Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

EMAIL HELL....The New York Times reports that university professors are increasingly wary of the steady stream of email they get from their students:

These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages from 10 a week to 10 after every class that are too informal or downright inappropriate.

"The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding," said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. " 'I need to know this and you need to tell me right now,' with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative."

Kessler's observation gibes with the results of a small research project (via Trish Wilson) suggesting that most people don't have a clue how they come across in email. From Wired:

"That's how flame wars get started," says psychologist Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, who conducted the research with Justin Kruger of New York University.

....The researchers took 30 pairs of undergraduate students and gave each one a list of 20 statements about topics like campus food or the weather. Assuming either a serious or sarcastic tone, one member of each pair e-mailed the statements to his or her partner. The partners then guessed the intended tone and indicated how confident they were in their answers.

Those who sent the messages predicted that nearly 80 percent of the time their partners would correctly interpret the tone. In fact the recipients got it right just over 50 percent of the time.

"People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they 'hear' the tone they intend in their head as they write," Epley explains.

And I'll bet that 50% number gets even worse when the sender is, um, emotionally stressed. That's why I always told people who worked for me to never write email when they were angry or even merely annoyed. Never. Do it in person or over the phone, or else just wait to calm down. No matter how angry you are, you'll come across as ten times worse than you mean to when you express it via email.

What makes it worse it that email has an all-too-frequent habit of becoming public, as Boston lawyers William Korman and Dianna Abdala recently found out. The Globe has the entertaining story here. Consider it fair warning.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (113)

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Comments

The NYTimes article took me by surprise. I'm a professor in a computer science department, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses. I get maybe a dozen or so unsolicited emails from my students per semester, all perfectly professional. Maybe CS students have a better appreciation for the uses and weaknesses of email than in other disciplines.

Posted by: RSA on February 21, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

At a minimum, do what I used to teach salespeople for a tech company in Mt. View, CA to do: READ YOUR MESSAGE ALOUD TO YOURSELF BEFORE YOU SEND IT. Relatively often, as I was able to demonstrate rather easily, you can tell from listening to yourself where there might be problems.

Posted by: CaliforniaDrySherry on February 21, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

That's why I always told people who worked for me to never write email when they were angry or even merely annoyed. Never.


Good advice. I always let myself write the email, as therapy. Then I throw it away.

Some of the posters here might consider this technique...

Posted by: craigie on February 21, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

cragie, why should they consider it when they can anonymously flame away without a care?

Posted by: David W. on February 21, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

The real moral of the story that Kevin linked to is:
Never do business with a trust-fund baby.

Or let one become president.

Posted by: craigie on February 21, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I think Korman should be mighty glad the "trust fund baby" isn't working for him.

Posted by: editoresss on February 21, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin writes:

What makes it worse it that email has an all-too-frequent habit of becoming public...

Quick, pronounce the following words:

embargo
embark
embalm
embrace
emblematic
embarrassing
email

Notice anything?

Please people, let's keep the hyphen in "e-mail." It's a long "e." (Yes, I know that English abounds in inconsistencies, but let's not add to the list.)

Now back to your regular programming....


Posted by: pk on February 21, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks so much for the link, Kevin. I thought that the sample size of the study was too small to really gain any kind of insight on flame wars (which was what the article was about), but it was a good start. I'd like to see more research into how people think they come across in writing, especially on the Internet. Larger samples sizes that reach outside the world of undergraduate students are needed. So much is lost in translation with the lack of facial features and voice inflection. It's a very interesting topic.

Posted by: The Countess on February 21, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Quick, pronounce the following words:

emit
emerge
emergency

Notice anything?

That's right: the left wants to clothe our women in burkas and force us all worship at the alter of multicultifoofooism. You'll see, come November just how much our country apprceiates the BOLD leadership of George Bush and his Party.

Posted by: fromage de pnis on February 21, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

I always thought the problem with email was its anonymity, or distance. Consider the way we curse people who cut us off in traffic. Most of us would never consider speaking that way to someone who cut us off with a shopping cart at the supermarket. That's because we don't have the guts to ream somebody who's standing right in front of us, but at a keyboard, hell, I'M ACHILLES AND YOU'RE HECTOR.

Posted by: wally on February 21, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

PK: A Google search found 2 billion references to "email" but only 1.7 billion references to "e-mail." You're losing by 300 million votes! Better do some major campaigning quick.....

Posted by: Kevin Drum on February 21, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Fromage writes:

Quick, pronounce the following words:

emit
emerge
emergency

Notice anything?

Yes, they all have the accent after the first syllable. Do you say e-MAIL or E-mail?

The overwhelming number of English words beginning with "em-" do not have a long "e."

Posted by: pk on February 21, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sympathetic to new demands placed on professors, but frankly, just about everyone quoted in the article strikes me as either petty or something of a crybaby. Ten after after class, or ten a week? Completely excessive. Asking a prof to proof a paper the day before it's due? Give me a break. But giving a professor a heads-up that you'll miss a graduate school class to tend to your family? Seems perfectly reasonable to me. And then for the professor to imply that would result in a bad recommendation -- well, it just seems petty to me.

Or this guy, for example: "But student e-mail can go too far, said Robert B. Ahdieh, an associate professor at Emory Law School in Atlanta. He paraphrased some of the comments he had received: 'I think you're covering the material too fast, or I don't think we're using the reading as much as we could in class, or I think it would be helpful if you would summarize what we've covered at the end of class in case we missed anything.'" I'm willing to bet the students at Emory Law School are all pretty intelligent; I don't see how any of those comments go "too far" (except possibly the last, and that's a stretch) and in fact are probably fair indicators of shortcomings in his teaching methods.

