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Circuit Breakers

Rosie Right

As e-mail proliferates, those of us who use it note that there are forms of expression which are unique to the medium. For example, :) in e-mail expresses happiness, while in regular writing it's just a couple of punctuation marks. But it had not occurred to Rosie that e-mail grammar could be challenging the rules of writing as we know them.

On Thursday, March 29, The New York Times in its Circuits section ran an essay by Bonnie Rothman Morris titled "A Comeback for Writing but Not Necessarily for Eloquence." It begins by telling us that as more people wrote e-mail, "[t]he verbal play and inventiveness of spoken conversation was able to jump the barrier into the new medium and get combined with visual things.

"But the e-mail-chat culture may be ushering in the demise of the things that sustain it: grammar, syntax, spelling and, eventually, because of the visual shorthand, hypertextual nature of the medium, possibly even some words. …

"A typical e-mail message does away with commas and capital letters, and is riddled with misspellings, some of which are deliberate, most probably not. There is a lot of white space because the return key functions as punctuation. Acronyms and little pictures, called glyphs or emoticons, communicate thoughts and impressions."

Rosie is all for keeping up with friends and family, and e-mail has helped her do that, but it is a worry that somehow we are trashing the correct use of words and are leaving Miss Thistlebottom's rules behind.

The only comfort that the Times article supplies is a number of respected writing teachers are not frightened of the changes. William Zinsser, author of "On Writing Well," is quoted as saying that "anything that takes away the fear of writing has got to be healthy."

Besides, the Times notes that the only e-mail missives people seem to take great care in writing are love letters. In the end, love conquers all.

So don't be :( about e-mail, grammarians. Be :).

Reports from the field:

Friends have called Rosie's attention to two signs they have seen prominently displayed by medical supply stores:

Incontinent Products

Diabetic Shoes

I don't believe any of us want either of these around the house.

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1707 Summit Ave, Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail

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