Last Word Syndrome

Informed debate or Last Word Syndrome

Informed debate or Last Word Syndrome

Yesterday I was discussing the cultural differences between Germans and English people. It was generally agreed that Germans were direct and that we English couch our intercourse in “buffer words”. A German might say “Give me the mustard” and an English person might say “Could you pass me the mustard”. This difference becomes more obvious when we communicate via Email. I know Germans who have learned to be less direct in their Emails but I have never heard of the English modifying their emails to be more direct. I think that Email is a problematic medium in any case. When you throw Germans / English mannerisms into the mix you are more or less bound to get misunderstanding and bad feeling.

Blogging also has issues. When commenting on News sites such as the Guardian or the BBC I have noticed the tendency toward Last Word Syndrome. One person comments, another pointedly disagrees, offence is taken, and a response written immediately off the cuff. Neither party wants to let the other have the last word and either the thread deteriorates into abuse or the argument goes around in circles as one or both of the parties merely reiterate their arguments. I have had this on my blog and with work Emails. I guess that, with Emails, it’s more common when we’re stupid enough to cc others into the exchange.
I think one problem is that Emails are written in the same style as the spoken word but may be read more like letters. It took hundreds, if not thousands, of years for us to refine the art of writing so that pedants can lecture us on spelling and grammar. As Email and the web are very new I guess we still have not worked out the ground rules. Perhaps after a couple of hundreds years things will have improved and we will receive sarcastic comments about our inability to understand the rules on the use of smilies.

This week after a couple of email exchanges I received a brief and stupid reply. My immediate reaction was to respond with “Da!!!!!”. I refrained and let the other guy have the last word. It rankles and I imagine him thinking that his boorish behaviour had outwitted me but, for this week at least, I consider I nipped the thing in the bud and refrained from petty behaviour. Perhaps I will make a habit of it…….but don’t count on it.

Star House

Star House

2 thoughts on “Last Word Syndrome

  1. I did that too this week. Held my tongue and refrained from replying to what I felt was a particularly piquish email. Days later, the sender sent me another email, this time inexplicably extolling my virtues. I was glad I hadn’t snapped on the earlier one, which I now think I may have misunderstood.

    Your favorite lecturing pedant,

  2. My boss is French and I’d like to preface by mentioning he is one of the most kind and thoughtful guys I’ve met. He really is extremely cool. I’ve noticed people who don’t know him as well as i do sometimes think he’s being abrasive in electronic communication. He’s really just being direct. He knows how to speak English very well and he’d be offended if he knew I was comparing him to German English speakers lol.

    I’ve actually had to explain this to some coworkers who thought he was angry at them or something and were very upset and worried. I think anyone who needs to communicate with people for whom English is a second language would do well to always assume the best intentions as opposed to assuming the worst when it comes to the perceived tone of electronic communications. This strategy has served me very well.

    Writing warm and fuzzy emails in English is usually not part of their skillset and realistically shouldn’t need to be. If you are in doubt pick up the phone and ask them if everything is cool, or better yet, learn their language…

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