Rogue Ink

June 12, 2008

War on English: The Evil Nominalization

Filed under: Out of Context,The War on English — Tei @ 5:58 am

You may not know what nominalizations are, but you know them when you read them. You know because your brain is unable to focus on the words, as though they were a verbal blind spot. You cannot quite comprehend what the words are attempting to tell you, and you promptly decide you don’t care, because it’s too difficult, and it probably wasn’t important anyway.

The phenomenal Douglas Adams (may his atheist soul no longer exist, for it is so he wished it to be and we honor the wishes of Douglas Adams above all other British humor writers, always excepting the ubiquitous P.G. Wodehouse, for whom Adams himself had intense admiration, so we feel that he would be down with playing second fiddle to him) called the nominalization an S.E.P.

S.E.P. standing, of course, for Someone Else’s Problem.

S.E.P.s worked thusly: When a large spaceship containing homicidal androids landed in the middle of Lord’s Cricket Ground in England, bystanders’ eyes simply refused to focus on it. They would look through it, over it, anywhere but at it, while aforementioned homicidal androids methodically killed folk.

That is what a nominalization is.

It is not as cool as it sounds.

The Set-Up

When you write web copy, or print copy, or really anything in a written form, there should always something important about the message you’re delivering. That message does not have to be earth-shatteringly important. Not, just to pick an example out of nowhere, spaceship containing homicidal androids in the middle of a cricket field important. The message does have to have some significance to your audience, though. Your message should talk about something they want, or need, or didn’t know they needed, but now must have, like an iPhone.

If there is nothing significant in what you are writing, please put the pen down and back away slowly, lest I be forced to break out the nunchucks. Writing with no purpose is how bad poetry starts, people. Just say no.

Now then. You have your significant message. Let us say that your message is that you have an excellent new product. This product that will tell off your evil in-laws for you. Not only that, it will do so with excellent timing and perfectly calculated barbs detailing their personal foibles, nervous tics, and sexual deficiencies. Pretty sweet. We’re all excited about it. Tell me, say I. Tell me about this magnificent product, that does something that I personally have wanted to do forever. Oh sweet fancy Moses, tell me about it.

Enter the Evil Nominalization and Its Accompanying Ominous Theme Music

With the utilization of this product, the target of the chastisement will receive a message calibrated for optimal insult impact. The calculation of optimal insult impact is determined by the consideration of five demographics which may include relationship to spouse, relationship to offspring, personal deficiencies, body odor, and possession of pornography.

Admit it. Until I got to the bit about porn, you were dozing off. And that was a mightily cool product, people. There is no earthly reason it should be that boring. Except for the evil, evil nominalization and its buddy the passive voice, the latter of which will become acquainted with the force of roguish wrath another day.

I had an English professor who brought in an amazing example of the true evil to which the nominalization could stoop. Those of you who are a bit squeamish may wish to skip this passage. You will understand when I tell you it involves not only the nominalization, but also insurance agents and lawyers.

Yes. I know. Please avert the eyes of your children.

The Ultimate Evil of the Nominalization.

My professor had recently bought a car. The manufacturers of that car sent her a letter after she signed on the dotted line. It ran as follows. (WARNING: Reading the following passage may result in a 1% decrease in your overall innocence. No one will think any less of you for skipping it and going straight to the translation. No one. Least of all Buddha.)

A defect which involves the possible failure of a frame support plate may exist on your vehicle. This plate (front suspension pivot bar support plate) connects a portion of the front suspension to the vehicle frame, and its failure could affect vehicle directional control, particularly during heavy brake application. In addition, your vehicle may require adjustment service to the hood secondary catch system. The secondary catch may be misaligned so that the hood may not be adequately restrained to prevent hood fly-up in the event the primary latch is inadvertantly left disengaged. Sudden hood fly-up beyond the secondary catch while driving could impair visibility. In certain circumstances, occurrence of either of the above conditions could result in vehicle crash without prior warning.

Did you get that? Neither did most people. Here’s what that message actually said, without the nominalizations:

There are two problems with your vehicle. Either of these problems could result in your losing control of the vehicle. One of the problems has to do with steering, the other with your hood flying up and covering your windshield with a noise calculated to scare the beejeezus out of you. If either of those things happens (oh, and they will) you will probably soon be crashing head-on into another car, a tree, a small pony, or other large and uncomfortably knobbly object. Stay away from the death trap. Warning, warning, danger Will Robinson. Or actually, go ahead and drive the death trap. We did warn you, after all. Our legal butts are covered, and our insurance isn’t going to pay up. Nyah nyah nyah.

