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What are they on about?

David Newnham wants to be a casual correspondent, but he can't unwind

Hi! Or do I mean hi? Perhaps I should say "i" while i'm about it. Then u will be convinced that i'm a young man in a hurry.

Which, of course, I'm not. Oh, I'm in a hurry all right. But the first flush of youth has faded, and with it the ability to write a truly casual email. If only I could unwind.

I used to be like this at parties. Everyone else would be dancing in the front room, and I wanted to join them - really I did. But time and again I would end up in the kitchen, discussing the reversibility of fridge doors with the brother-in-law of the hostess.

Now, years later, I feel that way about emails.

I'm not talking here about sophisticated jargon - writing "lol" for "laughed out loud", "btw" for "by the way" and "cya" for "see you all". I don't know anybody of voting age who is genuinely comfortable with that sort of thing. No, I'm talking about basics.

Say I receive a message asking: hi dave - what u doing friday???? After a quarter of an hour, I will have typed out a stodgy reply - the electronic equivalent of the full nglish breakfast, replete with punctuation marks, paragraph breaks and capital letters. Every word will be spelled out in its tedious entirety. It's getting to be embarrassing.

And don't think I haven't tried. The trouble is that trying for spontaneity is like fighting for peace. It's doomed by definition.

Would you believe that I have actually gone back over an email that I am on the verge of sending to a particularly casual acquaintance and roughed it up a touch? That is sad.

But it's like those posh boys who become pop stars, and then go around deliberately droppin' their aitches. The effect is about as convincing as a beam in a theme pub.

So when I read that an internet company had surveyed 2,000 customers and discovered that most zipped out their emails without a thought for spelling or punctuation, my reaction was verging on the perverse.

The findings were reported with much hand-wringing, you see. There was even talk of letter-writing lessons for the grammatically challenged.

But me, I envied those carefree correspondents. I wish someone could teach me how to write like them.

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