Join, Joined, Joint

I am lunching yesterday with a famous ex-blogger when the conversation turns to the world of electronic media and the expression, “Join our mailing list,” a staple on promotional emails and websites, comes up.  I wrinkle my nose.

“Now what?” he asks.

You can’t a join a mailing list.

“Of course you can.  You sign up electronically by clicking a box, writing in the email address you want messages delivered to, and you join.”

No, you don’t.  You do what you just described, you signed up.  You placed an order or request.  You consented to something.  But you didn’t join a goddam thing.

“Yes you did.  You joined the list.  You added your name or address to the group of names and addresses on the list.  You joined it.  What’s your problem?”

Lists don’t have members.  You’re not adding yourself to the list.  You’re adding your name to the list so that yourself may be added to the set of selves who are already in that set, and whose name have been added to the list.

“Is this why you’re unemployed and friendless?”

Look, it’s called a category error.  You join a club.  A political party.  A group for lunch.  Your name and address don’t.  If there’s an invitation to dinner in your pocket, was your pocket invited to dinner?

“You’re splitting hairs, and you haven’t got enough to waste.  Sure a list of people and the group that list refers to are two different things (and yes, they have a relationship that armchair philosophers and cunning linguists consider extremely complicated and fraught). But you join them both at the exact same instant — you’re a member of the group IF AND WHEN your name is on their list.  That’s the point of this, and ‘Join our mailing list’ states it concisely.”

Yes, concisely and wrong.  You can join the political party.  You can’t join the political party’s mailing list, but you can add your email address to it.  Which actually makes a difference — you can now say, I’m not a Democrat, but I’m on their mailing list.  You can’t “join a list” any more than you can fuck one.  As opposed to the people listed.  And the rest of the country, for that matter.

“You can’t ‘join a list’ under SOME senses/definitions of the word ‘join,’ I suppose. But under others, you sure can. “’Would you like to join the list of people I’ve fucked?’ means one thing, ‘Would you like to join the people I’ve fucked?’ means something else, but they’re both perfectly sensible. Well, they’re not sensible, but you can make sense of them.”

Great god.  I oughta join a club and beat you with it.

“Now THAT would be a category error.”

Glad we agree.  Just in time for dessert.

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10 Responses to Join, Joined, Joint

  1. Odtley says:

    yknow i’m newe around here and i don’t know who you and the other blogger are or used to be but i think you both need to find something better to do with your time like drugs that make you very mellow sleepy and mostly quiet especially out in public or where people are trying to eat.

    • Brown's Grandma says:

      I assure you they are under heavy sedation, but it doesn’t help.

      As for your writing I suggest avoiding run-on sentences and use the capital “I”

      Grade= D+

  2. Beardsley says:

    You’re technically and semantically correct when you say, “You can’t join a list.” Lists are collections of data, so only collections of data can be listed. It is wrong to think of a person, or any 3-D object, as “data.” If you make a grocery list, your list isn’t made of actual milk, eggs, and pet food, it’s the words “mil,” “eggs,” “pet food,” etc.

    That duly noted, everybody says “Join our mailing list” and it’s clear what is meant. Suck it up. You don’t “write grants,” do you, you write proposals for grants. But everybody knows what a “grantwriter” is.

  3. Junk Mail Junkie says:

    Oh my. Mr. Smarty Pants: Lost in this labyrinthian mish-mash of pointless banter is a horrible grammatical error. punishable by death.

    You’re adding your name to the list so that (you)rself may…..

    “Myself” and “yourself” are correct in only two situations:

    To emphasise or contrast: “Paul knows everyone, but I myself am new here.” “Your sister has blue eyes, but you yourself have brown eyes.”

    When you’re doing something to yourself: “I ask myself…” “You set high standards for yourself.”

    • Squathole says:

      You are correct, although the error I made was to omit italicizing the self in yourself or simply separating the “your” from the “self.” Please remember I’m trying to recapture a conversation here, not pen an essay. (Also, italics can be a pain in the butt on WordPress.)

      And what do you mean “pointless banner?” This is life and death, in that order.

  4. Junk Mail Junkie says:

    There you go again, deflecting blame to your fine dry cleaner, The Word Press. This is not an acceptable excuse for a grammatical gaffe.

    Even though I correctly wrote “BANTER,” I do avoid “pointed banners,” as they are quite dangerous albeit strange looking.

    As you momma tol ya when you wuz a youngin… avoid obfuscation.

  5. Frank of Oregon says:

    I prefer, “Subscribe to our mailing list.”

    And what’s with the “free” in the graphic? What. somebody’s gonna charge?

  6. Junk Mail Junkie says:

    Dear Frank of Oregon: Frankly I appreciate you frankness, Frank.

    Do you ever wish you were a member of Congress? Then Frank you’d have “Franking Privileges.”

    • Frank of Oregon says:

      Junkie: about those franking privileges — Thanks, but I already got ’em. I Frank all the time, and I Frank my lucky stars. So does my close friend Earnest.

      • Junk Mail Junkie says:

        Frankly Frank, I don’t give a frank. Please, for my sanity, go Frank-off.

        Frank you.

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