Goodies to Go (tm)
April 10, 2000-- Newsletter #75

By Joe Burns

Goodies to Go (tm)
April 10, 2000--Newsletter #75
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

I got one of the neatest things the other day. A Goodies reader sent me a voice mail over ZDNet ( It's their new Onebox deal that lets you send and receive e-mail, faxes, and voice mail. The Onebox converts voice messages to a .wav or QuickTime audio file. The emailmail arrived with a URL. I clicked on it and chose to hear the .wav version. I listened to him ask his question. I thought that was pretty cool.

I just ask that now that I've told you about it, that you don't fill my inbox with voice mail after voice mail. Thanks.

Did you hear...

No tax on the Net! That's my battle cry these days. Apparently I'm in line with the U.S. commission that will make the decision. In a vote taken on March 30th, the ACEC (Advisory Commission on Electric Commerce) voted 10 to 8 to not tax business on the Net. Web business is currently under a three-year moratorium of non-taxation. I have heard that the committee is interested in extending that for another five years. You've got my vote.

There was a hacker convention in Israel last week, the first since the massive denial-of-service attacks on Yahoo and E-bay a few months ago. There were over 350 attendees that talked hacking, cracking, and the new software that will allow it. Now we wait. Sooner or later, someone will want to put all his or her new knowledge to work.

Does TV advertising work for businesses? Not from the data being returned from the Super Bowl. Only 17% of those surveyed could even name a that advertised during the game. In fact, the site put itself into the hole by spending the 2.8 million required to advertise during the game. Barron's reports that many dot.coms have advertised themselves into so much debt that it's pushing them towards total bankruptcy.

Now onto today's topic...


You know what I luv about email????? It allows people to express themselfs in a way that is cool and hip. IMHO, its a frm of speech that everybody should do cuz' its neet to read!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Your free to write what you want to should write and say. my friends and me have been emailin' for years. You know?!?!?!?!?!?!

K? C-ya!!!!! ;->


Have you ever received an email that looked something like this? When I get an email that comes up as convoluted as this one, I like to take a moment and try to decipher what was a mistake and what was intentionally done incorrectly.

Let's see. If this were real, I would think that "luv", "cuz", "emailin'", "K", and "C-ya" were all done on purpose. "IMHO" are really initials that stand for "In My Humble Opinion". Another one I see a lot is "IIRC", "If I Remember Correctly".

Apparently the third sentence is very important. There are 15 exclamation points. I think the rule is that after seven exclamation points, the line can officially be called really important. After 20, it's really, really important. I remember when the big rule in email text was to not use all capital letters because it was equal to yelling. What's the difference between all caps and 15 exclamation points?

I think the rest of the grammar mistakes could then be chalked up to not paying attention in eighth grade English class.

So, have you ever received an email that looked something like this? I have. In fact, I receive them every day, and it's not just from students either. They come from business people, other professors, and my Dad.

I'd like to say it bugs me to the point where I would say something to the sender, but I rarely do. Don't get me wrong, I'm about as "Type A" as it gets, but email mistakes just don't bug me like I guess they should. Blatantly poor emails from students sometimes get under my skin, but past that, a mistake or two rarely bothers me enough to say anything.

I actually had to stop today and ask myself why I never thought about it before.

If I had to put my finger on a reason, it would be that I see email as a very informal kind of language. In my mind, it's equal to casual conversation, and casual conversation is nothing like the English you would use to write an academic paper (at least I hope it isn't).

Casual conversation is full of sentence fragments, sentences that don't contain proper subjects, and slang. Casual conversation between friends is fun. It's a good time. You make word shortcuts because you and your friend may only need to say a word or two to communicate a broad meaning about something or someone.

I would never talk to my boss like I would talk to my best friend. That's just not the way things work. When you're talking "up" in rank, you do clean up your English. You move closer to that academic English format.

Formal letters are one thing, email is another.


Wrong! So says Kenneth Brown, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa business school. He doesn't like that people don't take the same time in creating an email letter as speaking in person.

