Friday, January 26, 2007

Comment Type #33


Ditto Machine
Copy machines are a standard part of nearly every office, even if they are combined with a fax, color printer, and so on. There was a time when copying had to be done by hand, Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol was such a clerk. The earliest machines were little more than small printing presses, which one would set up the type and press each copy of a letter separately. Over time various machines were invented to make the process easier and faster, some of them quite ingenious. When I was young and in grade school, they still were using a hand-cranked dittograph machine that printed individual sheets of paper with a special ink that had a very distinctive smell. There's a gag in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High where every single student in class lifts the freshly copied paper and sniffs it, and the reason that was funny is that it was often what happened when a new page came to the students.

Ditto machines (also known as Banda machines or "Spirit duplicators") were fairly cheap and easy to use, printing pages from a single master copy using quick-evaporating alcohol-based ink (thus the smell). Ditto is a word that has ancient origins, from Latin:
Ditto, which at first glance seems a handy and insignificant sort of word, actually has a Roman past, for it comes from dictus, “having been said,” the past participle of the verb dīcere, “to say.” In Italian dīcere became dire and dictus became detto, or in the Tuscan dialect ditto. Italian detto or ditto meant what said does in English, as in the locution “the said story.” Thus the word could be used in certain constructions to mean “the same as what has been said”; for example, having given the date December 22, one could use 26 detto or ditto for 26 December. The first recorded use of ditto in English occurs in such a construction in 1625. The sense “copy” is an English development, first recorded in 1818. Ditto has even become a trademark for a duplicating machine.
Rush Limbaugh early in his radio broadcast career became frustrated with callers who spent minutes of call time repeating the same praise and compliments the previous callers had. Not only was it wasting broadcast time, but it was tedious for listeners to hear over and over. So the term "dittos" came into use, basically meaning "what people usually say about your show," a shorthand compliment that saves time and in the process became a kind of identifying mark. Rush Limbaugh fans often refer to themselves "dittoheads."

In terms of a comment, the Ditto is when you post a comment that very closely or exactly duplicates what someone has already said previously.

This usually happens when someone reads a blog entry or comment and races to post a response without reading what everyone else has had to say. In some cases this is understandable, if there are over a hundred comments that's a lot to read through just to see if someone else has made your point. Other times it's just impatience and the desire to get your point out there for people to read and respond to as quickly as possible, often before you forget what you had in mind.

An even more embarrassing kind of Ditto Comment is to type up a point the blog article you're responding to already made. Particularly if, in a fit of superiority, you correct the writer by adding to their writing. If you'd read carefully, you'd have noticed this point. Both kinds tend to be followed up soon after with a retraction or mea culpa "oops, someone already said that" comment.

There is a third Ditto type though, the deliberate and intentional repetition of what someone has said already. This can be done for humor, to mock someone (or satirical effect) by quoting them in a different context, or because you think that was a great point that people have missed and ought to be brought up again.

A Ditto Comment is not particularly bad, although it can be embarrassing to go onto permanent public record saying something boneheaded. Don't feel bad, anyone who has commented for long has done this at some point or another. The best thing to do is to read carefully to see if others have said the same thing, particularly in the original article. Generally speaking, patience and careful reading can save a lot of embarrassment, jot a few notes on a notepad or in Notepad© if you are worried about forgetting your point.

This is part of the Profiles in Commenting series
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