How Do We Learn to Communicate?

omegaword.comThe other day, someone made the comment that blogging is just like e-mail, except more people read it. I think the guy was referring to the method of transport, and probably the fact that both are generally a collection of words. But it struck me as ironic, specifically because of that huge difference in readership. Last month, Technorati reported the creation of a new blog every second, was tracking something like 37 million blogs, and 50,000 posts per hour. Elsewhere, I read there were only 23 known blogs at the beginning of 1999, so it's beginning to look like there really are quite a few people out there who like to write, after all. Of course, not all those blogs are written in English, but probably more than enough to make lots of English teachers very happy.

Or very sad, depending on how all these new blogs are executed. I've seen a lot of very well-written blogs, and not all are published by large organizations with teams of professional writers at their disposal, eithernot by a long shot. But then there are others that really make you work to understand what the writer was trying to say. So this made me wonder: what about all the people who are now under tremendous pressure to write a blog, or die? Your boss has suddenly become hyper-aware of the blogosphere, and now you're responsible for cranking out a daily essay. Or maybe you're completely on your own with it; maybe you just want to reach out to your customers, or prospects. Unless you're planning to do the audio-blog thing, this is going to involve a lot of words. Sending e-mail to your friends and family is a fairly safe proposition, and even an exchange through your corporate intranet isn't in the same league as a written broadcast to the planet. Your friends and family will still love you if written communication doesn't happen to be your strong point, and your coworkers are probably more interested in content, too. Your blog, on the other hand, goes flying out to millions of potential readers, and not all are as forgiving as your mother.

But there's hope. I've noticed a lot of the errors that creep into otherwise intelligent writing are caused by little more than the misunderstanding, or misinterpretation, of a few basic rules. For example, there seems to be some confusion about the proper execution of a sentence such as Wanda and I went to the mall. While most people understand that it's courteous to put yourself in second place, the old I vs. me problem continues to cause problems. Wanda and me just doesn't sound right, and it isn't. But what if the sentence looks like this: My old car isn't an embarrassment for Robert and I. Maybe the sound of someone and I has just been hammered into a lot of heads in grammar school; maybe it's the only combination that sounds right after a while. Of course, the sentence ought to be My old car isn't an embarrassment for Robert and me, but why?

If you take the other person out of the sentence, and the sentence is still okay, you're good to go.

What could be simpler? Without Robert in there, you would be left with My old car isn't an embarrassment for me, which obviously sounds a lot better than My old car isn't an embarrassment for I, right? Right.

Anyway, there are other examples, but tomorrow is another day, and hopefully another blog post. By the way, if you happen to be an English teacher, or an English teacher's student, please don't gun me down for all the sentences that start with or, and, or but. I don't want to turn this blog into something too formal, at least not right now. I know you'll understand.


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