I guess I've been extraordinarily lucky in the professors I've had during the course of my education, because as far as I've know, I've never had any of these blowhards take this kind of offense to any of my emails. Or hey, maybe they just decided not to spout off about me to a national newspaper.

pk, the best rationale I've seen for using email instead of e-mail is the number of words that are initially hyphenated but then shortened as they become commonplace. I think this makes sense for email, and that eventually "e-mail" will just look clumsy and outdated. English speakers are clearly smart enough to cope with irrational spellings ;)

Posted by: Carl on February 21, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I am really tired of those cover pictures of Chimpy on your main page. Couldn't you put up an old copy of Washington Monthly to advertise with?

Posted by: Ace Franze on February 21, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK


PK: A Google search found 2 billion references to "email" but only 1.7 billion references to "e-mail." You're losing by 300 million votes! Better do some major campaigning quick.....

I'm fairly sure most major print sources hyphenate "e-mail." (New Yorker, NYT...) Many of those Google hits might not exactly be models of linguistic elegance....

Posted by: pk on February 21, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

pk, fromage

Thank you for the refresher course on pronunciation. This is not an English exam question. You need to realize that this is a very small blogging community, especially the liberal catblogging subsection. Do you really want to start pissing off more experienced bloggers at this early stage of your career?

bla bla bla.

Posted by: Law-Talkin' Guy on February 21, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

This is all a result of coddling of the students at all levels. The professors are required to be funny and witty more than knowledgeable or else the poor evaluations will knock of their careers. Even if they are all of the above, if they are strict about giving grades, their evaluations go in the gutter.

Posted by: lib on February 21, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

We should be encouraging poor email behavior. Why? Because every few years a particularly amusing thread breaks loose and spreads like wildfire, entertaining office monkeys such as myself all across the globe.

This one inspired me to google "yours was yum" for old time's sake. Ah, memories.

Posted by: crabshack on February 21, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Carl writes:

pk, the best rationale I've seen for using email instead of e-mail is the number of words that are initially hyphenated but then shortened as they become commonplace. I think this makes sense for email, and that eventually "e-mail" will just look clumsy and outdated. English speakers are clearly smart enough to cope with irrational spellings ;)

Yes, fair enough. I suppose eventually "snuck" will be accepted as past tense for "sneak," as well. Sigh.

On the other hand, "x-ray" is still hyphenated. Google x-ray/xray and you'll see....

Posted by: pk on February 21, 2006 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Can someone tell us a little more about the trust fund baby's father? I'd sure like to see him publicly humiliated for bringing such a person into the world.

Posted by: MDS on February 21, 2006 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

*You'll see, come November just how much our country apprceiates the BOLD leadership of George Bush and his Party.*

Hey Penis cheese, would that be DIE-BOLD?

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on February 21, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Do you really want to start pissing off more experienced bloggers at this early stage of your career?

Typical free-speech hating liberal! Always trying to silence the truth because you know it exposes your phony secularist agenda for what it is : IslamoCommiPussitude!

Posted by: fromage de pnis on February 21, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Really good advice. I am also a lawyer, and I can't tell you how many "unfortunate" e-mails I receive or review. Clients who would go bananas if you wrote a memo on a subject seem to forget that an e-mail is like a memo, except that it's always permanent, usually much more informal and often very ill considered because it was written so quickly. My husband's strategy is to write e-mails as word documents so they can't be quickly dashed off.

Posted by: Barbara on February 21, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

pk -

Let it be stipulated, for the sake of argument that "email" is a new sort of word, in the manner that you describe.

So what?

Beyond merely being *new*, you have more work to do to convince me that it's *bad*.

Posted by: cdj on February 21, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I am a professor -- I've taught at expensive private colleges, and I now teach at a (Canadian) public university. On the whole, the American kids at the private colleges were fine, but there were stunning examples of disrespectful demands -- both on email and in person -- that reflected a kind of service-industry attitude towards their college education. The Canadian kids are much more respectfully. I get some demands on email, but they are usually reasonable (I do resent the ones received on weekends and demanding an immediate answer, but they are few).
What the students do demand is that I post overheads or visual aids on the web for them to download. I do it, but at the same time, I worry about the student's diminished note taking ability. They seem to want to transcribe rather than process lectures more critically. Some version of this tendency seems reflected in the NYT article.

Posted by: lisainVan on February 21, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK
Quick, pronounce the following words:

embargo
embark
embalm
embrace
emblematic
embarrassing
email

Notice anything?

Yeah, all of those follow the basic rule (to which there are legions of exceptions, but, nevertheless, its the rule for unfamiliar words I remember from elementary school): a vowel folllowed by a more than one consonant is short, one followed by a single consonant and then another vowel may be long.

There are plenty of other "em{vowel}" words pronounced that way (at least that I hear, though some of that is regional variation; a lot of the ones I hear frequently many dictionaries probably prefer short-i to long-e pronuniciation.)

The hyphen really ought to be an apostrophe, anyway; its not the kind of compound that needs hyphenation under the standard rules (you wouldn't write "electronic-mail", as a noun at least, but most of the word "electronic" is deleted, so "e'mail" instead of "e-mail". But all such pedantry is moot, despites its original, email is no longer conceptually a qualified relative of mail, but a concept whose understanding is independent, so "email" is both natural and appropriate.)

Please people, let's keep the hyphen in "e-mail." It's a long "e." (Yes, I know that English abounds in inconsistencies, but let's not add to the list.)

As noted above, "e-mail" is an inconsistency in and of itself; "email" makes a lot more sense.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Shouldn't most workds with a vowel after the single m cause the e to be pronounced as a long e, as the examples emit and emergency demonstrated? All of your words, pk, start emb. Let's see...

Long e:
emit
emission
emerge
emergency
emu
emotion
emote

Short e:
emulate
emulation

I think based on that email is ok without the hyphen.

Posted by: James G on February 21, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

E-mail is often mistreated. My friends and I just use it to sign funny names at the bottom.

Posted by: Hugh G. Rection on February 21, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Orthographical nitpicking aside....

The article Kevin references does not surprise me. In fact, I now make it a point of saying on the first day of classes that while I am usually quick to respond to e-mails, I cannot guarantee responses to 3am cris de coeur on days when papers are due.

