I was very pleased with myself the other day when my observation about a godless twelve days of christmas song was retweeted by Marcus de Sautoy; yes the actual Marcus de Sautoy off the telly and that! More on Twitter anon.
The same day I had to exercise astonishing restraint whilst reading a BBC blog about ‘future technology‘ as predicted in a children’s book in 1972. A grammar ‘nazi’ had piled in to a fellow commenter and finished with the sentence, “WeaponS is plural.” Unfortunately his efforts to capitalise the S, designed to emphasise the plurality of the term, left him with insufficient focus to select the right verb: “are” would have helped here! Alternatively, he could have stated that the word “weapons” is plural. My annoyance with him was amplified by the poor nature of the original blog. The self-righteous flamer, and his acolytes, were taking attention away from a weak piece of research and execution by an employee of a national journalistic institution for which we all pay via the licence fee. Having held my metaphorical cyber-tongue, I was very surprised to find that there appears to be no expressed rule that, after a certain number of comments, a blog will descend into spelling/grammar flames.
Skitt’s Law [a spelling/grammar flame (as in the example above) is likely to include further errors] and Godwin’s Law [as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one] are regularly quoted but there is clearly a gap in the market – I shall have to invent a term and populate cyberspace with it, as did Mr Godwin, and see what happens!
There is a time and place for grammatical correction; it is interesting how little of it occurs on Twitter, or if it does I haven’t noticed it yet. Conversely, the high incidence of it on BBC blogs is depressing. Much of it falls foul of Skitt’s Law and very little of it contributes anything of note to the blog and its associated discussion. In fact, in general the opposite is true and, as in the earlier example, whilst the Gestapo spotlight is aimed at unsuspecting commenters, the incompetent blogger is able to skulk away in the shadows unnoticed and unaccountable.
Meanwhile, back in Twitterland, Peter Serafinowicz’s non-joke was most interesting for the reactions it prompted. I was intrigued to find that the realtime search on Google allowed me to check the first occurence of firstly the joke, then a variety of differing responses:
Joke: 26 Dec 2010 15:16:41
Pope: 26 Dec 2010 16:40:36
Sarah Palin: 26 Dec 2010 17:05:53
Holocaust: 26 Dec 2010 16:59:17
Hitler: 26 Dec 2010 18:02:56
Nazi: 27 Dec 2010 12:24:43
Now it is clear that some of these were deliberately introduced, Sarah Palin by the originator himself, but much of the propagation was perpetrated by Daily Mail-esque ignorance and associated hate. The frenzied desire by many of the denizens of cyberspace to find out what the joke was about, has spilled out to such as Yahoo! Answers. So many people cannot be bothered to do their own checking and end up falling foul of a very well orchestrated hoax.
The indolence shown by those desperate not to miss out on the ‘joke’ is comparable to that shown by those equally desperate to ‘correct’ everyone else’s submissions. It is easy to find the start of the ‘joke’ thread and realise that a subterfuge has been committed. Similarly, it takes little effort to focus attention on the points raised, or not, in a blog and challenge them rather than find fault in your fellows.