It’s fascinating and dreadful in hindsight to realize how quickly these conventions took hold and how widely they spread. And! They have sort of mutated since to liberal and often sarcastic use of question marks? And exclamation points!
This part of Maud Newton’s terrific piece on one of the accidental legacies of David Foster Wallace’s essays (from this weekend’s New York Times magazine) gave me symptoms of actual, physical panic. What self-respecting blogger isn’t guilty of leaning way too hard on artificial folksiness?
But I do hate these tendencies, too. As Newton points out, the endless qualifications, the faux-cutesy pose, and the tortured predicting of future criticism are all couched in fear—specifically, the fear of not being liked. And that fear often garbles any underlying argument being made (if there ever was one).
It’s not limited to blogs anymore, either; see a certain GQ cover story, for which I have absolutely no patience.
Clarity is an excellent virtue to strive for. Personally, I also aim for some small dose of wit—or at least buoyancy. Intelligence would be nice, too. Happily, in all three arenas Newton leads by example.