July 11, 2001

Orc Talk and English: An Aesthetic Complaint
Stacy B.

As of this very moment, I am adding flame-resistant cables to my little laptop, because I anticipate either zero response or a fireball.

I read RingGirl's essays, both of them, as well as the responses they generated (I wrote in response as well). Maybe it's an evil omen, but in her latest article, she still lost the last few words of every paragraph. This is an improvement over the disappearance of whole paragraphs, but still a problem, and not an isolated one. I've been victimized by the disappearing text lines as well, and unfortunately, I'm not computer-savvy enough to suggest why this happens, let alone a solution. Alas!

Having said that, I'm not certain that computer-error is completely at fault, unless the computer took chunks out of the middles of her paragraphs as well. I am unable to find her original posting in the archives at the moment (nor any of the essays surrounding it. Maybe they're in file transfer limbo), but I do recall having to read it a couple of times due to some apparent internal contradictions that made her argument hard to follow. Now, hard as it was for me to follow her essay, she did have a couple of points, some of which were taken up, others of which were not. Unfortunately, some of the responses were less than level-headed and were almost as hard to read as the original document.

And that's the point of this little complaint: people do get quite... ehm... passionate in their postings, and when they do, they write *badly*. When I say "badly" I mean two things: a) people do not seem to clearly differentiate between useful criticism and unmitigated contempt disguised as discussion; and b) they just plain write poorly.

That people fall from criticism to flaming is understandable given that Tolkien is a favorite topic of ours, but I don't think it's really acceptable. Casting aspersions on a fellow debator's sanity does not constitute useful criticism, and it only serves to highlight the sad fact that some of us are not able to hold a civilized debate. This is a problem, but it hinges on what I see as a more fundamental difficulty.

That people just plain write poorly is a problem in itself of vast proportions, and it is largely ignored. We all know why it is ignored, so I won't repeat myself or anyone else. But ignorance comes at a price, and if we are honest, we admit that as well.

In the heat of the moment, some of the sentences that come pouring out onto the virtual page are so badly constructed that it's often difficult to tell, from one sentence to the next, what the point is. Occassionally, I've seen essays by authors who were in such a hurry to achieve their point that the logical thread connecting the individual comments was badly eroded or absent. Beautiful phrases, but you couldn't see the forest for the trees, so to speak.

Such verbal frenzy does not simply hamper discussion, it distorts it, promoting essays that are closer to flaming rants than anything else. This leaves you and I and everyone else vulnerable to false debates over things that were absolutely never intended (or even written!). Moreover, it seems to lead to carelessness in quoting others as well. I would have to recheck a number of essays, but I'm fairly certain RingGirl was once misquoted so badly that she seemed to be incapable of putting a subject together with a verb and an object in a way that made sense. Perhaps this was due to the weird sentence/paragraph chopping habits of this site, but still, that's quite detrimental to intelligent discussion, not to mention irresponsible if there wasn't a technical problem behind it. Get it right, or don't cite it at all. Or, if you put your best recollection down anyway, at least admit that you don't have the text in front of you.

I should probably commit ritual seppuku at this point for having posted a complaint dealing with, of all things, grammar and composition on a fan site. On the other hand, to whom is this site dedicated? J.R.R. Tolkien, master philologist and the inventor of a number of highly developped languages. Here is one author who was concerned with the way language was used: he cared about whether it was beautiful, cogent, pointed, purposeful, etc.

Remember that in LOTR, one of the signs of the utter depravity of the Orcs and their bedlam-born brethren was that they abused their own languages, not to mention other people's. It may be a peculiarity of anglophones, but we're so insensitive (in general, I do not accuse anyone in particular who has published on this site of fitting this model) to other languages, that we are unable to recognize how poorly we use our own. The internet is a marvellous thing, but I cringe whenever I see one of my favorite characters idolized in terms not unlike the following: "bilbobaggins and fRodo their beatufiul examples i think." Yeah... uh-huh, point missed entirely, say I.

I apologize if I sound like your fourth grade teacher, droning on about a topic which can be, admittedly, dry. It's just that I really do like intelligent discussion, and if people don't care enough to make an effort to express themselves well and clearly, I tend to feel cheated. Good writing *does* make a difference: if you think through your composition and are careful about *how* you convey your ideas, you'll only have to defend yourself from legitimate challenges to your point of view. The alternative is misunderstanding, wasted time, and undue effort pumped into clarifying something you may have written quite some time ago.

Thanks folks! Let's have some well-written responses to the next round of essays, hmm?