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Slice of Life 4: Watch your language!

By Janice Ewing

When I was growing up, this admonition mainly referred to cursing, or any other words or phrases deemed inappropriate for polite use. (I think the subtext was “Watch how you speak to adults!”) Now, I find myself thinking about the value of watching our language in a much broader context, in our speaking as well as in our writing. A great resource on this subject for teachers is Peter Johnston’s Choice Words. Word choice, tone, nuance, connotation all come into play in our communication and influence how our intended message is perceived. We’ve all experienced the e-mail message that we don’t quite know how to interpret…

What specifically got me thinking about word choice this morning was receiving one of those e-mail bouncebacks that always seem to pop up just as you’re thinking you can cross that communication off your list. This was not the “We’ll keep trying one.” It was the “Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently” one, followed by the always helpful “Technical details of permanent failure.” I’ll admit that there’ve been times I received that message in moments of stress and thought of myself as the “permanent failure” and no, I did not go on to read the “technical details.” There has to be a gentler way to notify the sender of the status of their message. Any suggestions?


* This “Slice of Life” post is part of a larger blog series, hosted by the blog site, Two Writing Teachers: A Meeting Place for a World of Reflective Writers.

???????????Janice Ewing is an adjunct for Cabrini College and a co-director for the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. Janice co-facilitates PAWLP’s “Continuity Days” and this blog. She is an avid reader and writer, and especially enjoys writing poems.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. kathy barham #

    I agree, there must be kinder or at least more diplomatic notices than one with the word failed in it. Failed is so charged, so judgmental. I love “Oh, snap” because that emphasizes the disappointment of the one who failed (miserably?) to send to the correct address be it the sender’s or the sendee’s error–instead of emphasizing blame. We have enough to blame ourselves for when it comes to navigating technology. Thanks, Janice and everyone who responded!


    March 5, 2015
  2. haha. I love this post. You went in a totally different direction than I anticipated, and it was awesome for my reader-senses. Thanks. As far as suggestions, well, I guess it depends on the voice you hear in your head and whom you might imagine the “little person inside the computer” to be. For me, it would be a Dixie-like character (think Designing Women) saying something like, “Shug? Shug! It ain’t workin’ this time. You gone have to try it again, hon.” At least I would smile before banging my fist on the desk and slamming the lid shut.


    March 4, 2015
  3. Alyssa Mack #

    Hello! My name is Alyssa, I’m a middle grades preperation major at West Chester University. I can definitely relate to your post! I am twenty years old, so presumably I am a member of many social media accounts. I feel that many of these websites reach out to a younger crowd and have a somewhat nicer way of giving error messages. I’m not sure if they’re choosing to use a language that younger generations understand/relate to or what. Why isn’t this the case for all things in the form of writing? The first website that came to mind while reading this post was Tumblr (a blogging website for mainly adolescents). They use comedy in there error messages. Personally, I think all forms of writing communication (error messages and others) should come off like Tumblr, or at least nicer.


    March 4, 2015
  4. jmjd #

    I’ve gotten that same message before and often a few times in one day. I like what I get “Oh, snap” when something has gone awry on Google. Much less judgmental.


    March 4, 2015

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