Absolute Zero

Returning from holidays (which turned out to be shockingly snow-less) never fails to leave me slightly wistful – oh ye blessed free time, such a sweet life it could be without work! People keep saying that we need to work in order to appreciate our time off properly, you know all that ying-yang rubbish. Sometimes I wonder if these people have ever actually been off for longer than a few weeks? I could do with more spare time. Lots! I never get bored.

Anyways, back to work and the blog, I noticed that trolls without a Rent-a-Troll© approved certificate of authenticity have been busy in my absence – I guess I should’ve known the competition strikes when I’m not around! Over 10 people (shockingly anonymorons) felt the need to post the exact same thing in an older post of mine about the silly item names in Cataclysm, pointing out how utterly stupid I am for not getting the actual meaning of “belt of absolute zero”. Squirrel did of course make quick work of them and while I’m way more inclined to get amused about comments such as these and make fun of their authors rather than getting upset, the occurrence inspired me to take up a topic I’ve been wanting to blog on for a while now. What a nice opportunity.

Bridges, Walls and Language

The WoW blogosphere can seem daunting to freshly starting bloggers: such a huge playfield of well-connected blogging veterans and regulars, so many blogs to explore, so many bloggers and commenters to get to know. Over time however, you realize that it’s actually quite a cosy place to be in, a village much rather than a mega-city. Oh, every now and then a wave of wild guests from WoW Insider and Co. will find their way into this part of Azeroth and its inhabitants too, like to tease each other and even brawl sometime; life gets boring and stagnant without the odd argument. It’s really up to you though how much you’d like to engage in the more active and maybe heated part of things – there’s room for pretty much any type of blogger, just like there is an audience for every writer.

If you’re a fairly regular blogreader in this village (and a nosy person like me) you will gather more demographic information about the blogs you like to frequent over time: maybe what age the author is, what he or she is doing for a living, what their geographic location is. Some bloggers are more forthcoming in this respect than others, either by leaving an about-section or writing more personal posts sometime where the reader can glimpse a little of the person behind the screen.

Personally I enjoy getting to know authors more personally; it’s not that I actually care if they’re male or female, 20 or 50 years old, but I’m naturally curious about people and the background they’re coming from. I’m also not ashamed to admit a slight tendency to groupie-ism, or rather enthusiasm in following news and background history of authors I enjoy reading (I love you, Neil!). Writing and reading are about connecting for me.

A particular thing I’ve always enjoyed about the blogosphere is that unlike to when we’re playing on our servers, there’s no separation between EU and US players. A large group of the blogs linked on my blogroll are authors from across Europe, probably as many as there are American writers (I don’t think I noticed anyone blogging out of Asia yet but maybe they’re just good at hiding?). We get to communicate and share our experiences – and we realize just how little it really matters where somebody is from. That is not the determining factor about people, no matter what those who like to build walls instead of bridges would have us believe.

What I’ve always loved most about online gaming and MMOs is this “global village”; talking to somebody halfway across the globe whom you’d otherwise have never ever met and realizing just how much you can have in common. And a shared language is of course the central means for this; it is the meeting stone, it sets the stage for more interaction. In this case English which serves as a lingua franca worldwide.

I’m sure we’ve all met WoW gamers that actually struggled with speaking the accepted, official server language, be it that they weren’t native speakers or were suffering from some other cause that would impede their ability to communicate. While many guilds use voice comms, the main communication in MMOs still happens via written chat. That can be a big disadvantage depending on the environment of the player and the requirements set before him, for example by a raidguild that expects its members to actively and vocally participate in ongoing discussions. I remember many occasions when the guilds I was in would turn players down or at least heavily debate their application on grounds of not being able to communicate properly. And I think that is a legitimate concern – even if it felt a little lousy to me each time.

In the WoW blogosphere too, your language skill can be to your advantage or disadvantage. I would argue that it’s directly connected to a blogger’s success, but if written language is the central medium and in the spotlight like it is on a blog for example, then your background and level of literacy adds to the impact of your posts and the appreciation you might receive from your readers – especially, if you manage to impress with both content depth and writing style. I’m not talking about things like typos here, I doubt a lot of people care for them nearly as much as I care about mine. What I mean is the actual “high end” of literary skill: stylistics, rhetoric, semantic finesse.

