featured lit web

Grammar of the future, future, future

Doug LeMoine is puz­zled that the con­struc­tion of Face­book sta­tus updates requires me/him to refer to myself/himself in the third per­son. This for­mat gives struc­ture to the News Feed, but it also encour­ages the updater to craft the update as a sen­tence begin­ning with his/her full name. The forced third-per­son would seem to cre­ate myr­i­ad gram­mat­i­cal prob­lems as peo­ple try to con­struct mean­ing­ful sen­tences, but pret­ty much every­one ignores gram­mat­i­cal cor­rect­ness (not sur­pris­ing). The sur­pris­ing thing is, gram­mat­i­cal­ly incor­rect sta­tus updates don't real­ly seem weird (to me) any­more.(It's pos­si­ble that I'm tak­ing this all far too seri­ous­ly).When I first joined Face­book, I duti­ful­ly wrote all of my sta­tus updates in the third per­son, as the for­mat dic­tates. Because I am both a gram­mar snob and a rule-fol­low­er.

Rule-abiding: Doug … his

Facebook third person status update

This con­struc­tion is appro­pri­ate for the feed, but it's also ter­ri­bly awk­ward. Sta­tus­es are usu­al­ly per­son­al, "microblog-ish" bits of con­tent, and it just sounds weird when per­son­al stuff is writ­ten in the third per­son. Recent­ly, I start­ed to lapse into the first per­son in the body of the sta­tus, and while doing so, I cringed in antic­i­pa­tion of the inevitable con­dem­na­tion.

Rule-bending? Rule-breaking? Rule-adapting: Doug … my

Facebook first person status update

But so far, there has been no con­dem­na­tion forth­com­ing. Why? Maybe we all quick­ly become blind to the total­ly obvi­ous dis­agree­ment? Or maybe it just makes cog­ni­tive sense that the con­tent of the sta­tus will be in the first per­son? If the lat­ter is true, how soon will we be updat­ing Fowler and Strunk & White to reflect this new kind of usage?

5 replies on “Grammar of the future, future, future”

I liken it to the /me com­mand on IRC, and sus­pect the peo­ple who con­coct these inter­ac­tions do as well. I agree, how­ev­er, that what we're actu­al­ly doing with these updates is fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent.

Hey, that's inter­est­ing, Dori­an. I hadn't con­sid­ered Face­book sta­tus format's rela­tion­ship to IRC syn­tax, but it would make com­plete sense that the Face­book design­ers con­sid­er this con­ven­tion in their car­ry­ing for­ward of the cur­rent for­mat. And even though Face­book sta­tus­es are dif­fer­ent at this point, it is inter­est­ing to pon­der the UI chal­lenge in imple­ment­ing some­thing like the /me and /describe com­mands that IRC pro­vides to dif­fer­en­ti­ate. Thanks!

Yes! and even bet­ter, you would be able to use it to con­demn not just the post, but also any of the "x likes this" flags that the post has gath­ered.