And I agree that many people are very unaware of how they come across via e-mail. The solution? Lots and lots of emoticons. :P

And I have the same rule of not writing while angry. Actually, what I do is write the angry response I want to and leave it unsent. After time has passed, I come back and usually delete it.

Posted by: pk on February 21, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

My first response to the trust fund girl in Boston's comment about "liking nicer things" would have been to suggest that, if that was her priority, maybe she should have gone to a more highly regarded law school. If this girl thinks law school was hard, she's in for a rude awakening on how hard it is to make a lot of money as a lawyer with her budding resume.

With that being said, forwarding her email for intentional embarassing distribution was a bit of a dick move as well.

Posted by: Doug-E-Fresh on February 21, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK
I always thought the problem with email was its anonymity, or distance. Consider the way we curse people who cut us off in traffic. Most of us would never consider speaking that way to someone who cut us off with a shopping cart at the supermarket. That's because we don't have the guts to ream somebody who's standing right in front of us, but at a keyboard, hell, I'M ACHILLES AND YOU'RE HECTOR.

I don't think that's the whole of the problem -- you don't have the same problem with written communication, but if it were just distance and "anonymity" (which email, in the cases discussed, usually lacks, just as written communication does) you'd expect you would.

I think mostly its a culture/education issue. By the time they've gotten to college, many students have apparently not learned how to handle email in a "business" context, specifically, that it is little different than a business letter, especially in terms of the manner in which it is written, but also, to a lesser extent, in terms of when to use it.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm. My Database Management prof (grad-level class) has a rather firm email policy -- spent five minutes on it the first class. Basically boiled down to "Look, at least SOME of you are going to come around sniffing for recommendations. It'll help a great deal if you spell check your email, use full words, and actually write like it's a piece of professional correspondence."

His biggest gripe, as it turns out, wasn't tone but the use of IM-style shortcuts. "4" instead of for, etc.

Not that I can blame him. Drives me crazy. USE THE WHOLE WORD -- YOU'RE NOT SAVING ELECTRICITY. And if you're saving time on your end, it's at the expense of time on my end when I have to decode it.

Posted by: Morat20 on February 21, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

I agree totally with the idea that a less personal contact will lead to confusion. It is simple. When I talk on the phone with somebody I can't see their body language. I have less of the signals that humans use in communication to rely upon. That continues with the written word not having the benefit of voice tone that communicating on the phone benefits from. Very tallented and well trained speakers and writers can more or less overcome this handicap. Most of in e-mail or threads, myself included, are that skilled at communicating.

As far as the email vs. e-mail battle I wonder why the point that it is actually a contraction of a sort. Electronic Mail. Would e'mail also work? Popular usage (beat by 300,000 votes or something) doesn't mean correct usage and may actually guarentee 180 degrees away from it? Popular usage does lead to acceptance of slang and the changing of the language we speak (pk or whoever makes this point through the sneaked vs. snuck example of English vs. American English.) I'm ok with that result too I guess.

Posted by: Hmmm on February 21, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

I SEND ALL MY EMAILS IN CAPITAL LETTERS (LIKE THIS) AND TRY TO INCORPORATE WORDS LIKE VIAGRA, CIALIS, AND ROLEX.

Posted by: PATTON on February 21, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry about my spelling and grammar.

"Most of in e-mail or threads, myself included, are that skilled at communicating."

I meant...

"Most of US in e-mail or threads, myself included, are NOT that skilled at communicating."

See what I mean?

Posted by: Hmmm on February 21, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

pk

I've literally been using email for 20 years. I've never used a hyphen, nor have I known anybody to use a hyphen.

Consider the following list of words
tough
plough
cough
through
nought
bough
dough
fought
enough

English is not a language that has pronunciation imposed on it by spelling. "ough" itself can have (at least) five different pronunciations. Insisting on your spelling for a word based on its pronunciation is a strange thing to do in English. It's one thing to be pedantic; it's quite another to be pedantic and wrong.

Posted by: Rick on February 21, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

More on email/e-mail:

--------------
Long e:
emit
emission
emerge
emergency
emu
emotion
emote

Short e:
emulate
emulation

I think based on that email is ok without the hyphen.
----------------------

Okay, I'm losing this battle, but all of the examples above of long "e" words do not have the accent on the first syllable. And hey--when the accent is on the first syllable (as in emulate or emulation, as noted above), it's not the long "e" anymore. "Emu" is about the only example of a long "e" word that has the accent on the first syllable.

On the other hand...I notice now that Kevin, Atrios, and Josh Marshall all use "email." The crusty ol' New York Times uses "e-mail." I can't say that I relish being on their side....

Posted by: pk on February 21, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

I use email with my wife when I know a contentious issue is going to come back up again.

A month ago she claimed that she had "never told me xyz."

I offered to forward the email that she had sent me in which she had said 'xyz'. She changed the subject.

Posted by: Anonymous on February 21, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

The professors are required to be funny and witty more than knowledgeable or else the poor evaluations will knock of their careers.

For what it's worth, I don't think I've ever heard of a professor at a major university having been let go because of poor teaching evaluations. Even pre-tenure.

Posted by: RSA on February 21, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with poster who thought the profs sounded petulant. How is suggesting something be covered in greater depth crossing a line? I'm always amazed by the extreme arrogance of those involved in higher education. As hard as it is for them to believe, they are in service industry. They should answer that e-mail. The students are the customer. College is a huge scam as it is. It's ridiculous for people to have to plunk down all that money and then suck up to the people they pay.

Posted by: Tom on February 21, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Her being a trust fund baby explains the attitude though not why she bothered to go to law school, and why she thought defense attorneys made a lot of money .

bla bla bla?? WTF - talk about a good way to show everyone why not to hire her. Of course that firm is likely now glad she didn't accept that job. Can you imagine that female representing your firm. UGH.

If she and the students mentioned in article are any indication - the future is going to be a hard place. The boundaries between work/home, personal/private are already so blurred this crop just indictes it is going to get much worse. I do think that new "rules" need to be written and people need to set the boundries they want to communicate by up front.

