Saturday 29 January 2011

The Sentence and The Internet

There's a fantastic article on sentences and how they can be constructed over at the FT. I cannot recommend it energetically enough. Imagine, if you will, that I am there in the room with you, brandishing a harpoon and with your loved ones trussed up in a corner telling you to click on the link.

Enough for you?

The one fault that I would find with the article is that it repeats the old canard that e-mail and the Internet are killing prose, that constant reading and writing have debased the art of writing by rendering it common and workaday.

This is tripe. When I was a child, back in the 1980s, communication was by telephone and entertainment was obtained from the goggle-box. My infant fascination with prose was therefore somewhat strange. It was a useless talent because nobody wrote letters any more. The advent of e-mail changed that. A fixation on the difference between apposite and relative clauses suddenly became a social advantage; an apt colon was no longer the preserve of sodomites. I felt as a survivalist must feel when the bomb finally drops.

Absence does not make the heart grown fonder; absence makes you forget. The crappiest lounge-bar pianist will have more appreciation of a virtuoso than somebody who has never touched a piano. Nudists are not wonderful judges of haute couture. Familiarity breeds knowledge, and knowledge breeds appreciation.

The last ten years have been a decade of prose: the first really prosaic decade since the manufacture of the radio. People spend all day every day sending e-mails and each e-mail has a purpose: deal-clinching, informing, party-organising, raise-demanding, joke-telling, introduction and seduction. People want their e-mails to succeed, so they think on their words.

An e-mailed joke must be funny without the aid of a winning smile and a funny accent. It must be constructed. Philanderers can no longer trade on a wink and a leer, they must get on a dating website and work on writing an irresistible profile.You can't spend all day wondering exactly how to phrase something, without beginning to see how clever Shakespeare was.

It may change. In ten years time we may all be communicating by means of smell or sonar. But for now, the wordsmith rules and the poet prevails. This is the age of the word.

The Inky Fool begins a long sentence


  1. "But for now the wordsmith rules and the poet prevails. This is the age of the word."

    Music to my ears- if I'm allowed such a mataphor!

  2. This is quite possibly the best argument against language decay theory that I've ever heard.
    Wait, no. Read. On the internet.

  3. I am tremendously heartened by this - I hadn't thought it through from that perspective but it is absolutely true. Hurrah for the written word!

  4. Bravo. English is not dead - see emails, facebook, blogs, twitter and so on. Well put, inky!

  5. I agree, whole-heartedly. Writers, writers everywhere...and some damn good ones at that.