Posted by: J M | April 16, 2010

I is for ‘I think you’ll find’

If you have any sort of online presence at all, it’s important to remember that  everybody’s watching you. You are not writing in a diary, or scribbling a note down in the fiddly memo feature of your scratched mobile phone; you’re shouting from the virtual rooftops, laying bare your flaws to the world. And for every person throwing their words around, there’s at least three pedants waiting to jump on what they say.

Pedantry, for a while, became a lost art,. Wild exaggerations and faux pas were broadcast into the world and, nine times out of ten, nobody could be bothered checking the facts, save for a few hectored subs on newspapers. Now, however, with the advent of the dear internet, the whole world is your sub. And instead of ‘hello’, their greeting is usually ‘I think you’ll find…’ followed by a slamdown of whatever it is you’ve done incorrectly, be it a misplaced apostrophe, a strange verb agreement, or attributing the wrong year to the time when Donna Summer hit number one with I Feel Love.

The rise of the new pedant has been most entertaining on Twitter. Ah yes, Twitter. A useful social networking tool that has given so many compliments and such a great deal of importance bestowed on it by the world that it hardly knows what to do with itself. Twitter is a different animal from its forebears Facebook and MySpace in that famous people — and I’m not talking ex-Big Brother contestants here, but absolute bona fide BIG names — prattle on it as if they were having a conversation with someone in the same room. However, if this were a real conversation, it’s likely the recipient of the gossip would get up and walk out of the room, such is its inanity. No subject too trivial, no topic too dull. Just by logging onto Twitter and endlessly scrolling, you can find out what Ashton Kutcher wears to bed, what Simon Pegg had for dinner last night and even what Dame Elizabeth Taylor is up to later.

Such frankness should be applauded, but don’t forget our friendly neighbourhood pedant, purposefully stacking up his virtual lemons, ready to squeeze their vitriolic juice all over these celebrity updates. Get a spelling wrong and you’re history: King Pedant is just one click away, finger hovering over the @ symbol so he can start his diatribe. Made a throwaway comment about not understanding how people can’t like pork? Prepare for the Pedant’s Front of Judea to swoop down on you and admonish you for culture ignorance. Making a weak joke about Jesus being the first bloke to shop at B&Q? Woe betide ye, oh infidel, as a thousand earnest Christians tell you with a very straight face that Jesus’ ‘step-dad’ Joseph was a carpenter before Our Lord, so in fact Joseph would have been perusing the outdoor fairy lights and joinery long in advance of his son.

Sites like Wikipedia and Google have transformed the pedant’s armoury from a rather limp bow and arrow to an arsenal of machine guns and machetes. Cower as they wage war on inappropriate jokes! Swoon as they valiantly fight the battle of the ‘i before e except after c’ rule and, well, roll your eyes and log off at the sheer pathetic pointlessness of it all.

You could argue, and I probably would, that maybe if you don’t want to be picked up on your every word by someone called Colin in South Merton you should do one of two things: 1. Shut up. 2. Make sure you’re right. I am in the unfortunate position of being one of those people who hates to look stupid or ill-informed. If only more of my fellow humans had the same sensibilities. So, before I open my mouth or commit something to print, I do try to make sure that what I’m about to say will not make me look as if I have never picked up a book in my life. I know they say ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ but that doesn’t really wash when you’ve just claimed that John Travolta’s hair is all his own on Twitter, only to be regaled with 7,000 replies showing a zoomed pic of his unfortunate hair plugs. We all make mistakes — God knows I sometimes make them willingly — but if you’re going to show your foibles to an audience of, say, 10,000 people, don’t be surprised when two thirds of them come back to you within seconds pointing out your erroneous use of a hyphen when it should have been an n-dash.

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