A good reed (I mean read**)

By Joe Diorio

Asterisks rather than quote marks

Anybody notice the trend to use a double asterisk in place of quote marks? A recent tweet by a TV news anchor in Cincinnati read, “[…] explains has more on how the Grand Jury came to this decision …” A few minutes later the anchor tweeted a correction, writing “has more on** no need for the word ‘explains’ there. I’m typing too fast and needed to proofread!”

Because I’m old (there, I said it for you) I would have written, “has more ‘on’ …” which seems to be the accepted construction. Or so I thought before I asked my social media hive mind. 

(“Hive mind,” by the way, is a derivative description of group thinking. Its genesis goes back to bees working a hive or perhaps the deadly efficiency of the Borg on “Star Trek.” Or is it Star Trek**? In any event, I’m digressing again.)

The hive mind from my social media feeds provide some interesting theories.

One suggestion is that the double asterisk doesn’t turn into a bullet point as Word applications tend to do (after hitting the space bar), so a double asterisk stays a double asterisk (take that, Microsoft). Another member of the hive mind opined, “I think it’s to say, ‘look look look oops!’ Rather than ‘look oops’.”

“You know, I think it dates to the AOL Instant Messenger days,” someone else wrote. “To correct something, you used to put a “*” before or after the correction.” This individual might be on to something. In the “old internet” days that Linguist Gretchen McCulloch describes in her book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, symbols like the asterisk were a part of HTML coding, so it could be a holdover. McCulloch also describes the use of asterisks as a kind of decorative typography.

Here’s something else to consider. The Chicago Manual of Style, my bible for most things grammatical, says an asterisk is used for footnotes, delineating different points in footnotes, AND, interestingly, offers the following advice:

Other ways to break text. Where a break stronger than a paragraph but not as strong as a subhead is required, a set of asterisks […] may be inserted between paragraphs. In other words, an asterisk can be used as a form of emphasis. So look**, this is important OK?

If you are going to insult someone on social media …

… you better proofread. On September 20 Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress from Georgia, decided to take a jab at Socialist Democratic Congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Greene, who is blonde, tried a play on the dumb blonde trope by tweeting, “I would like to thank Congresswoman @AOC. She has single handily put an end to all ‘dumb blonde’ jokes.”

Ocasio-Cortez, who is no slouch when it comes to heaving a social media haymaker, replied, “Next time try ‘single-handedly,’ it’ll work better. Good luck writing legislation!”

New-ish words of the moment

Merriam-Webster reports “doomscrolling” and “doomsurfing” are new terms referring to the tendency of individuals to continuously surf or scroll on their smart phone through bad news on social media, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. These terms might even make it into the dictionary as Merriam-Webster says they are words they’re watching. At least now, when it’s 3 a.m., you cannot sleep, and you are instead staring mindlessly into your Twitter feed you know there’s a word for that.

Signing off with “Best”

Whilst surfing around on social media I noticed there appears to be some pushback to ending an email by saying, “Best” because it is considered hostile. My reaction to this was a grammatical, “huh?” Can there be a hostile way to end an email message using an ordinary word like best?

“I enjoy a good ‘regards’ when I feel annoyed,” says Rose Carmel Gaspard, a writer in Georgia. Gaspard writes a lot for medical professionals, although she is not a doctor. “If someone really gets on my nerves, and I don’t really hold them in high regards, I just shorten it to ‘regards’,” she explains.

Gaspard makes sense. But the blowback against “Best” was far coarser in online comments.

“You don’t use it because it’s an adjective! An adjective by itself makes no sense. Best what? Wishes? Best regards? Best pins in your eye?”

(Editor’s note: Best can be a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective, depending on its usage.)

“’DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!’ seems like an appropriate sign-off lately, but usually I just use ‘sincerely’ and call it a day.”

“Who has the time and desire to read this level of intention into an email sign off is what I want to know,” said another individual in a nice summation to this topic.

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee.Sign up for his newsletter – text AFEWWORDS to 22828.

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