The Editor's Soapbox

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “”A society can be judged on the basis of how it treats its prisoners.”” I happen to think this is true in many respects.

However, since I have been at college I have come to my own alternate conclusion regarding criteria for judging our society: e-mail.

Before I go on, I feel it is only fair that I mention that I am a copy editor here at the Guardian, and in the media world, copy editors are notorious for being nitpicking, unreasonably anal grammarmongers. That being said, I shall now continue.

I am now in my fourth year at UCSD, and I began using e-mail on a regular basis my first year here. Since then, I have become thoroughly disgusted with what I encounter each time I wearily sit down at my computer and reluctantly check my Microsoft Outlook inbox.

Now, I’m not one to brag, but I usually have somewhere in the range of 10 to 15 e-mails waiting for me when I check at the end of the day. Aside from the junk mail, there are invariably two or three messages that just make me cringe.

For some reason, many young people seem to think that the rules of the English language don’t apply when it comes to electronic mail. I say “”young people,”” because when I get messages from my parents or older relatives, they are usually composed of complete sentences, paragraphs, and even some capital letters appropriately placed here and there.

I think I know a couple of people who have yet to touch the shift button on their keyboard while writing me an e-mail.

UCSD is supposed to have pretty sharp individuals studying here, but I have gotten some e-mail “”messages”” from these people that should constitute basis for their demotion back to first grade.

The next time I get an e-mail along the lines of “”yo bring that cd tomorrow you know the won i lent you this wknd alrite then thanx ;-D.”” I’m going to lose it.

There is one notable exception to my wrath: the drunken e-mail. I actually think those are pretty funny.

I know what you’re thinking, but I am not a total freak. I am just special and unique — at least that’s what my mom told me. I don’t have any problems with the occasional typo in a quickly written e-mail. I don’t even really have a problem with the fact that not everyone knows the difference between “”accept”” and “”except.”” These can get a little tricky in the middle of the night, which is when a good amount of the e-mail I get is created.

What I do have a problem with is “”emoticons.”” Emoticons are those short strings of punctuation made to look like faces. Every time I see one of those little pieces of crap, I get the gag reflex.

First of all, every lame punctuation face I have ever seen has to be looked at sideways. Second, they are so disgustingly cutesy, their use should be reserved for schoolgirls of junior-high age and younger.

If you cannot express your thoughts and emotions in a typed message without resorting to gross punctuation misuse, you have some serious problems.

I also take issue with “”LOL,”” which apparently signifies “”laughing out loud.”” If you actually had to type that, it probably wasn’t that funny.

Also … I don’t think any form of writing abuses the elipsis mark more than the e-mail.

Now, I do realize that a lot of these bad e-mail habits come from using programs such as Instant Messenger and ICQ. Actually, besides their negative impact on e-mail style and social lives, I have no problem with these programs.

Because of the instantaneous nature of this type of chatting, it is fine to try to go as fast as you can, and if you’re a slow typist, using things like “”LOL”” and emoticons can help you get your point across quickly.

However, this is not the nature of e-mail. E-mail to me is exactly like a letter, just sent electronically as opposed to via U.S. postal services. It is almost as if “”e-mail”” is short for “”electronic mail.””

Before the Internet, when people actually sent letters to each other through the mail, I doubt they drew little emoticons after every sentence. They actually took some time to make sure their letters were worth reading.

What I think many students don’t understand is that their e-mails actually reflect on them. I can say that I have better impressions of people who send me well-written messages.

I know not everyone judges others on the basis of their grammar skills like I do, but I’m sure most people, if only subconsciously, actually do consider horrible e-mailers with less esteem.

It is hard, at least for me, to take someone seriously who sends me sideways, buck-toothed, winking smiley faces. I seriously doubt they were actually making those faces while they were writing.

Then again, I’m also against those “”Visualize Whirled Peas”” bumper stickers.