Saturday, March 24, 2007

Interrobang's Quick Guide to Not Making an Ass of Yourself on the Internet

One of the great strengths of the internet, and also one of its great weaknesses, is that it's an interactive, largely text-based medium. That said, there are a lot of people out there on Teh Intarwebs who don't seem to understand one of the most basic principles of text-based, interactive communication, which we may sum up briefly in Grade III aphorism fashion, and then expand upon anon:

Neatness Counts

What constitutes "neatness" in this case? Well, being "neat" would mean paying attention to how your words represent you. When you're working in a text medium, your words are all anyone has on which to evaluate you, so the way you present yourself really does matter.

So here are a few basic tips on how not to make yourself look like an ass on the internet. Most of my readers probably already know this stuff, but maybe they can pass it on to other people and make all of our lives just a bit easier.

  1. Please observe standard typographical and formatting conventions, as much as is possible. It's very hard to take you seriously as a commenter if your posts do not contain any punctuation, capitals, or paragraph breaks, or contrastively, if your posts consist of ALL CAPS broken up by multiple strings of several exclamation points apiece.

    Special bonus aggravation: People who use apostrophes in plurals. Please don't do this. It's wrong. "Apple's" does not mean "more than one apple," it means "belonging to the apple," as in "the apple's stem is brown."

  2. Learn some basic HTML formatting tags. Seriously, these things aren't hard, no harder, at any rate, than learning how to write basic mathematical symbols (like + and =), and they can make a real difference in the readability of a comment. All HTML tags are enclosed in angle brackets: < and >*. Most of them come in pairs, which is why it's important to "close" your "tags," as you might have seen people say on the web. The way you indicate a closed tag is with a / inside the second tag.

    To make a hyperlink, you type:

    <a href="">Your link text here</a>
  3. (You might want to copy and paste that, and just replace the URL and the link text as required, at least until you get the hang of it.)

    The "a" part stands for "anchor," which is what those things are called ("anchor tags"), and we can say that's because they hold the links in place. The "href" part stands for "hypertext reference." Hypertext is the stuff web pages are built out of, and a hyperlink refers to a piece of hypertext.

    To put something in bold or italics, you type:

    <b>bold text</b>   or   <i>italic text</i>

  4. If you don't know how to spell something, look it up before commenting. Google is very good at this; just Google the term you're not sure how to spell, and it'll likely tell you the correct spelling ("Did you mean...?"). You can also use something like schoolr, which lets you do a Google, Wikipedia, dictionary, thesaurus, acronym, Urban Dictionary, encyclopedia, and book summary search, as well as providing handy links to a citation builder, a text translator, and a unit converter. You can also use Google to find the definition of the term by typing


    in the Google search window, where "term" is whatever word you're looking to have defined.

  5. If you don't know what a word means, don't use it. This one really gets my goat, since I see these ones all the time. They're usually in the ranks of commonly confused words, but with some of these words, people ought to know better. For instance:

    These Pairs Are Not The Same Word,
    So Stop Using Them That Way

    tenet   Noun. A belief, dogma, or doctrine. Commonly used in reference to religion.
    tenant   Noun. A renter or occupant.

    If you start telling me about the "tenants" of a religion, I'm going to tune you out, unless of course someone actually did put their religion up for rent...

    conscience   Noun. An ethical or moral sense of direction, particularly in discerning right from wrong, and inflicting guilt or satisfaction from within.
    conscious   Adjective. Aware or awake; intentional (as in "a conscious effort").

    populous   Adjective. Having a large population. ("Before the two US invasions, Baghdad was a populous city.")
    populace   Noun. Inhabitants, dwellers, or citizens. ("The town's populace was up in arms over the city council decision to subsidise a new Wal-Mart Supercentre.")

    accept   Verb. To receive.
    except   Verb. Exclude, demur, or Preposition. But, other than. ("Everyone accepted the award except John, who excepted himself on religious grounds.")

    lose   Verb. To be defeated, to misplace (something).
    loose   Adjective. Not tight. Also a verb meaning to set something free ("Loose the hounds!")

    Special Bonus Vocabulary Nitpicks: The idiom "rein in" should never be spelt "reign," as it refers to the practice of an equestrian using the reins to put a check on the horse's behaviour.

    Likewise, the idiom "toe the line" should never be spelt "tow," since the metaphor in question refers to walking along a "line" or some kind of boundary (metaphorical or otherwise), on the other side of which is impermissible behaviour. It does not refer to hauling things around by means of a rope or a trailer hitch, and is probably related to the concept of "being on the straight and narrow."

  6. Context is important. Just as it's kind of rude to come onto a blog known for its scholarly tone and thoughtful comments and post something along the lines of "ORLY? U SUCK LOLOLOL!!!1," it's also kind of impolite to come onto a vernacular blog and post a long, pedantic comment. (This being my blog, I can do whatever the hell I want.) Make sure you accurately judge the community in any online forum before you begin posting, and it's actually a good idea to lurk for a while first.

  7. Preview is your friend. I don't really have to say more than that, do I?

Following these tips will help you at least not look like an ass on the internet, since otherwise we have little to go on. The personality part of not being an ass is entirely up to you.

* In order to type those in an HTML-based form, I had to type & lt ; and & gt ; (without the spaces), where the "&--;" sequence is a standard HTML "escape" character, that tells your web browser to read what's between them as a command and not just as text, and where "lt" and "gt" stand for "less than" and "greater than." Other interesting ones are & trade ;, which makes the ™ symbol, and & copy ;, which makes the © symbol.


Blogger Deacon Barry said...

Good advice. It is irking when an otherwise well written comment is marred by an inappropriate spelling. The problem is that it is poor etiquette to point out these errors. How do you solve this?

12:40 PM  
Blogger Interrobang said...

I usually let someone who's ruder than I am do it, or, if the person is really obnoxious anyway, I jump on them.

That said, I think I solved it by getting my own damn blog and griping in general on it, instead of cluttering up other people's comment threads with grammatical carping. *grin*

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Eli said...


2:06 PM  
Blogger ellroon said...

Excellent points. I will deny making any of these mistakes and blunders, but I know I have and will.


11:07 PM  
Blogger Sanjay said...

Great points, now I know what to remember to check before you post. :)
T o answer your question Contrastively, what does Triple Sec taste like? Anything I could use that would taste similar but that I'd be more likely to drink?

Triple sec is an orange flavored liqueur. I guess you could do without it, maybe tossing in soem extra orange peels in the wine sauce might compensate for that?

Thanks for stopping by. :)

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:14 AM  

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