Thursday, September 03, 2009

CAPS LOCK AND SHOUTY MESSAGES

Sitting in my swivel chair while rubbing chalk dust from my scruffy tweed jacket's leather elbow patches, I've often told my A level Language students that writing about graphology is the last refuge of the loser. That if you write about graphology in an exam you would be best to write "Loser" as your name on the paper and write in the words "epic fail" where examiners should put their marks. We can all see that a heading is in bold to make it stand out, that a picture is centred to give it prominence, that the font is Times New Roman: none of that is language analysis and it's not worth any marks in exams. Loser.

But with Language & Mode now an AS level topic area, perhaps that's no longer the case. Graphology - the layout of words, images and headings on a page, the way things look on the page - is actually quite important when looking at differences between written and blended mode texts. The fact that a word on a web page is underlined might mean that it's a clickable link and therefore an interactive feature. The choice of font might actually convey some kind of tone too. And this piece on the BBC News website makes a number of interesting points about what we think about capital letters in emails or on web forums. As the piece tells us:

Most web users know capital letters are a capital offence - they're commonly thought to be online shorthand for screaming. But how did they get this reputation?

Ultimately, in the rushed world of online communication, all-caps has become a
bit of a "lazy" shorthand for yelling - it's faster than finding another way to
convey excitement or agitation. But the recipient feels like they are being
shouted at.

So, there's stuff here to think about for graphology and what it tells us about how we're being addressed by the writer of a text. The article also goes on to talk about different fonts and the history of some of them, which is interesting in a bit of a nerdy way, but it's the discussion of email etiquette and caps which is most useful, I think. So, graphology might now become quite an intelligent thing to write about in such situations. I take it all back: graphology is no longer the last refuge of the loser. Sorry.

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