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Saturday, August 18, 2012

MS Paint and Grammar

Let me get over with the harsh bits first. For someone who has been writing over a serious period of time now, I suck at grammar and choice of words. There's no point arguing: I'm just not decent enough.

There's good news, though. There are people who are worse at it. They simply cannot write English. Worse, they think they can. And I'm not talking about SMS language here.

SMS language is a world of its own, by the way. I agree that people who typically text each other
1. are awfully short on time: they need to calibrate (or whatever) space rockets at NASA, so typing an extra character or two may result in a catastrophe; hence the really long words like are, and, you, why are rather creatively replaced by r, n, u, y;
2. are pitifully low on cash: if the text message spills over 160 characters it might end up costing them a rupee; and even though they can afford a cellphone, a rupee is precisely what might lead to them turn up on the other side of the poverty line;
3. have not been taught a letter of the alphabet or two: they do not know the use of useless letters like s (z serves the purpose, multiple "z"s work even better) or th (d is good enough);
4. think inserting appropriate numerals in words make them look really cool (in2, w8, l8r are some amazing examples).

This is not an article about SMS language, though. This is serious stuff. This involves grammar. This is a handbook for the handful of people whose grammar is actually worse than mine. This also involves an assortment of creations in MS Paint.

I suppose I should provide a disclaimer here. My drawing skills are way, way worse than my grammar. The difference is so huge that you cannot even compare: the gap is more staggering than, say, Sachin Tendulkar and Kirti Azad. On a cricket ground. In 1998.

So what are the things that irk me?

1. Overuse of capital letters:
Some people are under the perpetual impression that it's perfectly normal for everyone to type with the Caps Lock on.

Consider the simple message:
Hello. I think Combiflam is a cool drug.

Compare this to

Internet etiquette suggests that typing with the Caps Lock on implies that you're shouting. So unless you're Mahima Chaudhry, there's no reason that you'd want to tear your lungs, even though you're advertising for the wonder drug that cures high fever, headaches and muscle pain at the same time.

However, this is getting more and more "in" these days, especially on Facebook.

2. Inappropriate use of capital letters:
There are certain rules in grammar that dictate where to use capital letters. This, for example, is a perfect example of how to use capital letters in a sentence.
My name is Zayed and my cousin cannot act.

This, unfortunately, is not an appropriate usage:
My Name is Zayed and my Cousin cannot Act.

Name, Cousin and Act are not proper nouns. They do not begin a sentence. They do not need to begin with capital letters. It is wrong to do so.

I will not discuss non-usage of capital letters here. Some people spend their entire lives without using a capital letter - e e cummings being perhaps the greatest example.

3. Overuse of ellipses:
The new millennium marked a revolution in the history of the ellipsis. With emails and social networking taking text communication to a level unheard of before, the ellipsis has virtually been able to replace all sorts of communication.

For example, in 1995, your friend might have told you
Hi, Rohit! It's nice to meet you. Seems like ages since we've met, doesn't it? I think you should realise the facts: you simply cannot bat; and are not good enough to play for India.

In 2012, the same friend might write on your wall
hi rohit..................nice 2 meet u...............seems like ages since v hav met...............think u shd realise da facts................u simply cant bat.................n r not good enough 2 play 4 india.................

Do note the following changes here:
a. the ellipses have managed to replace all punctuation marks
b. they have managed to replace a few words as well
c. they have varied lengths now, typically at least ten dots
d. it's not mandatory to put a space after an ellipse any more

All four are wrong. And all of them manage to put me off.

4. Overuse of the question mark and the exclamation mark:
It no longer suffices to use one question mark or one exclamation mark. The writer somehow assumes that the reader doesn't get the question or the surprise (or whatever emotion is involved) when one punctuation is used.

So what are the changes?
Calm, composed old-school music-critic:
What? Himesh Reshammiya is an awesome singer!

Excited, adrenaline-pumped music critic:
Wot????????????? Himesh Reshammiya is an awsum singer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Terribly excited music critic on alcohol, grass and Red Bull:
Wot????????///// Himesh Reshammiya is an awsum singer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11111

Taking the finger off the Shift key just before you finish your long sequences of question or exclamation marks is an art skilfully mastered to show off hyperactivity. It possibly also shows you're a dork, but that's my opinion.

4. Homophones:
Case 1: Lose vs Loose
Of all the homophone goof-ups, this one irritates me the most. It's not difficult to understand at all.
Lose is a verb. The verb is lost.
Loose is an adjective. The verb is loosen.