Now I’d never claim that these accomplished skills actually go hand in hand with native speakers; I’ve studied language learning and linguistics and I’ve taught languages for several years at different schools and on different levels, to all kinds of students. Quite often a non-native speaker would match or surpass his class mates: talent and passion aren’t things you can teach. Also, if I am to believe my English WoW mates, the “worst English” can be found on the island and of course everyone likes to refer to the horribly incorrect, clichéd American English we get to watch on youtube and co. (which of course is totally representative for all Americans..). Just because I’m not a native speaker doesn’t mean all native speakers speak or write better English than me – no argument there. Still, there are natural “gaps” that will come up sometime from not actually living or having grown up in anglo-cultural background or an English-speaking society.

A big part of language knowledge is based on pragmatics: that affects how we understand each other in relation to all sorts of non-linguistic knowledge and psycho-linguistic factors. Another important role play sociolinguistics: factors like cultural background, but also age, sex, level of education etc. all shape our perception and ultimately how we understand, judge and value not only the world around us, but all ongoing communication.

Blogging in a second language

I think sometimes WoW players on English-speaking servers (no matter UK or US) forget that not all the people they’re playing with are actually of native English background. That makes for some funny puns at best and unhappy misunderstandings at worst. I’ve seen a player take serious offense at a well-meant joke, either because his level of English was beginner or because what was said simply wasn’t very funny where he came from. That can be a tricky situation to deal with and it’s usually not made better by defending the maybe harmless intention with a smug and arrogant air of “lingual leadership” (“my language, my server, punk”).

The same can be said for blogging. A while ago I wrote an article on how we tend to forget that the other bloggers and readers we’re talking to aren’t necessarily playing the same WoW that we are playing. This extends to language as well: sometimes people forget that speaking English doesn’t mean somebody’s English (or alternatively, they don’t realize the world reaches farther than the end of their nose). I guess to some extent this can be seen as a compliment, a testimony to a writer’s skills if you will. Yet, I’ve cringed many times when reading through a fellow European blogger’s article, seeing readers pick them apart for literally misreading a patchnote or leaving petty, formal attacks rather than commenting on anything substantial to the article.

Than can of course happen to any author: nobody’s safe from stupid, not even the most glorious writers. To me, it’s usually overly apparent though when a reference, idiom or jargon term is being misunderstood because the person lacks either cultural or colloquial knowledge or special lingo, rather than linguistic knowledge. Especially if you know little about someone, it’s an option to consider. Then again, if you already fail to tell these things apart, you probably cannot be expected to know what you’re dealing with anyway..

Just to clarify: I don’t mind a commenter who rectifies me on an error or educates me on something in the process of an exchange – in fact I find this helpful and enriching. What I find rather pitiful however, are people who nitpick for nitpicking’s sake, or make a comment section sound like a broken record. A close friend of mine is an outstanding writer himself but shies away from giving English blogging a go exactly for this reason. And I know bloggers in this blogosphere too who are very self-conscious about their articles because they aren’t native speakers. And they really shouldn’t have to be: not only are they producing brilliant texts, but they’re doing it in a second language. 

And yeah, I know: if you can’t take the heat, you probably shouldn’t be out there blogging. I still think it’s a little bit sad though – way of the world or not. As a sidenote, I also find such uninspired comments almost offensive in their lack of finesse and commenters who lack any sort of imagination or creativity so entirely in their trolling, are an incredibly boring lot. Maybe I can help once more?

Dear fellows

To the boring, uncertified trolls, a few kind words:

• I’m not native to English so it can happen that I miss an existing reference from within the field of physics – shocking, I know. (I speak 5 languages fluently by the way. You?)

• Repeating the exact same thing like the 9 people above you, doesn’t make you look very clever. I know some people actually don’t comment on blogs for the sake of exchange, ignoring everything else; find my special Email link for you at the bottom of that page.

