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Such DFW. Very Orwell. So Doge. Wow. (techcrunch.com)
42 points by hackhackhack 1347 days ago | hide | past | web | 56 comments | favorite

tl;dr An article espousing the merits of postmodernism and the obsolescence of so-called "Standard White English" (formal English), while also being written largely in SWE itself.

Apparently, the "masses" read Reddit. Writing in formal academic English is for privileged white people and should be phased in favor of broken, anarchic, meme-inspired vernaculars, except on Wikipedia.

How charming.

DFW was mentioned and then I skipped the rest of the article to the comments. A commenter said "You had me at DFW". I felt the opposite.

I note with great amusement your use of "tl;dr".

It's a piece in favor of writing however you want to because CSWE is hard to express yourself in. It's not really in favor of meme-inspired vernacular ("a horrific mess") but maybe it's still better than constraining ourselves to formal English.

I'm not sure I agree with the part about people being mistrusted just because they speak that way though.

Would you make the same argument for programming languages? Should anyone feel free to code in whatever "vernacular" style he please, because living up to a defined standard makes it "hard to express [one]self"?

No doubt someone will attempt the argument that there is a qualitative difference between a language in which one speaks to a computer, and that in which one speaks to other people, but in this case I contend it's a distinction without a difference. The very reason why coding standards exist, after all, is because what we write in programming languages must be understandable to other people, no less than to the computer, and supine permissiveness as regards writing style impairs the legibility of one's code for the other people who must also read it.

Granted, it takes more effort to live up to the coding style required by whatever project one happens to be working on, just as it takes more effort to express a thought in Wallace's "SWE" than in whatever corrupt vernacular happens to be one's native pidgin. In exchange for this additional effort, one produces a result which is both more generally legible and more likely to be taken seriously. (On that latter point in particular -- would you have read this far if I were writing, not in that acrolect Wallace and his latter-day imitator so deride, but rather in my native Southern American English? Don't seem any too likely to me.)

If you're writing authoritative, reference-style code, then formal standards may be appropriate. If you're part of a huge project, writing code that is readable by everyone else on the project is simply a pragmatic thing to do. But standards can go too far even in those cases. I once worked on a project where we weren't allowed to depend on order of operations for math operators - we had to put parentheses everywhere. While it may have avoided some bugs, the coding style didn't allow for much self-expression.

When you're writing code for a smaller audience, or just one-off code for your own use, standards are much looser. If you're writing a one-liner in Perl, maybe there aren't any standards! And that's the point of the article. It doesn't make sense to apply strict rules about what you can say and how you say it when you're just updating your facebook status or making a blog post. I mean you could if you wanted to, just like "you can write FORTRAN in any language."

Yes, I would have read your post all the way through, and that judgmental attitude you reference is just what the author is arguing we should get rid of.

Granting arguendo that the phrase "self-expression" is useful, you seem to assume such activity is impaired both by the imposition (even the self-imposition) of standards, and by the quest for precision in one's use of language.

This assumption strikes me as highly questionable; if anything, lack of standards and disregard for precision in one's effort seems likely to make accurately saying what one means more difficult, rather than less so.

You can be extremely "precise" without conforming to a strict generic format chosen by someone else who didn't know anything about your project. I don't know why you consider conformity to externally-imposed rulesets to be equivalent to accuracy of expression.

Sonnets can be beautiful and meaningful, but imagine what a pain it would be if everything were written that way.

Why assume, as you seem to, that all standards originate outside yourself? Do you not require of yourself a certain level of quality and precision, the degree of both depending on project and audience, when you write either natural language or code?

Yes, and I feel like I have to translate when I'm writing for a general audience. Anything I write for a general audience is stilted because I have fewer options available.

English is a mix of many different influences, each of which was novel at some point in history. If people want to make up new rules to experiment with (like doge and ragecomics), that's not a bad thing. The more people we have who feel free to experiment, the more options we'll have in deciding what we want language to look like in the future.

CSWE is hard to express yourself in

This claim baffles and infuriates me.

My experience has been that it's endemic among people who don't care to go to the effort involved in fluency, but that doesn't really shed light on the question of whence comes the fallacious idea that "self-expression" necessarily implies imprecision. If anything, I'd argue that the opposite is true, and that successful "self-expression" relies on the precise use of language; how else, after all, to express oneself in the fashion in which one intends, than to do so as precisely as possible?