Consider a random fierce-looking tiger, for example. Now, when you say
The tiger wanted to lose its stripes.
You probably mean the following future for the particular member of the cat family:
Whereas, when you say
The tiger wanted loose stripes.
You probably mean this:
Note the significant difference. The first one looks cool. The second one looks clumsy.

Case 2: Your vs You're
Your means something that belongs to you. You're basically means you are.

For example, when you say
Fardeen Khan, your pomfret.
You probably are making the illustrious screen performer aware of his possession of a member of the pisces species:
On the other hand, if you say
Fardeen Khan, you're pomfret.
You probably mean the radical interracial semi-transformation the charming personality had to go through:

Case 3: There vs Their vs They're
Once you refer to a group as they or them, any possession of this group can be called their. They're is as simple as the honest they are, the apostrophe just adding to the aura. There typically refers to a location mentioned before.

For example,
Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt went to London. They saw an emu there.
This is substantially different from
Through uninhibited love and affection, the Indian wrestlers made the emu their own.
It's also different from
The Indian wrestlers have a pet emu now. They're really fond of it.

Case 4: Its vs It's
This is another serious issue. Its is used to denote "something that belongs to it"; it's stands for "it is". This is one of the most common errors. An easy way to tell one from the other (thanks to for the idea) is to replace the word by "it is" and check whether it makes sense.

Acting has its demands. An assortment of expressions is one of them.
This has a different meaning than
Hence, it's extremely difficult for Fardeen Khan to become an actor.

There are many, many other issues, like the overuse of apostrophes and a total apathy towards colons and semicolons. I intend to cover these aspects in details some other day, preferably with the aid of MS Paint - given that how proficient I've become at it.


  1. Fantastic! Especially the tribute to Fardeen that is interspersed throughout this article - from his cousin, from Aamir, from you, from all of India.

    Greatest actor in living memory!

  2. So we're having another session on pet peeves? Oh, goody. When people call me a Grammar-Nazi (and trust me, they do!), I wear it as a badge of honor. However, for all aspiring and accomplished Grammar-Nazis, there is an important (golden, even) rule to remember: there are always exceptions, and it is important to know them.

    Take, for example, the vile SMS language that you have justifiably excoriated. In this there are a couple of exceptions that we need to note. First, Twitter. You generally tend to ignore Twitter from these considerations of yours; I presume (I may be wrong) it is because you're not that active on Twitter. However, the stringently imposed limit of 140 characters does sometimes necessitate linguistic atrocities, like dropping of articles randomly, wilful omission of commas and periods, usage of short - even if slightly inappropriate - words, arbitrary abbreviations - a common technique being "disemvowelment", i.e. rmvl of vwls, and of course, the lamentable shortening of words to their single-letter homophones, such as 'you' to 'u'.

    Secondly, SMS language has given rise to some perfectly valid acronyms for phrases (which are also useful for Twitter and other social media fora). For example, IDK = I don't know; TTYL = Talk to you later; IIRC = If I remember correctly; AFAIK = As far as I know, and so forth. I guess, your ire should better be targeted at 'l33tspk', pronouced 'leetspeak', which is where your examples are from, in fact. There is supposedly a 'coolness' factor associated with them, but frankly, they seem quite stupid - to me at least.

    Now a few things about the rest of your writeup.

    Item 1. What is this overarching obsession with Combiflam? Good grief. I hope they are paying you a cut.

    Item 2. There are a couple of exceptions where the capitalization you described may be valid. First, When It Is The Title Case For Something. Secondly, especially in reported direct speech, sometimes the capitalization is used as an expression of emphasis. For example, Abhishek said grimly, "K-da, the Act of Courage may have been an act, an Act of Careful Orchestration."

    Item 3. I have a pet peeve in the other direction. There are people, knowledgeable individuals, who put in the ellipses correctly, but only with two dots. It makes me feel like tearing my hair out.

    Item 4. Very astute observation! In the internet parlance, overuse of exclamation marks is also known as 'eleventy one'. Can you guess why? I am sure you can!!!!!!!11111eleventyone.

    Item... Good heavens, man! Have you forgotten how to count? As for d rest of you're screed, what u hv written their is quite precious n Id not like to loose dat. I'm just playing with you man; hope I didn't give you a heart attack. However, in your example - "Acting has its demands - an assortment of expressions is one of them." - the em dash punctuation is best replaced with a semicolon, or the sentence ought to be restructured as: "Acting has its demands, an assortment of expressions being one of them."


