Since Cyrano ghosted those letters for Christian, we women have been susceptible to the well-wrought phrase. Its flip side, obviously, is the clumsy or offensive effort that works about as much romance as a proposal to tip cows. Recently I ran across the 21st-century single woman’s complaint regarding male correspondence in the ongoing blog The Well-Written Woman. In this case, of course, the suitor’s courtly phrasing comes not off the tip of a quill but from the taps of the keyboard and the emoticons blinking away on his screen.
Is it wrong, our fair blogger inquires, to eliminate suitors because of instant messages that are “grammatically jacked up, spelling errors a plenty, a huge lack of confidence in what’s being written, and a blatant lack of respect for proper punctuation. Is it wrong to eliminate someone from the pool because of this?” Her response, in her own caps: “OVERWHELMINGLY NO!”
Ah, what’s a Loller to do? (A Loller, incidentally, is one addicted to writing “lol.” I discovered this factoid while checking on Hilary Mantel’s use of the phrase in her novel Wolf Hall, where “Lollers” are burned at the stake. At first, doubting that anyone was exacting such punishment in the 16th century, tempting as it might be to do so today, I figured Mantel had invented the blasphemous group. Then I realized she was rendering “Lollards,” those who defied the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine on transubstantiation and the worship of relics, in Low Country English. Today’s Lollers seem rather more to embrace than to defy, laughing out loud at every opportunity.)
High schools and colleges around the country urge students not to use texting lingo on résumés and job applications, but I don’t think anyone has cautioned today’s hopeful Christians against this Roxanne’s complaints. She doesn’t like “reallyyy”; she doesn’t like commas used as points of ellipsis (hard to figure where that habit originates); she finds the lack of a comma after an introductory “Well” offensive. One of her supporters announces that she will defriend Facebook buddies whose grammar is “just that bad.” “It seems,” she writes, “like everyone has given up on eloquence and just go for the most basic message they could possibly send.”
The difficulty here, of course, is that one can imagine a correspondent to whom she would send exactly that sentence who would defriend her for having committed a lack of parallelism in her verb agreement.
My point here is not to snark at commenters on a blog post. It’s only to point out that we are in rough waters, oh ye Cyranos and Roxannes of 2012. Apparently there are too many Christians out there in romantic cyberspace—as Rostand characterized him, “one of those men—tongue-tied, I know it—who can never tell their love.” Or as the Well-Written Woman reads him, “you’re totally kul dude, lol ,,, just jonesing for you babes.”
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