P.S. Death!

Insurance agents and lawyers calculated that message. It was designed to inform people without actually informing them, so that they would not return their cars, insisting on a refund and threatening the lives’ of the mechanic’s beloved puppies. The letters were delivered; the people were warned. Except they weren’t. They were all lying in boredom-induced catatonic states, drooling and praying no one would use the phrase ‘secondary catch’ at them again. Ever.

The insurance company was covered. The lawyers had done their duty, making sure all the information was in the letter. The people had been warned. The thing is, nominalizations parked themselves in front of the real information like big, fat S.E.P.s and refused to move. And no one heard the real message in the background, squeaking, “DEATH!”

Moral of the Story: When Lawyers and Insurance Companies Use a Linguistic Device, Stay Clear. Also, Nudity is Attention-Getting.

If you are not a lawyer or an insurance agent, you don’t want to obscure your message. You want to show it off. You want to strip it naked, paint it bright red, put rings on its fingers and bells on its toes and send it through town doing acrobatics on the back of a two-headed goat. If you have a message that is this attention-grabbing and you throw the big black garbage bag of nominalization over it, you are doing a disservice to us all.

Okay, you say. I get it. No nominalizations. What are they again? My eyes, they just . . . couldn’t . . . seem to – I’m sorry, I wasn’t able to read it properly. What was all that about? Was that a spaceship?

No problem. That’s to be expected. Here’s a specific nominization from the previous example.

vehicle directional control

You probably know what that means, when you think about it hard enough. Adams says not to look at it head-on, just sneak up on it and glance out of the corner of your eye. That helps. Vehicle directional control basically means steering.

‘Loss of vehicle directional control’ means ‘you won’t be able to steer.’

Bad news bears.

The English Major Definition

The nominization is the removal of a subject from a sentence. Instead of ‘she took’, the nominalization is ‘the taking’. Instead of ‘he broke’, the nominalization is ‘the breaking’. Nominalization is the horror that is verbs masquerading as subjects.

As we all learned in our primary school, subjects and verbs go together, hand in hand, like happy little dance partners.

She ran

He fell

They took

The vicious little verbs murdered their happy little dance partners and are now spinning gleefully all alone in the middle of the dance floor, attempting to summon Mephistopholes.

The running

The falling

The taking

Oh NO. Save us all.

Why Was This Horrific Thing Invented? Why Gods Why?

Easy. It took people out of the equation. Go back up. Look at those examples. See any pronouns? Anyone saying ‘I’ or ‘you’ or ‘we’ or ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘s/he’ for you bigendered people out there? No? Me neither.

Nominalizations mean you don’t have to get people involved. It’s no one’s fault that the car doesn’t work properly. It’s no one’s situation. The situation is just there, all on its own. And we’d rather you didn’t examine it too closely.

Or, in nominalization-speak, ‘Examination of the problem will result in uncomfortable surety that an entity (which shall remain unattached to homo sapiens sapiens of any kind) may have royally fucked up.’

People like to read about other people. They want to know about your product, your message, your human nature. Do not be an S.E.P., and do not make your message into an S.E.P. to avoid mentioning the humans behind it.

Unless, of course, you’re not human. That is a problem for another day.

Subscription to the weblog under perusal will bring enthused sensations to certain parties.

May 23, 2008

War on English: Bad Copywriters

Filed under: Copywriting,The War on English,Writing — Tei @ 3:01 am

I have seen the apocalypse, and it comes with a dangling gerund.

They’re EVERYWHERE. They’re not only copywriters, they’re PR experts and marketing professionals. People whose business, theoretically, is the creation and sale of effective, enticing communication. Somehow, inexplicably, an absurd number of these people seem to be unable to form a sentence with all its nouns and verbs matching up. For those of you figuring out how to do this, it goes in pairs, people. Like Noah’s ark. And line dancing.

Where do they come from?

I know at least one client who hired a marketing service to make up some – wait for it – marketing materials. Yes. I KNOW. It shocked me, too, but it doesn’t stop there. These people created some of the most painful, hair-raising, excruciating copy I personally have ever read. It was somehow humiliating to even be seen looking at it. Like watching Queer as Folk with your grandmother. They mixed second and third person without SHAME, people. Like so:

“One won’t believe how much you’re going to love this!”