    1. 1. I seldom use Twitter. I'm very inactive. Whatever I see is on Facebook, where there is no restriction on the number of characters.
      2. I have nothing against acronyms. I use them, but usually try to avoid them.
      3. Combliflam is a magic drug.
      4. I could have gone on about "capitalisation" (as I type this, I can see a Wren and Martin in front of me). But for whom? :(
      5. Apologies for the dash. I have edited it. With a period, no less. For the sheer impact of it.
      6. Oh, I have never seen two-period ellipses. Even if I have, I may not have overlooked them.

    2. Have You read "EATS, SHOOTS and LEAVES?" you must must read that gem of a will find lot of support for your cause there!

    3. Indeed. That's one of my favourite books. Thanks for the recommendation, though.

  3. you still can not get over Zayad Khan's cousin, is it not so ? :D:D

  4. While I feel this post is a little harsh, I do shudder to think what I would be reading all the time if I lived to be an old man.

    I say harsh because, I feel that things like email and text messages have come into our lives in a very short span of time, leaving lots of people in a situation where they had to adapt. In India, very few people in the generation before us were into computers, and if they were they wrote code in all capitals. So, it is not terribly surprising that some of them write emails in capitals (just to be clear, I don't do this myself, and I would not have an excuse if I did). Yes, you could say that they should have figured out the internet etiquette by now, but I am not terribly surprised. I don't think you (and on this I have similar feelings) would be appalled by the loose vs lose if you built your English guide at an age of thirty by looking at some online howto. Or the sms stuff (which I am guilty of). I find it extremely painful to actually type in a complete word on the typing interface of a cell phone. Maybe if I had stayed in India when the mobile revolution started, I might have felt differently.

    On the other hand the distinction between lose and loose has been strangely lost, in a lot of writing I come across on the net, (including online "news" publications. Sometimes, I also see them in print. This is truly revolting. And it makes me worry where things will go next. In our times, I think we moved off the existing model for important documents in somewhat educated families: "write it nicely in pen and take it to a typist" to "type in the document on your computer, and maybe take it to a printer facility". Are we headed towards the case where we will type it on the computer and take it to someone who knows how to write it decently?

    1. Well-said. I really appreciate your honesty. I have seen SMS language users defend themselves before. That is fine (though I really cannot see the difference in time required to type "into" and "in2").

      However, what strikes me is - these people write every single character while WRITING on paper. I wonder why.

    2. "(though I really cannot see the difference in time required to type "into" and "in2")."

      You are looking at the wrong quantity. The big difference is not in time but in effort or pain.

      "However, what strikes me is - these people write every single character while WRITING on paper. I wonder why."

      I lost you here. Do you mean on paper, they would write into as into rather than in2? Sure, writing this on paper (or sane computer keyboard) is easy and not painful. Why would I subject anyone to the"in2" treatment then? In fact I don't understand people who insist on using these words on a computer (and are comfortable with computers) or paper.

    3. Sure, the internet and text phones have come into our lives suddenly. But, I think the bigger question is, "what kind of effect is this having on the current generation of school kids?". I can tell you from personal experience that kids do not know the difference between its and it's, your and you're, their, there, and they're. I know they do not know the difference (or are forgetting the difference) because it comes through the papers and emails that they are writing. It is different to use shortcuts when required (ie twitter and text messages) but it is absolutely a different story when they use these shortcuts in papers, essays and emails to teachers/instructors and TAs.

  5. Hilarious!! Although I am using every bit of caution while writing this, as I am a part of the unfortunate species who has fallen prey to "ellipses" and many other grammatical maladies.But...What the heck! Toooooo...gooood:)

  6. U hav opened my eyes Nazi BaBu,
    I Was gettin epiplepsy fits thinking 'bout the future of grammer nd d a4said ovrdrive of ! Marks.Its a real holly molly u didnt went a step furthur to object the use of ma-bahened alfabet 'F' followed by stars.Some say,it is the intrusion of Linguistic marxism in language,but a literary pundit like u wud know better.
    Btw,Are you a fan of those who named roards after dead people?

  7. And will we get a post about VVS ?

    1. Yes. Right now too many memories of the legend. Choked up a bit. Will vent out soon.

  8. forget everything else; number 4-case 1 has made me feel like strangulating the offender on more than one occasion :)

  9. Hilarious! As much as I am guilty of having committed almost all of these grammatical crimes at some point of my life, I loved the post. :D

  10. In addition to my sentiments noted in above response to rgb, I must say I absolutely love the picking on Fardeen Khan. LOVE. :D

  11. phata phati likhechho
    tumi ekta boi bar koro. tomar sense of humour ta heavy

    Ronit(Mhua's son)

  12. Did you mean to say "Lose is a verb. The adjective is lost."?

    1. I noticed that too. It also happens to be the past and past participle of lose