Grammar wears cut-offs in email

I have sunk low. From the formal correspondence with perfect spacing that I learned to execute back in grade school – letters hand written, of course, in slow loopy cursive – I have adopted a curt and, I’ll admit it, error-filled email style. If there’s a salutation at all, it often runs like a dog from a car parked lakeside straight into the body of the email. Sometimes I dispense with paragraph breaks, making the whole one solid block. And I frequently sign off with nothing more than a “Cheers.”

I haven’t yet dispensed with capitals as a rule; but if a few slip by me, I’ll turn my head and them go, excusing myself with some e.e.cummings reference or the thought that “i” instead of “I” might be taken for humility. Hah. Simply considering myself alongside e.e.cumming would seem to suggest that I am no “i.”

As for other grammar, things fare no better. I have always loved the dash, the elegant em-dash (not to be confused with the en-dash, which steps in for “to” when a word won’t do, or with the hyphen, which you see here), and email is like the enabling “just one more” friend. So, too, with ellipses that sprinkle from my typing hand like sugar.

I try to keep it tight when it counts; but “send” is the siren near shore, and I succumb, though careers and friendships may founder on the shoals. I still regret using the plain old past tense in an exchange with a literary agent when the past perfect would have been better. And in a recent note whose recipient is a delightful acquaintance, I stuck an explanatory phrase in a misleading spot with the possible effect that she’ll think her verbose (she is not) when I actually meant the “much” to refer to my enjoyment of her work.

Still, I am ever so happy that with the stroke of a key I can communicate instantly with people far away, do quickly such housekeeping things as coordinating family calendars or sharing travel itineraries, alert a colleague to a discovery she might find valuable for her research, or tell a friend that I’ll hit the $1.99 movie theater that night, 7:15 show – join me?

Grammar counts, don’t get me wrong; and formality in correspondence is still as important as table manners for enabling a comfortable environment of respect for all parties. But I’d like to think that just as sometimes it’s okay to put your elbows on the table and talk after taking a bite, so a typo here or there, extra exclamation points, the absence of “Sincerely,” or sending a single lump of a note can still accomplish its purpose: a congratulatory “whoop,” a clarifying detail, connection with a dear far friend, groceries that need fetching,…

Okay or not, we do the best we can with the human constraints of time, inclinations to failure, and the buoyant need to say “hello” every now and then. I’m all in favor of good grammar. At the same time, to email’s bending the rules in new and creative ways, allowing folks an easy way to connect, I say “Cheers!”

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