It was horrible to behold. And it went on and on. Page after page. I’ve seen copy that would make your fingernails start to grow inward to try to avoid making contact with the print on the page. I’ve seen copy that third-grade English teachers would point to as a cautionary tale to all those students who refuse to learn ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’, after which the students would rush, feverish with fear, to their dictionaries. I’ve seen copy that makes me, personally, want to blow my brains out, and I want to know why.

How do they survive?

Darwin, bless his heart, tells us that the strong survive and the weak die out. Now, the strong have certainly survived, but why haven’t we EATEN the weak long ago? Why are they still out there, producing their terrible copy, day after day? Who is feeding the beast?

I have a partial answer, but not one that fully satisfies me. However – some of them have learned camouflage. The client referenced above was suckered into paying for a marketing package without viewing samples of the marketing company’s work. She paid for the package and then she felt too guilty to demand her money back. That’s right. The bad copywriters are surviving by preying on the unsuspecting clients. New clients, baby clients, clients who don’t know better. They are eating the young.

There must be more to this. They must have a secret weapon. We have to find it and destroy it before they start writing scripts in Hollywood. YES. It gets worse than the Star Wars I-III trilogy. It’s almost too horrible to contemplate.

How do we kill them?

Damned if I know, Johnson. Try to warn as many clients as you can. Tell them to watch out for the warning signs. Tell them, by all that is holy, to look at a portfolio, to ask to see a writing sample, to get one shred of proof this person can produce passable English. Only by educating the populace can we stop the scourge.

Don’t they have any redeeming qualities?

Well, yes. Sort of. Once a bad copywriter has produced copy of a hideous nature, it’s a fairly easy job to produce better copy. I wouldn’t call it a challenge, but it’s a low bar. If you can clear that bar with a foot to spare, you’ve just become pretty impressive to your client, and that’s worth while.

The down side is that your client might not have any money to repair the problem now that the bad copywriter has cleaned them out. They might be stuck, desperately looking for someone to save them, but to no avail. Take pity on them, the poor bastards. Give them a preposition or two. Move an apostrophe. A little kindness is all I’m asking for. Don’t let the scourge win.

What’s your deal, dude?

They make my head hurt. No, literally. I have a microchip in there inserted by the Grand Society for the Preservation of Grammar and Sanity, and it zings me every time I see someone say ‘breath’ when they mean ‘breathe’. I see that, and I get half a taser shot worth of lightning. For the love of JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES, PEOPLE! You BREATHE air. You stop to catch your BREATH. They are pronounced differently, and they mean different things. WHAT MORE CAN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE DO FOR YOU?

Subscribe. Or the GSPGS will zap me again. Help!

May 1, 2008

The War on English: Bunny Rabbit Ears

For those of you who do not know Eddie Izzard, please: join the madness. That’s a very funny clip, you should really go watch it. I can’t find a clip of this section of Dressed to Kill that is relevant to this particular post, so I shall scribe it out for you instead.

Pope Pius XII was meant to go and castigate Hitler for being a [indicates air quotes] “Genocidal Fuckhead . . . ” [Pause. Contemplates. Air quotes again.] “with bunny rabbit ears”. But he didn’t, he wimped out, and since then History has renamed Pius XII as “Pope Gutless Bastard I.”

Now this is funny for several reasons.

  1. Air quotes do, in fact, look like bunny rabbit ears.
  2. Anyone who refers to Hitler as a genocidal fuckhead is in my book of Awesome.
  3. He is still using his air quotes CORRECTLY.

Oh, no, wait. The last one isn’t funny. It’s that THING that’s been PISSING ME OFF.

I’ve been seeing a lot of this around town.

Suki’s Hot Dogs – “100% Beef”

Jimbo’s Electronics – The “Best” in the Business

Schmancy McSchmancy’s Restaurant – Our pork chop is gently braised with a white wine sauce and is “naturally organic.”

Do any of those look sarcastic to you?

They should, and there is a reason they look sarcastic. You do not EMPHASIZE something by giving it quotation marks. You actually de-emphasize it, by indicating that the thing you are bunny-rabbit-earing is not what you really mean. And if the pork chop is not really “naturally organic,” then I want to know what the hell it REALLY is. The quotation marks in that context make it seem all cloaked in mystery. Like it has a secret name.