Don't even get me started on the coddling of the students. My professors would have laughed in my face, told me to find another class if I had made those "suggestions," and/or reminded me that I am in college now and learning is my responsibility.

Posted by: ET on February 21, 2006 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

By the time they've gotten to college, many students have apparently not learned how to handle email in a "business" context, specifically, that it is little different than a business letter, especially in terms of the manner in which it is written, but also, to a lesser extent, in terms of when to use it.

really? the only email i see that resembles 'business letters' is the kind that upper management writes for mass-mailing to the rest of the company.

most email i get (and send) is just little queries or notes sent to someone across the office in lieu of walking/talking.

Posted by: cleek on February 21, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Actually the simplest solution is to hold office hours and tell them to come to the office hours if they have any questions. Most of the time you get only the brightest students or the ass kissers, and you are done in a very short time. At least for the engineering courses that I taught at a university, two hours of such time used to be enough, and most of the students who would have otherwise sent emails never showed up.

Posted by: lib on February 21, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a TA who receives a fair amoutn of e-mail from students & who works pretty closely with professors. While I agree that the "education as paid for service" model is a little out of hand in student thinking, you can defintely add me to the list of folks here who thinks that these professors in the NYT article sound whiney. for instance:
"Alexandra Lahav, an associate professor of law at the University of Connecticut, said she felt pressured by the e-mail messages. "I feel sort of responsible, as if I ought to be on call all the time," she said."

-well, take time in class and tell them that you're not on call all the time. Set limits, make some rules, stick by them. this is part of what we do. Why is this a problem?

Posted by: URK on February 21, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

My husband, a professor at a community college, actually prefers to use email for student questions/comments/requests - he can answer it when it's convenient for him, instead of being a slave to his phone or his office.

Of course, he saysyou have to invest some time in teaching them how to use email properly... he's actually gotten email like...

From: crazymonkeylove
Subject: missed class

I missed class, what did you cover?

...to which he has to reply: "Tell me your real name, which class you're in, and the date of the class you missed, and I'll be happy to answer your question."

Posted by: KarenJG on February 21, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK
Okay, I'm losing this battle, but all of the examples above of long "e" words do not have the accent on the first syllable. And hey--when the accent is on the first syllable (as in emulate or emulation, as noted above), it's not the long "e" anymore.

Actually, I'm pretty sure that's almost precisely reversed. Most of the cited "long-e" words are, actually short-i words with the accent on the second syllable. There is a fairly common "improper" (per most dictionaries) pronunciation of all of them, though, where the accent moves to the first syllable and the short-i becomes a long-e.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Rick writes:

Insisting on your spelling for a word based on its pronunciation is a strange thing to do in English.

You're exaggerating here. I noted in my very first post that "English abounds in inconsistencies." (I was anticipating the inevitable G.B. Shaw example of "ghoti" as a way of spellling "fish.")

But while there are inconsistencies in English spelling, it is not utterly random. Looking at other examples of words beginning "em-" is not wrong, it's reasonable. And actually there is a very broad pattern here.


But is it pedantic? Yeah, guilty as charged. But we all (or most of us) have our linguistic pet peeves. Would that the world's problems all turned on a hyphen.


Posted by: pk on February 21, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Electronic Mail

E-Mail


$.02

Posted by: owlbear1 on February 21, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0419/p03s01-usec.html

1980-2004, corrected for inflation

Crude oil........down 54%
Gasoline.........down 34%

Baseball Game......up 55%
Automobiles........up 62%
New Homes..........up 56%
College Tuition....up 178%

Let 'em do a little work for that big money.

Posted by: Myron on February 21, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK
really? the only email i see that resembles 'business letters' is the kind that upper management writes for mass-mailing to the rest of the company.

Yeah, I should have said "other written business communication" -- most emails are more like memos than business letters.

And even there, they aren't precisely the same, I was meaning to make a domain-appropriateness analogy, not state an equivalence. I suppose "more like other written business communication (e.g., business letters, memos) than like personal email or personal SMS/IM/MMORPG messages" would have been more clear.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK
Insisting on your spelling for a word based on its pronunciation is a strange thing to do in English.

But not as strange as insisting on hyphenation for a word based on its pronunciation.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK
But is it pedantic? Yeah, guilty as charged.

Yeah, but its not even sensibly pedantic. English doesn't mark deleted letters with hyphens, nor are hyphens usually significant in pronunciation, nor, when used as a noun, is "electronic mail" a phrase would be hyphenated.

Pedantic demand for consistency with the rest of the language would be more likely to demand "e'mail" than "e-mail".

"E-mail" is just demanding consistency with an older idiosyncratic invention rather than a newer but more regular one.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Man, I can only say that I was VERY unimpressed by the examples presented in this article, insofar as they purport to represent students going over the boundaries.

The single most striking thing about it all is the sheer arrogance of the academics, who can't stop mewling about the troubles they go through with their students. I mean, how is it worthy of complaining to a reporter from the Times that a student, a naive freshman no less, asked in an email whether he or she should use a notebook? Is it just too hard for the professor to come up with a reply that makes it clear that she is not the right one to ask such a question, but does so politely? If the professor can't figure out how to do that, who has the problem with writing and with email?

And the final case really sealed my negative impression of these whining professors. Some little dipshit assistant professor gets off telling her students

...that they must say thank you after receiving a professor's response to an e-mail message.

"One of the rules that I teach my students is, the less powerful person always has to write back," Professor Worley said.

They must write back a thank you for every single email from a professor, for Christ's Fucking Sake?

Really, who the hell do these people think they are that every one of their students must kiss their fat asses at every opportunity?

