Decoding Your E-Mail Personality

Monday, August 01, 2011

Ben Zimmer, executive producer of and, and New York Times contributor, explains how forensic linguists try to detect "fingerprints" in e-mails and other digital writing. His article "Decoding Your E-Mail Personality" looks at the how it's done and what your e-mails and digital writing reveal about you.


Ben Zimmer
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Comments [8]

Amy from Manhattan

I got a new laptop last year, which has the edges of the keys much closer together than my previous one, on which the edges slope to leave more space in between. I find I'm hitting 2 keys together much more often. I fix all of these (I hope), but some people might not catch many of them. It seems to me this could be a difference that would throw off forensic investigators.

Aug. 01 2011 12:46 PM
markfrommanhattan from Manhattan

@Ken from Soho: I believe he was referring to the "N" dash (─), which is longer than a hyphen, as opposed to the "M" dash (—), which is longer than the "N" dash.

Aug. 01 2011 12:38 PM
Ash in Chelsea

I think one's email personality may also be a function of one's skill as a typist.

I learned to type back in the 1960s, never thinking for one moment how useful this skill would be in this century. So, my emails are interminably long, but -- I hope -- interesting.

I have one email partner who uses -- or mis-uses, actually -- the ellipses all the time. He does not know that they only consist of three dots. He always uses many, many dots throughout his emails.

Aug. 01 2011 12:33 PM
Ken from Soho

I do one thing that's distinctive, I think; I capitalize the initial e in Email, I prefer this to the more common "e-mail".

Aug. 01 2011 12:28 PM
Ken from Soho

"End dash"? There's no such symbol on my keyboard, only a simple dash, which I use however I wish.

Aug. 01 2011 12:25 PM
William from Manhattan

Interesting episode. In the Zuckerburg case, when the plaintiff (bizarrely, I would say) copied the original emails into MS Word, I assume the forensic linguists open the source file to see if spelling/grammar check made changes to the original style (eg, lowercase internet to uppercase, etc).

Aug. 01 2011 12:22 PM

I have a good friend that has absolutely no "e-manners" whatsoever. He's the nicest guy in person but consistently leaves poison-pen emails every time something happens he doesn't agree with. It's to the point where I and others just delete his emails instead of reading them. Is this common?


Aug. 01 2011 12:21 PM
Lalena Fisher from Austin

Your note is a treacherous path
Of extra letters I must leap
Twist my ankle in the tangles of
Inverted “i”s and “e”s

Tripping over useless commas
And capitals mid-phrase
Can’t keep track of the point you’re making
It’s all become a haze

Punctuation before an “s”
Is not plural but possessive
It really isn’t you, it’s me
With spelling I’m obsessive

Bad speller
You’re a bad speller!

It’s no wonder you can’t breath(e)
For you lost your silent “e”
And I’m glad that you just can’t bare it
It’s more than I want to see

If you say you’re going to loose your mind
Well could you tighten it a pinch?
And please don’t write me on your stationary
‘Cause it won’t move an inch

Punctuation before an “s”
Is not plural but possessive
It really isn’t you, it’s me
With spelling I’m obsessive

Bad speller
You’re a bad speller!

Aug. 01 2011 12:17 PM

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