The Internet's Real Problem? Overwriting

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It's well known that the Internet is eroding our ability to spell, read books, and form complex thoughts. But you know what it isn't doing? Turning our writing into a mess of monosyllabic Internet-speak. Rather, writing on the Internet (and among students) has a different problem: long-windedness.

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ben Yagoda, an English professor at the University of Delaware, puts a finger on a subtle problem infecting 21st-century prose. It's a problem of needless punctuation, prepositions that are just slightly too formal, and constructions that use three words where one would suffice. Yagoda calls it "clunk."

Here's a sample paragraph riddled with clunkisms:

For our one year anniversary, my girlfriend and myself are going to a Yankees game, with whomever amongst our friends can go. But, the Weather Channel just changed their forecast and the skies are grey, so we might go with the girl that lives next door to see the movie, "Iron Man 2".

Why is this offensive? Too many commas; "amongst" instead of "among"; "my girlfriend and myself" should be "my girlfriend and I"--and so forth. Yagoda points out that these errors "lengthen the sentence they're in." He guesses that students who don't read a lot of "standard written English" are erring on the side of caution. "If you haven't read much, when you set pen to paper yourself, you take things more slowly and apply a literal-minded logic, as you would in finding your way through a dark house."

Then, too, Yagoda argues, even spoken English has begun ditching "those shortcuts that streamline the language." He explores at length, for instance, the transition from "Yankee game" to "Yankees game."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.