Posted by: frankly0 on February 21, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Umm on the other hand I have to disagree with tom here: "I'm always amazed by the extreme arrogance of those involved in higher education. As hard as it is for them to believe, they are in service industry. They should answer that e-mail. The students are the customer. College is a huge scam as it is. It's ridiculous for people to have to plunk down all that money and then suck up to the people they pay"

-well, some agreement with the first sentence. But after that, Tom, you're very wrong. The problem with this model is that "education" just doesn't fit neatly into the model that you're buildin for it, even if it is paid for in a way that's sopmething like a service. You can't treat students like "customers" as in "give the customer what they want" or "the customer is always right" and actually educate them. There has to be mutual respect sure, and "sucking up" should be kept at a minimum, but for someone to get an education they have to be prepared to take part in a process that requires them to think and grow and fulfill obligations, even to someone that "they are paying." too many students (and too many parents) feel like their payment entitles them to a certain minimum grade and gives them the authority to demand that without doing the work required. Like I said, respect form both sides, actual listneing form both sides, but someone has to be in charge in the classroom. this, in fact, is what they are paying for.

Posted by: URK on February 21, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

RTeally, neither the students nor the professors are coming off very well here!

Posted by: URK on February 21, 2006 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

PK: A Google search found 2 billion references to "email" but only 1.7 billion references to "e-mail." You're losing by 300 million votes! Better do some major campaigning quick.....

It also found 2.05 billion references to "em-ail" and 2.03 billion to "ema-il". Hyphens, apostrophes, etc., are suppressed in Google searches.

Posted by: ogmb on February 21, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

email can be detrimental to a relationship... as can IMs... you cannot get the tone across in the typed word the way you can with your voice... I think the reason emoticons were developed, other than to be something to play with, is because you need to throw a smile in after a sentence to make sure the recipient knows you didn't mean it in a negative way... we can communicate more now, but not better...

Posted by: Pete Bogs on February 21, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

As for the notion that it's some terrible thing if we don't hyphenate the word "email" because it violates usual rules about how words starting with "em" are usually pronounced, I can only say: get over yourself.

You know, once upon a time an enormous number of words came into early English (or its precursor) from French. How many pronounciation rules do you think THAT violated? Don't you think that we can accommodate a single exceptional word like "email", without civilization tumbling around our heads?

In the end, if "email" is written usually without the hyphen, which is its almost certain fate, given ordinary practices, the hyphen will disappear, even in the dictionaries.

So just deal.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 21, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Academics' indifference to students at research universities is always something to complain about, and deservedly so, but may I suggest that those who are so vehement about it look at the princely treatment of athletic coaches in the universities before they call for jihad against the academics.

Posted by: lib on February 21, 2006 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

For those of you who seem to think that professors benefit from the increase in tuition over the past decade or two...I can't begin to tell you how wrong you are. Most professors (aside from certain stars who receive multiple offers from elsewhere), and especially those at public institutions, make in the middle income range. Tuitions have increased because of decreased government funding and increased capital costs (all that technology that allows students to email at will costs a fair bit of cash), and the cost of maintaining existing buildings, and libraries. It also bankrolls administrator salaries, but that is another issue.

Posted by: LisainVan on February 21, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

*This* is why I use emoticons. Yeah, yeah, people hate them. But they know when I am joking and they don't hate *me*.

Posted by: EmmaAnne on February 21, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

email can be detrimental to a relationship... as can IMs... you cannot get the tone across in the typed word the way you can with your voice... I think the reason emoticons were developed, other than to be something to play with, is because you need to throw a smile in after a sentence to make sure the recipient knows you didn't mean it in a negative way.

Yea. I was reading a book of personal letters to home written during the Civil War the other day, and thought "Man, these guys *really* need some emoticons." Not sure why they didn't use them.

Posted by: Red State Mike on February 21, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

*This* is why I use emoticons.

How about the era in which letter writing was a primary form of communication? Why were no emoticons required then?

Yeah, I know that letters were written more circumspectly back then than emails are today.

But that may be the problem -- along with less proficient writing skills.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 21, 2006 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Myron-listen to Lisainvain. She's completely right. also-I feel kind of silly seeing all the spelling errors in my quickly written posts. Egad!

Posted by: URK on February 21, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more. :'(

Much, much better.

Posted by: Carl on February 21, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think I have ever in my life used an emoticon.

Now that I've noticed that, I think I'll proclaim it a basic principle of all good writing.

OK, a winking emoticon after the last sentence would have been a good thing, I'll grant.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 21, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

I keep a little list (but growing fast) of hysterical emails from my students. One of my most recent favorites had the winning line presented here without modification, "i know i would have done good on the test cuz i failed the class last year."

Heh.

Of course the payback comes when you're listed in rateyourprofessor.com or whatever it's called.

Posted by: Red State Mike on February 21, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

I am Chair of a large biology department at a state university. A few of the emails students have sent to our faculty have been truly appalling. Disrespectful, demanding, even threatening.

I wish I knew the answer.

Posted by: Ba`al on February 21, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

A few of the emails students have sent to our faculty have been truly appalling. Disrespectful, demanding, even threatening.

Well, it would have been good to see convincing examples of this instead of the insipid tripe offered up in the NY Times article.

Posted by: frankly0 on February 21, 2006 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Here are two classics that a student sent to a (very kind) faculty member in our department about two weeks ago. They are reproduced verbatim:

Prof XXXX. with all the due resoect to you as an elderly man, your home-T,question in webct is made to fail ,despite the open book, because it is extrimly complicated to find the answers in the book, I am sure some biology wiz would anser it but, you expect us non-science-majors to be a biology porof. just to anser it? are you out of your mind? I took your class because I read a good comment about you in www.pickaprof.com, other wise there was no way in the world I take biology. And believe me, if I was not going to graduate I would gladly drop your class.


This was followed later with this one:

You got a problem! the questions in your exam today were very tricky, why do you like to make our lives hell? do you hate your students, ir is it that feeling that you like when you see your class drops or cails? I and the rest of the class will make an official complaint agounst for your unfair home-test and Class-test. Your actions are redicule and outrageous.

They were not effective at getting the response the student wanted. I would be delighted to forward them to any future employer.

Posted by: Ba`al on February 21, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

University students, in particular, the freshmen, are increasingly treating Profs. like they are an instant message buddy.