• Semantically speaking, “absolute zero” is funney. But of course, if very smart people in history named it that changes everything. Mea culpa! That means “my bad” in latin, by the way.

• It looks to me like you could use some training. Find a selection of properly educated, sophisticated trollery on my page here. I am accepting beginners, although your clear lack of trollish language skills might prove too great a handicap to overcome!

To all of you out there who blog in a second language or are overly self-conscious about writing errors:

Don’t worry. It’s not about the odd mistake but what the person on the receiving end likes to focus on the most. You know, pragmatics and sociolinguistics. Or maybe just dickery.

Don’t waste your time on such things, they matter not, nothing – absolute zero.
Happy blogging everybody and a good weekend to all the creative and the inspired.

P.S. I have deliberately placed 3 errors in this article, of either grammatical, semantic or textual nature. If you can spot them all and send me an Email with the correct answers, you shall be awarded an exclusive Raging Monkey’s “Blogger-Sherlock of the Month”-Award©!


  1. Y’know, I commented on your post about silly names, and I noticed the Absolute Zero bit. I didn’t mention it though, because really, it wasn’t the point of your post at all. Also, whenever I see something like that on someone’s blog, I never like to leave a public comment saying it – it feels like I’m being rude! That may be just me. But I like to send them a little private message, something along the lines of “psst – that person you reference as a he is actually a guy!” or the like.

    As for the language barrier, I think it’s distasteful to harp on people for their grammar or spelling, regardless of whether English is their primary language or not. If I find your writing and ideas interesting and you have terrible grammar, it might make it a little harder for me to decipher what you write, but I’m not going to get pissy about it! I can always leave, after all.

    A really good example of this is Gevlon. He is very open about the fact that his English isn’t perfect, and he does make some mistakes. But I rarely see it up in the discussion in his comments, since he’s not trying to write the next literary masterpiece, he’s writing about social behavior or his latest project, or whatever. The only time it seems to come up is when a more thorough understanding of English would actually would influence what he’s talking about.

    Great post!

  2. I did notice one mistake, and I wanted to make a comment and be all MUAHAHAHA I IZ A TROLL!! but your note at the end ruined all my fun!

    Now I’m realising that OMG I missed two more?! I’m obviously failing today.. but it’s Friday and my Sherlock hat is on the shelf for the weekend!

    Sorry for all those caps btw, I’m not quite sure where they came from. (Can I blame Friday again? And yes I’m really really excited that it’s Friday for some reason.)

    English is not my native language, and I do fret about it sometimes. When people on vent tell me I have a cute accent I cringe and go “nooo I don’t want to have an accent!”. When I write comments or on my blog I feel inadequate in the face of people who are really good writers (like you).

    There are actually blogs where I feel bad commenting because I don’t feel like I can live up to the writer.. if that makes sense. Like, my inane comment without the brilliant use of words and genially put phrases isn’t worthy of the article I’m commenting on.

    Oh, and my sentences tend to run on forever.

    Oh, and apparently so does my comments. Oops?

    Anyway, I think what I’m trying to get at is that it can be difficult sometimes not being a native speaker. Especially when you want to be really good, and you feel like you’re lacking those clever ways of putting the words down. (I have a few authors whose books I read that makes me want to cry with jealousy at how they manage to describe things in such awesome terms/ways.)

    Eh, this is getting longer and longer. I will stop now.

    In short; a really great post. I loved it and definitely agree with it!

  3. English isn’t my first language either, but I found that blogging in English every day over the years significantly improved my English writing skills, which obviously is useful for work.

    And to go back a bit further, I used to be very bad at English in school, until I discovered role-playing, and the AD&D first edition rules were only available in English.

  4. I done already knew the scientifical meaning of “absolute zero” (I ain’t just another purdy face), but ya know what? Is a goofy laughables-worth name either way. ‘Course, I still think “Storm Lord’s Girdle” is a frikkin’ hilarious name fer a belt (picturing Thor needin’ fer ta go on a diet), so mebbe I’s biased.

