the lively art of writing and the elements of style

My friend Josh recently returned to Shanghai after finishing his masters and is looking for work. He sent me the following text message:

> Josh: do you have the lively art of writing and the elements of style?

My first impulse was that he was passing on some kind of Chinglishy inquiry he had gotten. The conversation continued something like this:

> me: [confidently playing along] i sure do!

> Josh: Can I borrow them?

> me: [having my doubts about Josh’s sense of humor] well, i might need them.

> Josh: ok, i’m going to try to find them on fuzhou lu.

> me: [thoroughly confused] huh??

As you may know, The Lively Art of Writing and The Elements of Style are two (quite well-known) books. In the context of the text message, which lacked proper punctuation and the like, I was totally thrown off.

Text messages: sly saboteurs of communication.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. here here! I’m all for S(Voice)MS, sort of like Messengers quick Voice Clip feature. I dig SMS’ for their ability to avoid what could otherwise be a tedious phone conversation when you just want to say “be there at 8”, however – it’d be great if we could just do it with little voice clips instead.

    Besides, I can’t count how many times my “Intelligent” English function sent a series of wrong words that happen to have the same alphabetical coding.

  2. I’ve got Elements of Style on my shelf if he wants to borrow it.

  3. It sounds like you’ve invented some kind of literary game with your lack of face-to-face contact.
    Do you know if the valley of fear is near walden?

  4. there is also a bit of an art in choosing which individual words and characters, of, say, a 168 character message, can be lopped off to fit the message into the maximum 144 chacters allows in a single sms message without sacrificing too much meaning…

  5. Just goes to show you, the English language is getting poorer with the disuse of proper nouns.

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