"Hey, i have a paper 4 u. can i drop it off now?"

They aren't used to sending professional e-mails.

Posted by: geoduck2 on February 21, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Ba'al,

Now THAT was a good example!

Posted by: frankly0 on February 21, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

and then, there's the profs who give out their email first day of class, tell everybody over and over again "feel free to email me, i check my email frequently," and then...nothing. you go, "excuse me, but when you you have office hours?", "excuse me, but can you tell me what i got on the midterm i turned in three weeks ago?" or "excuse me but i think your hair is on fire!!" etc., and...nothing.

maybe it's something to do with community college, and how underpaid they are.

Posted by: r@d@r on February 21, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly)

I sort of imagined the student as Gollum.

Yesssssssss, he tricks usssss....... tricks us!

Posted by: Ba`al on February 21, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Ba'al,

Oh, that e-mail is quite funny. I cannot believe what students will write in e-mails. I think it has gotten worse over the past five years.

Posted by: geoduck2 on February 21, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Technical point on Kevin's post: If I'm reading the description of the study correctly, 50% is chance performance, meaning that people couldn't actually get much worse no matter what -- they're doing as badly as they can (depending on exactly how big "just over 50%" is).

Posted by: VicF on February 21, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

geoduck2, frankly0,

if you knew the poor guy who received these emails, you would find them even more funny/pathetic. He forwarded them to me in something of a panic. I have a few others like this in my collection, these are just the most recent.

Posted by: Ba`al on February 21, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

How about the era in which letter writing was a primary form of communication? Why were no emoticons required then?

I imagine that people were better at getting their tone across when letter writing was the primary form of communication - though I'd bet there were plenty of misunderstandings then too. I am sympathetic to the idea that we all ought to write just as well now, but I don't think it is realistic.

Furthermore, we tend to read letters written by better writers. I have read Jane Austen's letters, for example - because they are worth reading. Even Ken Burns civil war letters are selected to be interesting and informative. I'd bet there was plenty of dreck he didn't include.

Posted by: EmmaAnne on February 21, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The thing that struck me about the attorney email exchange was that the bait and switch is so common that she was expected to accept it. Had she not been a trust fund baby she probably would have had to accept it. The threat of retaliation was carried out by destributing the email exchange. Courtesy costs very little more than self indulgence and the results are generally positive. I blame the patriarchy.

Posted by: thebewilderness on February 21, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Ba'al,

Oh man. I really hope that was a spoof sent as a prank. Please tell me that did not come from a real college student.

Posted by: Tripp on February 21, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I imagine that people were better at getting their tone across when letter writing was the primary form of communication - though I'd bet there were plenty of misunderstandings then too. I am sympathetic to the idea that we all ought to write just as well now, but I don't think it is realistic.

Furthermore, we tend to read letters written by better writers. I have read Jane Austen's letters, for example - because they are worth reading. Even Ken Burns civil war letters are selected to be interesting and informative. I'd bet there was plenty of dreck he didn't include.

Yeah. This is what you get when you teach EVERYBODY to read and write. A lot of bad writing.

Posted by: Tripp on February 21, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Last weekend a friend described some of her e-mails that she received from her students.

Some students wrote that they would not be in class due to too much drinking; others were sending her e-mails in the middle of the night about assignments due the next day.

She decided to hold a class on how to write professional e-mails.

Posted by: geoduck2 on February 21, 2006 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Ba'al, the email excerpts you posted make me wonder if those students speak English as their first or second language...I honestly can't tell.

Posted by: joe bob on February 21, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

When I was annoyed by someone, I always had some neutral third party review my email for snark before I sent it. That cleaned up a lot of emails.

Posted by: LeisureGuy on February 21, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

I thought the Times article was especially silly, and the faculty members quoted quite whiny. If you want some boundaries for your students, then set them - why not a syllabus note that says "I respond to e-mail during working hours" or "I will not review drafts of papers sent electronically"? Or how about an auto-reply on your account that says "thanks for your message, if you are a student, I would prefer to discuss your concerns during office hours"... Is that hard? Make a rule, and enforce it, and kids will either fall in line, or they won't, but you'll be clear. That said, I think kids today are getting turned out with precious little real training in writing, and that, too, seems like something that needs to be addressed.

(I'm also not at all sympathetic to the "why won't they do what we tell them to" and the "why do they keep bothering me" lines of complaint. If students are more uppity than in the past, it's also the case that the faculty seems especially out of touch with the service nature of their roles. Even granting the uniqueness of higher edeucation, a university is still in the service business, and there is something that the operation owes to the consumer. Educating people, challenging them to think better and more clearly... this requires a certain sort of commitment and it's not "I can't be bothered with your petty concerns." The best teachers I've had were interested and involved. And I bet I could have e-mailed them on almost anything, too.)

(PS, just to weigh in on the interesting side-note: "e-mail" is short for "electronic mail" as I recall. As a contraction, never mind for pronunciation purposes, shouldn't it remain hyphenated? I'm just saying... because lord knows, I'm no grammar/usage slut, just a caring observer.

As for the lawyer lady, as someone in HR and Recruiting, we've seen people walk away a lot lately, even after accepting; her e-mails may be jovenile, but she was certainly able to walk away at any point in the process. Would it damage a career? Possibly, depending on her long term goals and how much recruiters in her field talk. It sounds as though she's decided on a small private practice, anyway - something rich girls, after all, have the perogative to do. It's probably just as poor of the recruiter to keep the exchange going as it was for her to keep responding.

Posted by: weboy on February 21, 2006 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

weboy,

HR and recruiting is all about power. Now that we've shucked off the unions it is about the only time the (potential) worker has any power. Lawyer Lady was a trust fund baby but Lawyer recruiter was a bait and switch baby.

Posted by: Tripp on February 21, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Please people, let's keep the hyphen in "e-mail." It's a long "e." (Yes, I know that English abounds in inconsistencies, but let's not add to the list.)
Now back to your regular programming.... Posted by: pk on February 21, 2006 at 12:57 PM

I'd also like to point out that e-mail is both singular and plural, like deer. I cringe whenever anyone says, "I got five e-mails today."

