb "to be".

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