I have been reading the book A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in our Buzzfeed Age by Buzzfeed’s Copy Editor, Emmy Favilla. While it took me a while to read it (an understatement, to tell you the truth), I loved it. It made me even more excited about getting into the field of professional writing.
The book went through some history of the English language and what linguists had to say. Then it focused on how rapidly language is changing, especially in the age of the internet and social media (I thought about writing ‘Internet’, just then. That was one of the debates Favilla wrote about in the book. I’ll stick with ‘i’, I think).
Basically, there are a few rules, only preferences. Sure it has to make sense and no writer should be making typos right, left or centre if they’re serious and not a maniac (myself included). Consistency is key.
Of course, there are social norms one should consider, like inclusive language. I think Favilla went into overkill with this. Here’s the thing: I believe that if someone requests to be preferred to by a specific pronoun, including “they” or “ze”, by all means refer to the person by that pronoun. I don’t think you necessarily have to ‘eliminate’ gender altogether. If you really don’t know, then, if you can ask. In a rare case, use gender neutral, but I don’t think you need to go overboard with it.
Another pet peeve I discovered I have while reading the book is drawn out sentences. I realised this at the start. Hey, that’s fine for Favilla, I’m not knocking that. I just prefer shorter sentences— less than twenty – five words preferably. Definitely no more than thirty.
That aside, it was exciting to read about the evolution of the English language. I loved reading about the emoticons, and how far back they went, (right back to the 1980’s, apparently). Also, there’s debate about whether one of Abraham Lincoln’s written speeches included typos or a deliberate emoticon. In regard to emojis, I nominate the Ancient Egyptians as being the first to use them. 😛
While language, particularly grammar has become a lot more relaxed over the years, Favila emphasised the need for the need for inclusive language and the importance in using appropriate terms for one’ gender or racial identity (particularly indigenous groups around the world). I’ll put my two cents in when it comes to gender: I believe you should refer to someone by the pronouns that a person prefers (including ‘they’ and ‘ze’/ ‘zir’). Should it be something that a writer or anyone else needs to tie themselves in knots over with everyone they meet? No. I fear that we are making things too complicated. Be courteous. If you are asked to refer to someone using certain pronouns, use them. If not, my guess is what you see is what you get.
Another thing I found fascinating was the differences in British/ Australian and American English. Of course, there’s colour/ color, favour/ favor and Imperial vs Metric measurements (miles vs kilometres, etc). However, I didn’t know that the US has slightly different use of swear words and their offense levels than the UK and Australia. Who knew? (P.S. I’m not giving any examples here. Google them for yourself if you want to know).
A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age was a great read and offered great insights in the English language. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest in language or it’s evolution.
Have you read A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age? What did you think? Leave your thoughts below.