I cannot tell you my real name, but you can call me “John.” Or “naturally organic.” I suggest John. It’s shorter.

Watch what happens when you read this sentence:

I think Paris Hilton is a “nice person.”

See? See how none of you believed me? DE-emphasis. I’m not saying she’s a super-nice-person by using quotation marks, I’m saying I don’t really think she’s a nice person, but I’m too polite to call her a waste of space.

I’m actually not too polite to say that at all, but I can’t be bothered.


Quotation marks around dialogue are fine. They neither emphasize nor de-emphasize, they just indicate dialogue. It is a great and noble purpose, and for it we salute the quotation marks. Quotation marks allow me to do this: “They say you should never hit a man with a closed fist, but it is on occasion hilarious.”

See? Everyone knew that wasn’t me talking. Why? Because I put it in quotation marks. I wish it was me talking, I really do. I wish I had dialogue that cool. I don’t. Captain Malcolm Reynolds does, the bastard. And by “bastard,” I mean “dreamboat.”

Those are the three things quotation marks are good for. Again, they are:

  1. Actually QUOTING someone
  2. Indicating that whatever is in quotations is not REALLY what you want to say.
  3. Bunny rabbit ears. And by “bunny rabbit ears” I mean, “being sardonic, sarcastic, or otherwise alliteratively snarky.”

That is IT. No exceptions. Actual quote, or one of two humor factors. They are not to be substituted for other emphasizing marks such as italics, boldfacing, or underlining. Do you see quotation marks in Microsoft Word up there with B, I, and U tabs? NO, you don’t, DO YOU? That is because THEY DO DIFFERENT SHIT.

This is beginning to make me angry simply because I write for a living and it makes me unhappy to see someone’s hard-worked copy reduced to an unintentional form of sarcasm against their company. Apparently, there’s a whole BLOG devoted to this, over at The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotations. I did not know this, or I would not have bothered with this post. I would have just pointed you over there and waited until your screams made my point for me.

I give you an example from my own life. Here’s a tagline I’m thinking of for my company. Feedback is appreciated. I promise only to cry a little bit. But here’s how it would it appear on the website:

Good Ink: Saving good people from bad copy.

Fine, right? Say it’s fine. Say it’s awesome. Be nice to me, I have pinkeye. But what if I wrote it like this:

Good Ink: Saving “good people” from “bad copy.”

Confusing, no? Are they not really good people? Is it not really bad copy? Are those things euphemisms for other things? When she says “good people” does she really mean “genocidal fuckhead”?


::sigh:: Okay. It’s all okay. I have done my duty. Now I can sleep.

“There are two types of people in this world, good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.”

See how you knew it wasn’t me? THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE FOR.

Okay. Seriously. Good night.

Subscribe” first.

April 7, 2008

The War on English: Typos are evil.

Filed under: The War on English,Writing — Tei @ 5:26 pm
Tags: , , ,

I realize the Brazen Careerist did not get to append ‘brazen’ to her title without being unconventional. But this is a blatant attack on language and we of the Coalition of English majors will not stand for it, sah! Ma’am. Whatever.

The Brazen Careerist has 5 reasons why she thinks writing without typos is outdated. (Is anyone surprised? If you want to be really brazen, go do what the Self-Made Chick did and make a list with only 2 reasons. 2 is an unpopular number, an outcast number. 2 is the loneliest number since the number one, people. Challenge: make yourself some 2-reason lists. A lot of them. Make 7 2-reason lists. And then we can escalate from there.)

The bullet points of this argument, and my objections thereof, are:

1. Spellchecker isn’t perfect. No. No it isn’t. But Spellchecker should not be the only saving grace of your spelling. Spellchecker is your safety net. Spellchecker is supposed to catch you when you can’t remember if you’re supposed to spell mischievous the way everyone pronounces it (Mis-cheev-E-us), or the way it is spelled in the good ol’ Oxford English. Spellchecker is not there to catch your every error, it is there to act as a perfunctory editor, to catch the times when you inadvertently transpose two letters. And you go, thanks, Spellchecker! I did mean to say ‘your’ and not ‘yuor’! You’re the best!

2. Spelling has nothing to do with intelligence. Ho-hoh, I beg to differ, here. I believe what the BC meant to say is that the inability to spell does not necessarily connote stupidity, because she then goes on to cite dyslexia, from which several of my friends suffer. Yet, because they ARE intelligent people, these dyslexic friends of mine, they know that spelling properly makes for more effective communication, and so they work their little butts off to counter that disability. (Dude, I can’t do math. Can you imagine if I told the IRS that math skills weren’t essential to intelligence? They’d have me in some shackles, even if I had the brilliant idea that they should give me money this year. Which, let us face it, is a brilliant idea.)

We all saw this little gem wander around the internet a few years ago (and BC actually cites it) but be honest: you could stumble through it, but it was kind of a pain in the ass. And if someone sent you an email with the letters transposed like that, you would get rid of it. Not because you assumed the person was stupid. But because it was not worth your time. Smart people know that every tool in your arsenal that promotes effective communication ought to be used. If you can spell, and you are too lazy to cast a quick eye over the thing to make sure it looks okay, then that is, in a word, dumb. Un-intelligent. Just plain wrong, when you make your living by writing.

And I’m going to WAY out on a limb here and say that with the exception of people with learning disabilities, the smarter kids in my school were better spellers. They were better at a whole lot of stuff, including forming a logical and compelling argument. Spelling was up there. Does bad spelling automatically imply poor reasoning? Nah. It’d make me wonder, though. Do you really want to start off five steps behind the rest of the pack when trying to make your point?

3. You don’t have unlimited time, so spend it on ideas, not hyphens. This was the most idiotic one for me. Typos, fine. Everyone misses a typo here and there, that’s life. And no, your grammatical skills do not have to be AP Stylebook-worthy. But seriously, if you have a basic (read: high-school level) grasp of spelling and grammar, it should not take you more time to use those tools while writing. It is not a time-waster. I can write all of these thoughts down without having once to stop and grab my dictionary. Or my Chicago Manual of Style. Or my thesaurus. Though they’re all sitting right next to me, looking very pretty indeed. Here’s the thing: If it is taking BC more than an extra second or two to correct a quick spelling error here and there, then something is seriously wrong. And, looking at how far the U.S. has fallen in terms of education, I’d be willing to put a bet that the something that is wrong is that our students ain’t learning.

You know what DOES waste time? Having to make sure I understand what a person is trying to communicate because of overt typos and spelling errors. Come along with me for a minute to the comment board over at Slate:

One sidede reporting as usual! Once again your article is slanted toward Obama, why don’t you just give up trying to report on the issues and anouce this is an Obama Site. Hillary has gotten support to stay in the race, although you and others have tried to railroad her into quiting, not going to happen and be prepared for an upset in her favor.

How many of you took a minute to sort out ‘sidede’? ‘Anouce’? ‘Quiting’? It’s not that I think this man is dumb. I just think it’s too much effort to find out if he isn’t.

4. Perfectionism is a disease. I thought this one was just hilarious. I think this was born out of BC getting irritating little commentary from professional grammarians on whether she’d correctly used ‘whom’. And yes, BC, those are annoying little twits, those perfectionist bastards. And if there’s some guy out there who’s picking on the ONE time you said ‘snig’ when you meant ‘sing’, I think you should SMITE HIM FROM ABOVE, because nobody likes that guy. Here’s the thing – one or two typos, no big deal. We all type pretty fast these days, and we’re in a hurry. I get that. The entire paragraph of typos is going to make me wonder what your grade-school English teacher was smoking while she was teaching you.

People who spell correctly are not, by and large, perfectionists. We just passed eighth grade, that’s all. We’re perfectly safe. We mean you no harm.

5. Use the comments section for what matters: Intelligent discourse. Now, see, BC, I’m totally with you here. I suspect, in fact, that this whole long-winded article of yours was in fact a frustrated rant in the “Get the fuck off my back, you grammar Nazis!’ realm. And that is cool. I don’t want you to have to deal with comments about your grammar either. Let them talk about the issues. You don’t need to try to topple the English language just to get the monkeys off your back. Just tell me where they live. I will go and stab a threatening note into their door with a quill pen.

But I’m telling you, every single bloody word in that threatening note will be spelled properly. Because otherwise, how would they know to take me seriously?

March 19, 2008

The War on English: So it Begins

I don’t usually like to say such things about people, particularly those who write for Good Magazine, which is an amazing publication and one I would love to write for someday. And I’m aware that the section of the magazine entitled ‘Provocations‘ is designed to, you know, provoke people. That’s cool. That’s great. But this woman is an idiot.