    As far as languifications go, I’s thinkin’ yer English be damn fine. Not perfects, but it ain’t yer fault you ain’t gots the natural talent what we orcs do.

  5. Hm… I don’t know why but I would find it interesting to see a compiled list over all the non-english bloggers. Like: who has taken the challenge?

    Those are the ones I come to think of:

    Syl – Swiss
    Tobold – German
    Gevlon – Hungarian
    Bullcopra – Finnish
    Dwism – Danish
    Nils – German
    Tess – Swedish
    Larísa – Swedish

    I THINK Saga at Spellbound is Swedish, but it might be a misunderstanding.

    to be continued?

  6. @Saga

    capslock has its place! and you found an error?? Where? =O
    Hehe, I am actually mostly paranoid about typos, but I guess I have an excuse. however, there’s this well-known phenomenon of staring at a text for 2 hours and not seeing anything anymore in it, it’s just been too long and clearly time to take a break.

    Oh and cute accents are win imo! 😀
    if you ever feel like not commenting again on any kind of blog for that reason, remember:

    – the blogger, no matter who he/she is would love to hear your opinion. (we all do.) and he might not even think he’s that great.
    – you silly!

    I really hope nobody shies away from writing anything here – oh well, except for boring trolls maybe. then again they make for writing material.

    and I know the frustration of just NOT quite getting to word and transfer what exactly you mean to say, in all its depth and layers, the way you could in your mother tongue. it will always be a challenge to me – one that I throw myself against. if it doesn’t work sometime, a break and waiting for the right ‘mode’ works wonders.

    Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  7. Oh, I’m pretty sure the mistake (a typo) was one of the deliberate mistakes you mentioned for your challenge 😛 (And if not I think we should both stick to that story!)

    When I used to write books (unpublished, mind you) Thesaurus was my best friend. If I couldn’t quite find the word I was looking for, you bet Thesaurus found it for me!

    @Larísa – Yeah, I’m Swedish as well 🙂
    (there seem to be quite a few Swedish bloggers, I’ve discovered quite a few recently.. I guess we’re a verbal people?)

  8. @ Tobold

    Yeah, I think you, Nils, myself and Shintar are all blogging out of the “german corner”. 😉

    what you write rings a bell with me a lot – my cornerstone for learning English were the early console RPGs where I desperately wanted to be able to follow the story and solve all riddles. everything went from there and especially when I started playing MMOs and using voice comms, I got loads better too. it’s one great benefit from being an online gamer, at least if you choose not to join native speaking servers. I don’t know your specific reasons for not joining the german WoW servers, but i could imagine they were similar to my own.


    I agrees totally! 😀
    And them orcs will always be a a special kind – I guess we all have a lot to learn still!

    @ Larísa

    Indeed, such a list could be great fun! I actually expect it could get suprisingly long, many European bloggers are hard to spot – Klepsacovic would probably call it the “European mafia” again! 😉

    I always thought a location map for the blogosphere could be fun as well, you know one like we got in our guild forums. maybe the MMO Melting Pot would be a perfect place for such a page?

  9. ..and stupid, don’t forget stupid.

    maybe we could run a non-natives blogger-adoption service just for you! conditions: all your posts must include at least 10 grammatical, syntactic or semantic errors. and you have to mean it!


  10. Lovely article, Syl! I don’t think I would have pegged you as a non-native speaker, had I not known you were European before I got here… I really have nothing but admiration for the sheer guts of all the non-native to English bloggers out there.

    Somehow, I’m failing to find your actual email address…but I’ve got a list of language-related comments for you. More than three, but I think I know which three were the plants.

    And I totally missed that you didn’t catch the technical physics reference of ‘absolute zero’ in that post – I thought you were just mildly funny in your focus on the literal reading. [shrug] It’s silly the things I take for granted that everyone knows…

  11. @Tracey

    Thank you!
    and that’s the point though – I meant to read it literally. I don’t think it matters if you actually know or not, it’s still funny/silly/whatever. (some people seem to lack that sense for wordplay though.)

    and try clicking the monkey. 😉
    if you’re using a feedreader, you’ll have to access the main page though or you won’t see it.

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