A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors



Virginia Heffernan on the perils of quoting sources on the Interwebs:

I am stumped by how to excerpt the language on message boards and blogs.Take a passage signed by zipthwung, an astute online commenter: pornography if for the ruling classes and their violent vulgar all consuming appetites. Or their slaves.Interesting. But so as not to distract you with the typos, should I have repunctuated it, adding commas and plunking a hyphen into all-consuming? Should I have turned that if to is?Zipthwung I can testify, as a longtime fan is a poet and a mystic. Maybe he means if. Dude thinks that way. Oh, but theres more. Before quoting him, should I have determined his real name? Gender? Profession? Home address?Week after week, these questions dog me. Sometimes I opt to copy words and paste them into the text of a column to quote verbatim. I treat message-board words as if they had been written in books, articles, brochures or press releases. Is that what zipthwung wants? Should I care?snip My problem with message-board language brings up a prior problem in journalism: the difficulty of translating spoken language into written language. The philosopher Jacques Derrida gained notoriety by dimming the bright line between what was known in strange pre-Internet lingo (French, was it?) as langue and parole. He thought the written-spoken distinction was suspect and by turns collapsed and reasserted itself in the merry game of signification.Nothing works more Frenchly and merrily this way shape-shifting at a rapid pace than Internet language, which morphs from standard English (a dialect of which has become the Webs lingua franca) to other languages and dialects to slang and emoticons and acronyms and phonetic miscellany. (Take hey guys, im stoopid. DOH! meh. GAH. :O wth. Can this communication be taken as an admission of some kind of error? Can it be faithfully paraphrased as she admitted her mistake on a message board?) I cant tell how much of this keycap casserole belongs in ink on paper or how much of it makes sense there.

Read the rest right here.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment

1 comment

Commenting Guidelines

  • All

A similar problem comes up for reporters when people you're interviewing "live" a) don't speak standard English or b) interject vulgarities into their speech. I always feel that, "I'll guaran-f***in'-tee you that this country's going to be in another g**d*** Great Depression in the next five years" bowdlerized to "I'll guarantee you etc." does the speaker a disservice by distorting his level of vehemence and passion for the topic.On the other hand, I read a Detroit News feature years ago now that focused on a woman in some type of financial/Social Security quandary. She was quoted extensively in an approximation of black dialect that was the equivalent of typographical black face--and the result was not only distracting to read but seemed to imply that the problem the woman was dealing with was largely confined to the black population--which it wasn't.More interesting is the problem of emoticons, noted in the extract above, especially the little graphic yellow-face ones, not the ones you can make with keyboard strokes. You can't always leave them out b/c they indicate that the previous should be read sarcastically. And you can't really say, "he wrote sarcastically." The larger question is whether we should be quoting comments off blogs to begin with. People can make mischief on blogs. I sense that sometimes people are not entirely sane or sober, or really paying attention to what they're really saying. (Everyone on this blog excepted, of course.) Blogs are sort of like street corner conversations where passersby might earnestly join the conversation, start ranting about something completely different, or just toss off an ill-considered bon mot and keep walking.On the off-chance anybody quotes anything I say on any of these threads, PLEASE CORRECT MY TYPOS, GRAMMAR AND SPELLING.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment