So. No books on the nightstand; let me talk about work. For the past year and a half, my job has consisted of editing letters to the editor. It has exposed me to the dark underbelly of this community -- a world of querulous oldsters, mostly, and a few other bitter souls to whom the rules of grammar and spelling are further evidence of Mainstream Media elitism. It is a world where no argument can't be improved with a liberal sprinkling of exclamation points, no point can't be driven home with random and frequent capitalization. In this world, all thoughts, no matter how convoluted, are summarized with the phrase, “Wake up, America!!!!!”
It's dangerous, dirty work. But somebody has to do it. Otherwise a lot of this stuff might not get in the paper. Without skills like mine, you'd get one long, rambling letter each day, instead of a lot of short ones. And how else would readers learn of liberal plots to socialize America, and conservative plots to nuke Iran? How else would they know that the war in Iraq is not working out so well, or that illegal immigrants are interested chiefly in forcing us to learn Spanish?
In this spirit, here are a few tips for submitting letters to the editor. Follow them, and no matter what newspaper you're writing to, I guarantee your prose will see print. Or not.
Exclamation points: One is too many. If you find yourself repeatedly tapping that key, ask yourself why there are no exclamation points in the Gettysburg Address.
Capital letters: Making any word or phrase in your letter all caps is the same as scrawling it in crayon. You look like a lunatic.
Length: At our paper, the guideline is 200 words, so most letters arrive at 500. The Gettysburg address was 272 words. Unless you're writing about an issue of equal significance, something shorter should suffice.
Colorful fonts: Highlighting the thesis of your argument in red or green Rockwell Extra Bold does not make it more convincing; it makes your letter look like a pitch for penis enlargement, which already accounts for about 92 percent of my e-mail.
The word “lose”: That's how it's spelled: L-O-S-E. Not “loose.”
“So-called”: People use this phrase to denote sarcasm, but it never works. “Our so-called leaders” or “my so-called parents” have roughly the same tone – that of a sullen seventh-grader.
“Get a life”: This phrase, considered a hip dismissal of another's argument for about three weeks in 1987, now carries the same intellectual heft as the F-word. Its only meaning is that the speaker is incapable of saying anything else.
I could go on and on. In fact, I have gone on and on, quite a ways past 200 words. But then that's why the Good Lord gave us blogs, isn't it?