"If You’re House Is Still Available, Send Me an Email"

If You’re House Is Still Available, Send Me an Email: Personality Influences Reactions to Written Errors in Email Messages

Interestingly, the headlines overwhelmingly use negative language like “jerk”, “pedant”, “grammar Nazi”, and “snob” to describe the study findings. I guess I’d be considered disagreeable in pointing out the inherent judgment expressed by most of the headline writers referencing this article, but that’s okay because they’re probably “jerks” just like me.

People who let errors — particularly those errors called “grammos” in the article — negatively influence their rating of the person making those errors as a roommate apparently also rank highly in “disagreeableness” as rated on the Big Five personality scale.

“Disagreeability” is partially cultural/geographical. Think: southern hospitality contrasted with east-coast brusqueness. I’m, like, Californian by upbringing, dude, so I’m, like, kinda in the middle, you know.

Maybe I’m just a disagreeable pedant, but if you take a look at the questionnaire [1] there seems to be a key omission: “None of the above”, or preferably an “Aw, hells nah!” choice.

I think I would be friends with this person [sic.][2]


The writer would be a good housemate.


The writer seems a lot like me.


The writer seems friendly.


The writer seems more sophisticated than most of my friends.


The writer seems less intelligent than most of my friends.


The writer seems conscientious.


The writer seems considerate.


The writer seems likable.


The writer seems trustworthy.


This email flowed smoothly.

Participants were asked to rate these on a scale of 1 (low) to 7 (high) according to how much they agreed or disagreed with the statements.

In my not-so-humble opinion, someone who makes typos in the age of autocorrect goes beyond carelessness to willful negligence; you have to actively disable the function since it’s on by default in most OSs, desktop or mobile. Even so, most people, even “jerks” like me, are more willing to overlook typos than grammatical errors or errors that occur in the grey area between spelling and grammar.

In this hypothetical situation, the person is sending a communication to ask to be a roommate. I had many, many roommates between moving out and the end of university. At my last place, there were 5 of us sharing a house. I was on good terms with most of the guys — especially during the last couple of years when there was less turnover — and hung out on a regular basis with 3 or 4 of them. Through sheer experience, I’m pretty good about figuring out who would be a good roommate, and who I can be friends with. These are sometimes very different people.

Agreeableness is not high on my list for a good roommate. Contentiousness is. I could easily be friends with someone I would never, ever want to live with.

It’s been a very long time since I lived with a roommate (lovers, spouses, and offspring are in a totally different category) so I would evaluate these survey responses the same way I would have when I was a college student.

Even misanthropes can follow social conventions and be tolerable company in short bursts. People who leave rotting food on a plate that ends up buried behind couch cushions are never going to be tolerable roommates. Someone who is casually friendly when encountered in the house, but spends most of his time studying and almost never goes out with the others is a good housemate. The guy who acts like your best friend 30 seconds after he meets you and comes back stumbling, roaring drunk at 3:00 AM to fuck his on-again, off-again, oh-gods-they’re-back-together-again girlfriend in marathon wall-banging, operatically screaming orgasmic sessions is not a good housemate.[3]

Which type do you think is more likely to write, “If you’re house is still available”?

I think I would be friends with this person.

I’ve never met this (fictional) person, so have no idea if I would actually be friends with them based solely on an email. I need to actually meet them to make that kind of decision. Tell you what, though, I could consider whether I am capable of overlooking errors in communication in someone I choose to consider a friend.[4]

The writer would be a good housemate.

I’ll tell you what’s a big fat red flag when you’re looking at a potential roommate: attention to detail. You know, the little things, like what day rent and utilities are due, whether Tuesday or Thursday is garbage pick-up, how many weeks take-out has been mouldering in the back of the fridge, remembering that occasionally you need to scrape clothes off the floor before they grow mold and you wonder whether it would be better to bleach the rug, or tear it out and burn it (and maybe some of the affected floorboards too) to get rid of the stench.

Someone who doesn’t bother to check an email for “typos” and “grammos” in a first communication is someone who won’t bother to think about all the myriad details living with other people requires. Being nice and getting along well with other people doesn’t help much when you never pay for anything on time and your lack of room hygiene makes the whole house stink.

You could be an über-bubbly supermodel who performs oral sex that makes angels weep with joy, but if you clog the toilet with a wad of toilet paper that a firehose couldn’t force down the drain, and keep forgetting to lock the door so we get robbed on a weekly basis, I’m probably not going to want to live with you. And you probably use too many emoji punctuating messages like, “hay, its not mi prolblem, it s they’re problim!”