Remember, the origin of the word is electronic mail and the plural of "mail", is "mail".

If the word was "e-letter", then you could legitimately say, "e-letters"

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 21, 2006 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK
I'd also like to point out that e-mail is both singular and plural, like deer.

Well, but its not. "Email" has a collective sense (parallel to "mail"), and a singular sense which is essentially short for "email message" (and which is parallel to "letter" in reference to traditional mail.)

Just as for "mail", the former sense has no plural because it is not a countable noun -- number simply doesn't apply to it (nor can, e.g., "an"). In the second sense, the only sense for which "an email" is sensible, "email" is singular and "emails" plural.

Most dictionaries only recognize the collective sense, in which "an email" is as nonsensical as "two emails".

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK
PS, just to weigh in on the interesting side-note: "e-mail" is short for "electronic mail" as I recall. As a contraction, never mind for pronunciation purposes, shouldn't it remain hyphenated?

I notice you don't write "shouldn't" as "shouldn-t" or "I'm" as "I-m", etc. If you think about it, I bet you'll realize that in English, contractions aren't generally hyphenated. If they're marked at all, it is by an apostrophe, not a hyphen. So, no, as a contraction, "email" shouldn't be hyphenated.

One could argue it should be written "e'mail", but I think the time when that might have had a chance to influence usage is long past.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

here - an account by the inventor (or one of the inventors, as he puts it) of the smiley.

This problem caused some of us to suggest (only half seriously) that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously. After all, when using text-based online communication, we lack the body language or tone-of-voice cues that convey this information when we talk in person or on the phone. Various joke markers were suggested, and in the midst of that discussion it occurred to me that the character sequence :-) would be an elegant solution one that could be handled by the ASCII-based computer terminals of the day. So I suggested that.
One fascinating bit is the quest to find the original post - a bit of electronic archaeology . . .

Posted by: Dan S. on February 21, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Consider this list of words:

porcupine
xylophone
phloem
garbanzo
dystopia
euphuistic
eleemosynary

Notice anything particular about them?

Me neither.

Posted by: jprichva on February 21, 2006 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp - Love the "we have nothing to lose but our chains" sentiment, but the power of HR and Recruiting you mention is a bit overstated. I don't think the issue is "bait and switch", I think it's gracefully extricating yourself from an agreement you no longer plan to honor. I suspect a lot of what drove that e-mail exchange was each person determined to win an argument - that's the lawyerly way, no? - damn the consequences. You could just say "regretfully, I will not be able to accept your offer after all" and leave it at that.

and PS Damn you Dicely and your Usage Slut ways! :) I think we use hyphenated abbrevations of phrases in other contexts (sadly, "x-ray" and "c-note" are the only ones that come to mind... but there must be others, yes?), but I'll grant that contractions don't usually come that way. Still, my eye (and brain) and the usage guide at my office all expect "e-mail" and not "email" and I don't see a justification here, aside from ease, for not including the hyphen.

And easiness is a terrible justification in that it's just lazy.

Posted by: weboy on February 21, 2006 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

For the posters who are complaining that the professors sound whiny--one of the professors quoted in the article says that she was misquoted:

For the record, what I actually said was that I suggest to students that 1. When they have asked a prof for something and the prof has supplied it, they say thank you, and 2. They should not ignore email from a prof or other person in power, esp. when that email asks a direct question.

Remember, this is the New York Times, and there's no reason to think that their reporting on cultural trends is any better than their reporting on WMDs...

Posted by: chris on February 21, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK
and PS Damn you Dicely and your Usage Slut ways! :)

I'm for clarity, but otherwise no fan of prescriptivism. But, in any case, for what is in any case a fairly recent invention no matter how its written, not going with usage seems, well, weird.


I think we use hyphenated abbrevations of phrases in other contexts (sadly, "x-ray" and "c-note" are the only ones that come to mind.

"x-ray" and "c-note" aren't abbreviations -- the "x" in "x-ray" and the "c" in "c-note" aren't contractions. "X" is from the use of "X" as a stand-in for an unknown, "C" in "C-note" directly derives from the roman numeral for 100.

So, yeah, there is an inferable rule that when a letter is used as an independent symbol rather than a contraction, and connected with another noun to create a compound noun, it is usually hyphenated. (Consider, aside from those noted previously, "Q-ship".)

"U-boat" almost qualifies as a genuine abbreviation that follows the pattern suggested for E-mail, except that its not an English abbreviation, but an anglification of the German U-Boot.

Still, my eye (and brain) and the usage guide at my office all expect "e-mail" and not "email" and I don't see a justification here, aside from ease, for not including the hyphen.

What is being a "usage slut", though, besides acknowledging what far more people's "eyes and brains" demand?

If the usage guide your employer demands adherence to commands it, of course in that context you must use "e-mail". But there is little reason to accept the use of the word at all (in place of, say, "electronic mail") and to keep the hyphen.


Posted by: cmdicely on February 21, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

That's why I always told people who worked for me to never write email when they were angry or even merely annoyed. Never.

Excellent advice, as I can unfortunately attest.

Posted by: Frederick on February 21, 2006 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you Weboy and Tripp, I am glad to see I am not alone. The few posts prior to yours that addressed the two lawyers all seemed to think that Abdala was the one primarily at fault.

While her "real lawyer" dig was uncalled for and her final response was childish, Korman's behaviour was much worse.

He first gained her acceptance of the job offer, then changed the terms of the offer and didn't get her explicit acceptance of the new terms clearly stated so that both sides were in agreement. Then, when she decided not to accept the position after all, he started the name-calling by referring to her as immature and unprofessional. Finally, he shared the exchange with a colleague and allows it to be made public.

While the exchange may not have been priviliged, it was a private exchange, and Abdala had every right to expect Korman to treat it as such.