For those of you who don’t want to click on the link, Ms. Anne Trubek postulates that since her son has trouble forming his letters in third grade, he should not be required to learn how to print. Why? Because handwriting, she argues, is arcane. Caput. Gone the way of Shakespearian grammar and MC Hammer pants.

Now, Ms. Trubek goes on to say that we have romanticized handwriting, which is surely true. My own handwriting is a lovely sort of script that makes people stop and ask questions about what Victorian academy I attended in my tender years. I get some admiration for it, somewhat mitigated by the fact that there are only a half-dozen people capable of reading it.

There is, however, a difference, not mentioned in this article, between handwriting and printing. Printing is the stuff we all learned in grade school. Big A, little a, etc. When you printed in grade school, it looked more or less like the stuff I’m typing now. A little more wobbly, but hey, you were six years old, give yourself a break. Printing is what the federal government asks you to do when you fill out your forms to vote, or do your taxes. Because they don’t want to read your handwriting. Your handwriting probably sucks. But everyone can print. Printing is what the ‘stupid’ kids were at least theoretically capable of doing back when Mark Twain was writing about Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Becky, refined little minx that she was, could write in script. Tom could only print. But he could print. He could print ‘Here There Be Pirates’ (or Robbers, or whatever the boys were playing at that week) anywhere he wanted. Hell, Injun Joe could print, and he was a heathenish murdering sort.

Her arguments about the romanticism of handwriting are moot. Nobody romanticizes printing. When was the last time you filled out a form and went, my god, it looks like a sonnet to my lover. Never happened. Here’s what her article boils down to:

My son is having a hard time with a subject in school.

Ergo, the entire school system should change to accommodate my poor, misunderstood, talented offspring.

Which is idiotic.

I’m sure Ms. Trubek’s son is a lovely, talented, intelligent child who washes his hands and makes his bed. I’m sure he worries about the starving kids in Africa and gets all worked up over endangered species. I’m sure there’s absolutely nothing wrong with him developmentally and that his frustration with handwriting is related more to the way his brain processes things than any defect in his intelligence. I’m not mad at the kid here. The kid’s having a rough time. I’m sorry for that kid. I felt that way about multiplication tables. It was a hard year for me, the multiplication-table year. But nobody told me that I didn’t have to learn them, because calculators existed. I just drilled them, over and over. And if you want to know what 7 x 12 is, I can now tell you. Though you really should know yourself, if you got past, I don’t know, sixth grade.

Now, I think standardized testing is a dumb way to teach kids. That being said, there are some things that it is worthwhile that every child know. Basic math, basic grammar, and yes, how to read and write would be right up there. I know she expects her son to be able to read and write, just in a computerized format, but I’m waiting for the day when they’re out, I don’t know, camping in the redwoods, and the kid is out all night, and she’s going crazy with worry. She gets the forest rangers involved and there’s a full-fledged search going on with dogs and everything and the kid shows up, totally fine.

“Why didn’t you TELL me where you were going?”

“I sent you a text message.”

Which never got there, because they were, you know, in the woods. And the kid, at the ripe old age of seventeen, doesn’t have the basic skills at his disposal to write a note.

It isn’t the romantic situations I’m thinking of here. I don’t care that his girlfriend is going to get his lousy post-pubescent poetry in email form rather than a written piece of paper covered in doodles (though, you know, she might. I suspect this is going to be a good way to get yourself a girlfriend, fifteen years from now. Young Trubek, take note. These are good girl-getting tips I’m giving you here. Or, you know, guys, if grow up and happen to swing that way). I’m thinking of the sadness inherent in an adult who cannot write himself a shopping list without the aid of a several-hundred-dollar device.

Ma’am, I believe you to be an idiot. However, I believe you will see the error of your ways around the fifth e-card you get from your tiny son, while all the other mothers are opening up their poorly scrawled ‘I love you Mom’ cards for Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. It’s not the romanticism. It’s the fact that you won’t be able to tell the difference from your son’s e-card and the one that your sort-of-friend from work sent you.

The act of putting a human hand to the world’s surface is called personality. The way we move, think, talk, and create is a living record of who we are. The way your son interacts with the world may never be best expressed through his handwriting. He may he an amazing mechanic or mathematician or debater (though I hope he never has any last-minute edits he wants to scribble in the margins). I swear, though, by the time your son leaves the house, you will want to see the all the little notes he wrote you over the years. Even if he always wrote his ‘d’s backward.

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