OK, I agree with that. I do not allow students to stand in front of me and use poor English. I'm a communications professor, for goodness sake. I would even think about correcting a student in an email, but my friends? My colleagues? My Dad?

Brown says he does.

Virginia Shea, who wrote the rules of Netiquette, says that you will be judged by the quality of your writing in your emails. She suggests we should all take the time to stop, read, and correct our emails before we send them out.

Would we have time? I can barely answer all I have now, let alone proof them all.

In a rebuttal to Dr. Brown's statements, an employee at an Internet start-up said that her poor emails are not grammatical mistakes, but rather typos.

There's a difference?

Apparently so. The Internet generation has taken casual Friday to a whole new level. I about fell over when I toured a new start-up and there were beds there in case any of the workers decided he or she needed a nap after lunch. They take things real easy, and their emails reflect that.

I'm the first to admit I don't carefully read over my emails before I send them, unless they are going to a person who is in a power position. If I'm sending an email to another professor in order to set up a quick meeting, I write it, sign it, and send it.

When I read about people requesting that emails be proofed, I decided to stop and read all of the emails I sent out this morning.

Wow. I'm a lousy typist.

So what's to be done? The battle is going to come down to the time factor versus good grammar. I'd like to say the grammar will win, but I don't know. People do not see email as a permanent item like a memo or a journal (even though it is), but rather as verbal communication. I did a survey a couple of years back that reported the same thing. Email was seen as far more verbal than written messages, even though it's fully text. People try to "talk" in their email. We've gone as far as to imply emotion through little smiley faces in the text.

But yet, typos still bother a lot of people. Let me tell you, when there's a typo on HTML Goodies, I get letters like crazy telling me what and where the problem is. I especially like the ones that seem to take pleasure in my having made a mistake, and then have misspellings in their own email. I've printed a couple of those to keep forever.

That got me thinking. I always make a point of looking at the emails I put together for my higher-ups. I wonder if others do the same. Professor Brown has made a broad, sweeping statement that may or may not have merit. I would like to see a study comparing emails people send to their equals (friends, colleagues) and emails they send to those in a position of power (bosses, managers). I would think that the emails sent to those in a position of power would have less typos.

I say that because if people consider email more verbal than written, then it would make sense that the pattern of using a more proper form of email would follow using a more proper form of verbal English. Anyone want to co-author? Shoot me an email...but make sure you don't misspell anything. ;-> (Smiley implying that was a tongue-in-cheek request.)

What other types of email might be prone to a higher level of attention? Just for fun, I went to my "favorite flames" directory to have a look at some of the flame emails I kept.

My favorite is the one where a woman gave me heck for being pompous due to my using "Ph.D." after my name. I kept it because she used her own title following her name when she signed the letter.

No typos. Hmmmm . . .

In fact, there weren't a lot of typos in any of these letters. Of course, many of the words only contained four letters, so they were pretty easy to nail down. I'll bet these letters received a lot of attention to detail. I get mental pictures of someone ranting around the room speaking their e-mail out loud until they get just the right emotional punch out of the words. These things were well edited, no doubt.

I also keep nice letters. There were some typos, not too many, but still some. I guess when you're writing something nice, you're more concerned about the meaning than the grammar.

Could that be it? Does a friendly email get less attention to the English because it's an equal to "Attaboy!", "Way to go!", "You da man"?

I'll bet there's something to that. Either way, maybe it all comes down to the person sending and the person receiving. We people are way too complicated to make a general statement that we're all bad emailers. I'll bet if we looked hard enough, the amount grammatical mistakes in emails would bear out in some way.

But the question still remains...should I correct my Dad's emails?


That's that. I was told the other day that the number of subscribers to this newsletter was just about to break to 200,000 mark. By now, it probably has. It's humbling, let me tell you. Thank you all so much for taking the time out of your day to read it.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Do you watch The Wizard of Oz when it comes on every year? Did you ever wonder how the name Oz was created? Apparently, the man who created the story, Frank Baum, was trying to think of a name. He looked around the room for inspiration when he spied a small filing cabinet with two drawers marked A - N and O - Z. The rest is history. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

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