Posted by: tanj on February 21, 2006 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

In my last post, I do not mean that she had a legal right to expect him to keep their exchange private. I have no expertise or opinion on that. Just that as a matter of courtesy and professionalism, he should have kept the details of the exchange between the two of them with the possible exception of his partner in the law firm.

Posted by: tanj on February 21, 2006 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

"I worry about the student's diminished note taking ability. They seem to want to transcribe rather than process lectures more critically."
Posted by: lisainVan on February 21, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK


Isn't notetaking just an opportunity to pay no attention to the speaker during a class and to write something inexactly, so you can study your notes later and get it completely wrong? Is it any wonder the kids want to transcribe?

Shouldn't class lectures be about listening and thinking and perhaps discussing, rather than writing notes?

If there's a problem with our education system then we should look at the system as well as at the kids. Long lectures and short attention spans don't go well together.

Posted by: MarkH on February 21, 2006 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, maybe it's time to move away from lectures and get the kids to talk in class about things they will have to have read. Then they can take notes on their own damn comments.

Re email tone: If people guess the emo-tone wrong 50-80 % of the time with their friends and co9lleagues, imagine what the rate is when the correspondents don't know each other.

Posted by: Kenji on February 21, 2006 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

"Consider this list of words:
porcupine
xylophone
phloem
garbanzo
dystopia
euphuistic
eleemosynary
Notice anything particular about them?"

Actually, yes - I suspect they're all words that were pulled into English from other languages (or more specifically, mostly coined from them). We got Greek, Latin, Spanish, Greek-via-19thC. German (phloem) and Greek-via-16thC. English lit. (euphuistic, which is a wonderful new word to learn!)

Ok, what do I win?!
Nothing?
Oh . . .

Posted by: Dan S. on February 21, 2006 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

Students that respect instructors learn more and more quickly. Teachers that inspire admiration (through competance in their field, empathy for their students, and humility with respect to their capacity for error, mastery of the field, and ability to communicate) from their students are more effective.
A respectful student can get a decent education from even the most arrogant and patronizing instructor; however, it is impossible for an instructor to educate a boor.

Posted by: joe on February 22, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

all u dudez need to read these rhymes. dude lays down dope tracks 'bout REAL life professorial encounterings yo...

Posted by: blaine emerson on February 22, 2006 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

I have no list of words for you to consider.
Instead I ask you to consider what the Don of computer science has to
say about it
.

Posted by: Devin on February 22, 2006 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

MarkH,

Isn't notetaking just an opportunity to pay no attention to the speaker during a class and to write something inexactly, so you can study your notes later and get it completely wrong? Is it any wonder the kids want to transcribe?

Way back in the olden days I heard that college lectures were the process of transferring the professor's notes to the students notepads without passing through the head of either one.

Personally I detested lectures and skipped them when I could. Then I learned that some people learn best by listening and I was certainly not one of them. I learn best by reading, and thank goodness for text books and the internet.

Posted by: Tripp on February 22, 2006 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Instead I ask you to consider what the Don of computer science has to say about it.

Devin,

Thanks for the link. I think maybe you mispelled "Diva" as "Don."

Posted by: Tripp on February 22, 2006 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Frankly)

I sort of imagined the student as Gollum.

Yesssssssss, he tricks usssss....... tricks us!
Posted by: Ba`al

Thanks for the comic relief.

Whereas I immediately assumed that the student is one of our Hydra-headed trolls.

Posted by: CFShep on February 22, 2006 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Tripp - Don Knuth really is one of the legends of the field, and professionals and academics in the field really have been waiting for him to finish volume 4 of TAOCP for a decade or so.

I think most computer scientists would rather he finish his work than answer unsolicited emails in real time. If his approach to communication is conducive to his method of research, more power to him. Not everything worth saying can be said within 5 minutes of receipt.

Posted by: James Robinson on February 22, 2006 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

A professor owes you nothing. It is you that owe yourself.

An interesting policy to get people to calm down before they email...I happen to disagree when it comes to things like violations of the law and of International Treaty oblications. Put it down on paper and gather evidence. Don't let them get away with it.

Posted by: parrot on February 22, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

And the trust-fund baby can't even spell "blah"! Can we check back with her in a year or so and find out how many of the "nicer things" she's been able to get for herself with her profit from her storefront law office? If she's relying on court appointments she's going to earn peanuts.

I also liked this comment above: "My husband's strategy is to write e-mails as word documents so they can't be quickly dashed off."

Microsoft Word really is a crappy word processor. I SO miss Wordperfect, which really gave me control over the page.

Posted by: Cal Gal on February 22, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

James,

Tripp - Don Knuth really is one of the legends of the field, and professionals and academics in the field really have been waiting for him to finish volume 4 of TAOCP for a decade or so.

My goodness, I've been a professional in that field for 28 years now. I don't recall anyone I know holding his breath for the last ten years. For some reason the real world seems to have the attitude of "Fine, but what have you done for me lately?"

I stand by my Diva comment. Considering how fast the field is changing I hope Knuth is writing the book in Simplified Chinese.

Posted by: Tripp on February 22, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Microsoft Word really is a crappy word processor. I SO miss Wordperfect, which really gave me control over the page.
Posted by: Cal Gal

Guessing this means you're Mac. I found a WordPerfect package on eBay - last release before Corel was gobbled up and stopped supporting Mac - it runs fine under Classic.

Switching from WordPerfect to Word is liking stepping out of Ferrari and into a '76 Ford PInto with defective power steering.

Posted by: CFShep on February 22, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Try using emoticons with your email to convey some sense of your intended emotional content :-)

Posted by: Fred S. on February 22, 2006 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Switching from WordPerfect to Word is liking stepping out of Ferrari and into a '76 Ford PInto with defective power steering.

Back when I used to have to switch between them in different environments, my impression was pretty much the exact opposite (of course, that was aqround the time WordPerfect Corp was swallowed up by Novell, so pretty much ancient history.) But then, like OS and programming language debates, this is pretty much an area of religious issues.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 22, 2006 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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