(In case anyone cares, I keep putting "self-expression" in quotes because all use of language is to some degree "self-expression", which makes the phrase so sloppy in meaning as to be essentially useless, save, I think, for purposes of self-aggrandizement; there seems some inherent presumption that placing something in the category of "self-expression" renders it immune to criticism, which even if true confers no more nobility upon the subject than that afforded to the finger paintings a youngster might bring home from kindergarten.)

It's natural to express my opinions and experiences in a first-person account including emotions. That kind of thing isn't allowed in Wikipedia or textbooks, and is generally discouraged in the NYT and school essays.

Write a novel, or poetry, or whatever form you find appropriate. I do disagree with the notion that one can't express oneself without resorting to colloqialisms, but on the other hand I have no problem with using such devices for self-expression if they're what works best. On the other hand, when I read a newspaper like the NYT, I'm not interested in the authenticity of the writers' self-expression; I want a clear and dispassionate report or analysis of current events, just as in an essay I want an exploration of a particular topic.

I'm afraid I find the entire Techcrunch article redolent of neo-Marxist critical theory, which I think is intellectually bankrupt and antithetical to progress, and which brings on an overwhelming desire to projectile vomit upon its nearest exponent, so I'm a touch biased about this.

It's not just colloquialisms, but entire dialects, that are not allowed. A small subset of the population just declared that they way they write and speak is "correct" and everyone else is inferior simply because it is different.

It's also a little unfair to criticize standard English for being largely what is spoken by white people. English is the language of English people. They are white. I would assume that standard Swahili, for example, closely correlates to language as spoken by primarily black people.

I don't have downvote privileges. But I found this comment to be condescending without adding anything to the discussion but sarcasm.

How interesting. I do have downvote privileges and found your comment to add literally nothing at all to the conversation.

Likewise and likewise. I never downvote for content; I do, on the other hand, quite freely downvote in cases, such as this, where there is no content of which to form an opinion.

I have my own long, long column I'm working on (for TechCrunch, no less) on this topic. Nice to see Jon chiming in, but I think he dismisses the usefulness of the type of essentially formal prose being replaced by more conversational stuff. If you ask me, it's important to consider the strengths of the old way as well as the new one, which is what I'm attempting to do (4000 words and counting...).

Also, I disagree with the idea that SWE, or however you like to define it, works as a "mask." I express myself best in that language, personally, and I suspect many others do too. Conventional, "prescriptivist" English is to me very powerful, because the words all have agreed-upon meanings and relationships -- when you break those down, you allow new modes of expression but you reduce cointelligibility.

Agreed, if you are trying to understand the topic and not the author, then injecting non-standard usage and "personality" is simply a distraction. There is something narcissistic about believing your writing should reflect you, rather than your topic.

And we call that poetry.

Oh, code poetry. 'Ni code, ni poetry' &c.

I'm willing to wager that future historians (combing, perhaps, through ancient metal disks found in strange sort of mausoleum in Utah) are going to be greatly annoyed at deciphering communications from current times.

One of the annoying side-effects of memes (doge, le, whatever the next thing from 4chan is) is that they put very heavy context into whatever uses them--they shade the meaning in a very particular way, and once you are lacking that context it becomes very hard to pull out meaningful information.

Uh, okay. SWE exists. It is cold, impersonal and so forth. What now, am I supposed to rebel? Burn a library? Ohmigod, I think that I'm The Man now. [commits suicide]

This is just a lot of jumping up and down informing us that there is gravity, that it exists and works, and that it is cold and impersonal. Somehow I feel I am not improved by the information.

You want to rail on language? Try reading an Army manual. Or just about any computer documentation (equal opportunity here, btw, but if you crave a villain: Oracle, and we've just gone Godwin...)

Apparently language standards are racist/classist/whatever against everyone except the people who made the standard.

Damn those British, oppressing me with spellings like "theatre" and "dialogue".

Not quite; there seems an implicit claim that oppressiveness exists along a gradient which, I can hardly resist observing, correlates closely with the average skin tone of those who employ a given dialect. On one end of this gradient, Wallace's "Standard White English" oppresses basically everyone on the planet save its few most fluent speakers; on the other, I've never seen anyone even try to make a claim of oppressiveness on behalf of, for example, AAVE.

John Zerzan claims that all language is inherently oppressive.

Not that I agree, but there you are.

From what I can tell, he seems to claim that everything since the invention of agriculture is inherently oppressive.