The writer seems a lot like me.

You know who seems a lot like me? Someone who proofreads messages before hitting the “Send” button.

The writer seems friendly.

Friendly ≠ ignorant and careless. Like I said earlier, I’ll completely accept silly stuff from friends. This is not that situation. The person is a suppliant. They are asking you to consider them for a place in your home, as someone who shares space with you every single day. This communication is supposedly representative of what they are like at their most conscientious. If they are lax here, how bad will they be after they move in, make your life hell, and you legally have to enter eviction proceedings to get rid of them?

The writer seems more sophisticated than most of my friends.

<snort> That is not a high bar. Hell, more sophisticated than me is not a high bar. Know what’s sophisticated AF? Correctness. And being able to belch the Sumerian alphabet after chugging a seasonal artisanal brew sourced from my buddy’s basement.

The writer seems less intelligent than most of my friends.

Not necessarily less intelligent, but certainly more careless than I’d like for a roommate. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an irrelevant response since I wouldn’t care what the person is like in relation to my friends. There is, unfortunately, no “not applicable” option on the survey, which is a shame since it would cut the necessary responses to about three.

The writer seems conscientious.

if error_count=0  
    then applicant=conscientious  
    elseif count_errors  
        select error_count (*) from error_count_table;  
        where error_count=count_errors  
endif

error_count_table;  
+-----------+--------------------------------------+  
|error_count|response                              |  
+-----------+--------------------------------------+  
|1          |"OK"                                  |  
|2          |"Meh"                                 |  
|3          |"Hmm"                                 |  
|4          |"Really?"                             |  
|5          |"Ugh"                                 |  
|6          |"You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!"|  
|7          |"Lost…will…to read"                   |  
+-----------+--------------------------------------+

The writer seems considerate.

Considerate is providing clear and efficient communication that does not waste my fucking time. I’m screening people looking for a roommate who won’t puke in the front hall and fall asleep face-down on my bed with their shoes on my pillow at 2:00 PM on a Wednesday, when I’ve got 20 whole minutes to change, dump study materials, and get to my job after class. You must convince me that you’re both “agreeable” and not a waste of oxygen. You’ve got one email … GO!

The writer seems likable.

Honestly, I don’t care. I probably won’t see you for more than a few minutes a day while we live together because people usually have wildly incompatible schedules when they’re at the stage of their lives when they’re living with roommates.

What I do care about is not having problems. It’s like a teacher once said about parent-teacher conferences, “If I know little Timmy’s name within the first couple of weeks, nothing good has been happening. The fact that I can’t immediately pick your kid from a list of 30 other students is a good thing.”

I’m human. I’ll cut people more slack if they’re nice and fun to be with. But if I haven’t even met you and you’re coming across as friendly but ditzy, I’m swiping to “Archive” and moving on to the next email.

The writer seems trustworthy.

“LOL so i’mm lik sooooo sarri but ill toadally get the $2u buy 2morr!!!11 🤑”

🙄 Um, yeah, sure. Completely trustworthy individual.

This email flowed smoothly.

(Must. Resist. Poop joke.)

If I ever have to pause in reading an email to determine meaning, no, it did not “flow smoothly” by any reasonable definition of “flow” or “smoothly”. You can make writing flow smoothly by mostly using clear, declarative sentences. Spell correctly. Use punctuation.

It’s not particularly complicated. It doesn’t even have to be perfect. I’m not a super-pedant. Obvious errors demonstrate that you have a complete lack of fucks to give. You didn’t care enough to check it, read it back to yourself, or fix typing mistakes. If you don’t care enough to put that tiny bit of effort into your message, why should I care enough to read it?

I guess that just makes me a disagreeable snobby jerk grammar Nazi pedant.





  1. Quoted below because the link doesn’t properly resolve to Table 1, even though it looks like a direct link. Don’t look at me, I didn’t code their page or the CMS.  ↩

  2. Yes, I went there. The first response in their survey is missing a period. Ironic, that, since I’m assuming it wasn’t deliberate.  ↩

  3. These are composites of actual roommates I have had. There are many reasons I lived alone as soon as I could afford to, despite the good roommates I met and have stayed friends with for years afterward.  ↩

  4. Has your mom ever responded to, “Can you bring me the remote control, please?” with, “I can”, and no action? No? It was just my mom who taught the difference between can and will through demonstration? “Okay, mom, will you bring me the remote control. Please. With sugar on top?”  ↩