I suppose it's a point of view.

In the spirit of the article:

TL;DR write all the words! much slang makes doge happy. disregard old farts' style. acquire upvotes, much happiness achieved!


I, for one, love good longform journalism (e.g longform.org) and appreciate the consistent usage of SWE. I'm not convinced the OP article's claim that SWE can make a commenter seem less trustworthy to other users on sites like reddit. The links to popular comments in r/bestof and r/DepthHub are almost always written in SWE.

I posit that the author of this article has only ever read that one George Orwell essay[1]. If he had read any others he would have probably known better than to connect an author renowned for his clean, precise, journalistic prose to an argument about how such prose is outmoded.


For a guy who is trying to celebrate and identify with (possibly attach himself to) "the masses" for their nonstandard grammar, this guy sure comes off as pretentious. I don't think this is really about those topics. The author would just like everyone to know how smart he is for considering it.

While I don't love the author and carry no brief on his behalf, I would like to point out that "you're pretentious" and "you just want to look smart[er than everybody else]" are, in my experience, the two charges most commonly leveled against one who uses acrolect (the proper name for what Wallace calls "SWE"), by one who is incapable of doing the same.

Perhaps some do have such a reaction. I don't think this is the case for me specifically. He genuinely comes off as pretentious to me, and as someone who is very deeply interested in language I find the content intellectually vacuous. He hasn't really said anything, just made a few references.

"Doge" is even more childish and cancerous than ragecomics. In 2 years most of us will try to forget how popular it once was.

Still don't understand if it's supposed to be pronounced as dog, doggie, dougue. But perhaps that's the point? Either way I've had quite enough of it.

First time I heard of it was in the context of dogecoin which I assumed was something inspired by the Venetian Republic.

such ignorant, so confuse, nice doge


And this is why I'm not taking anybody serious using that meme. Using it is saying "look at me, I am retarded".

very hate, little understand, when love?

140 char limited tweets. So smart. So cool. Wow.

The intentional breaking of form takes more mental effort than just writing normally.

Good slam on the mentally handicapped, though. Good for you.

> The intentional breaking of form takes more mental effort than just writing normally.

Perhaps you confuse intentional subversion of form with arrant ignorance of same. Judging from my occasional trawls through the reeking open sewer that is 4chan, I'd call the latter plausible, at the very least.

It's not me bragging with or making fun of the lack of intellect.

This video[1], as far as I know, is where the word doge originated. Know Your Meme[2] agrees, for what it's worth.

1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLSgRzCAtXA

2: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/doge

If it helps, the English IPA for "doge" would be /doʊʒ/; if you need a key, Wikipedia has a good one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:IPA_for_English

That's correct for dealing with the Doge of Venice, but there are many words in English that have multiple pronunciations depending on their individual meaning. In this canine context you really have to start from 'dog.'

I'll happily argue that, regardless of the path by which a given meme's promulgators happened to stumble upon an actual English word of whose existence they were (and perhaps still are) entirely ignorant, the established pronunciation is correct nonetheless.

Besides, if you start from /dɔːg/, you more or less invariably end up at /dɔːgə/ or /doʊgə/, both of which are so ugly to speak and to hear that arguing against them seems worthwhile.

The existing word Doge is Italian and describes the rulers of a particular few Italian city states, so I don't think generalizing from that makes much sense: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doge

I personally pronounce mem-Doge as Doggie, which I find an amusing parallel to the grammatical mismatches upon which the humor depends.

Doge is indeed originally an Italian word, but it's also a loanword in English [1], this being of course the entire basis on which rests my argument above. And I try not to pronounce the meme version at all.

[1] http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/doge#English

Interesting, I heard it pronounced /dogɛ/ several times.

It's an awful lot easier to appreciate if you actually have a dog and have to spend a lot of time deciphering its communications.

So right. Sad people. No doge.

This article seems to be anti-establishment for the sake of being anti-establishment.

Intentionally "broken" English can be fun and cute and equally valid and expressive as standard English - if not for the adoption of it - but I don't see much that actually improves on more standard English, in a more-or-less objective way. An improvement might be to promote a gender-neutral pronoun ('they' for example) and disambiguating "you" when it is unclear if you are talking about singular you, personal you or 'general' you.

Or maybe this is totally unrelated to what the author is talking about.

Say what else you like about Southern American English, but we solve the second-person plural problem quite handily with nominative and oblique y'all, and genitive y'all's.

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