The New Rhetoric of Email: Participatory Quotation on an Electronic Discussion List: The Trumpet Player's International Network

Presented at the PALA (Poetics and Linguistics Association) conference, Summer 1997 in Nottingham, England

by David Stacey

This presentation was re-printed here with kind permission from David Stacey.

Walter Nash and the Trumpet, Amateurism, Lurking and TPIN

Isn't it just like an American to start everything off on a personal note? Two very positive personal experiences converge in my topic, two happy events that effectively brought me back to life again, several years ago, after having been pretty well worn out by a long and arduous dissertation project.

First is the works and days of Walter Nash. I read The Language of Humour and then Seeing through Language, then Rhetoric: the Wit of Persuasion, and then everything else I could find. Reading these wonderful books rerouted my research and redefined my teaching interests, re-centered my love for language study, especially the kinds practiced by Nash, Paul Simpson, Rob Pope, Sharon Goodman and others in PALA. Then, getting to know Bill Nash through letters and then visits to his home, I found I had an academic mentor, for the first time in my life, and also a very good friend.

Second: casting about for something new to do with my post-dissertation energies, I rediscovered a love for music, especially jazz, and especially the study and playing of jazz music on the trumpet. I became a "comeback player." This term describes a somewhat typical character among music enthusiasts: an early-middle aged guy, like myself, who put the horn down a long time ago, picks it back up and goes to work on it again, now as an amateur in thrall to an avocation.

I first saw mention of this apt phrase on TPIN, the electronic mailing list on the Internet called "Trumpet Players' International Network," the content of which provides the text I will be working with in this paper.

These two discoveries--Nash and music--are mixed up with one another. Professor Nash loves chamber music, and his short essay on pre-medieval music notation in The Writing Scholar demonstrates the sophisticated devotion of an amateur, "one who loves." He is an amateur of the piano and harpsichord. I am an amateur of the trumpet. I am also a charter member of TPIN, having "subscribed" at its inception (moving over as it happens from the less focussed BRASS list that preceded it). I came aboard TPIN when it was founded, by Michael Anderson at Dana College, three and a half years ago, and since then I have only "unsubscribed" (another new word) for short periods in the summer when I am away from home and computers.

And these two things--my status as an amateur and the coincidental rise of Usenet newsgroups and discussion lists on the Internet--are mixed up with one another. As a comeback player / charter member of TPIN, I have had opportunities to learn about music and trumpet-playing unparalleled in the history of human communication. It sounds a bit grand to say this, but it's true. Because of the Internet and what it makes possible, I have learned so much more about my new hobby than I could have done even if I had the time, energy and money to pursue my passion in any other way--library research, for instance, or subscriptions to magazines, and travel to conferences and concerts and masterclasses. I am a new kind of amateur: one with unbelievably easy access to experts, their stories, conversations and arguments.

There is also something new here about the form of amateur-ness: I am an eavesdropper who is entitled to interrupt the conversation he is listening in on. The most interesting form that interruption takes on an email discussion list is the quotation, as I shall shortly explain. A good description of this role (entitled eavesdropper) has yet to be worked out. The situation I occupy at the Trumpet Players' International Network is, I am told, cyberspatial. I am said to be a part of a "virtual community." What this means is that we're not going to be clear about what this means for quite some time to come. My particular situation is not wholly "virtual" on the one hand, as I have met a few TPINers in person, and contracted with others on "offlist" e-mail to buy small things like mutes and instruction books and mouthpieces--hard, matter-displacing little objects which have taken up real space in my mailbox alongside letters and magazines, after having been delivered in the regular post (or "snail mail" as it is now called by Internet enthusiasts). Nor is my situation perfectly "face-to-face," of course, because almost everything I do at TPIN is done on-line.

What do I do? For the most part, I let others do the talking. For the most part, I listen and watch; I defer to the real trumpet players at TPIN--nearly 600 of them currently subscribed (as of June, 1997). Precisely because of my reticence, vagaries of location are about all there is: what I do is not equal parts "participant-observation," and it is surely not fully entitled membership in a discourse community. In Netspeak, it is called, somewhat unfortunately, "lurking." Lurking is low intensity participation: you are "checking" your mail, following the threads, scanning subject lines on message headers for notes you want to read, reading and saving some notes and deleting others, talking to friends in your everyday "ftf" world about what "they" are saying "there." Insofar as you are not adding your own voice or point of view to the e-discussions you read, this is more observation than participation, and yet each and every one of the activities just mentioned is a speech act. So it is that the Internet merely intensifies the curiosity of people who ponder the Burkean perplexities of symbolic action, and so it is that we amateurs also serve who only sit and stare into the screen . . .

Unpacking the vernacular

It should be clear by now that we have some new language to interpret and translate, a vernacular to unpack. And that is my main intention in this presentation: to describe a few interesting aspects of the content of electronic discourse about trumpet music, instruments, education and performance to be found on TPIN. I'll be investigating CMC (computer mediated communication) on a non-gatewayed, unarchived discussion list and in a web site. I'll be talking about technologically reshaped forms of quotation and some of the interesting implications therein for our common sense notions of ownership and plagiarism.


Let us begin by asking the founder of TPIN, Professor Michael Anderson, to describe it:

The discussions have been lively and there are currently over 600 subscribers. All kinds of "trumpet people" are represented on the network including amateurs, students, professionals of all types, professors, retailers, builders, repair people and even non-players. The topics of discussion have been quite varied, including such topics as pedagogy, equipment (of course), performance practice, recordings, improvisations, famous and not-so-famous performers, literature and others. Instruments and accessories have been bought and sold on the network and many collegial friendships have been formed. (

There is also a Trumpet newsgroup on FAQ ("Frequently Asked Questions"), written by David Roth, can be accessed at, where you can post notes that are read and responded to by people who come here to read the news. There is now an IRC site too--where takes place "chat" on "Internet Relay." There is in addition an FTP (file transfer protocol) archive maintained by Michael Anderson at a web site attached to TPIN. I mention these things merely to indicate a more or less typical development of "sites" (for want of a better word) on the Internet: these "trumpet" related resources are, like thousands of other topical resources on the Net, interlocking, rapidly growing in substance and audience, and topically as well technologically driven.

As Charles Moran and others have suggested, there is such thing as a "rhetoric" of email (Moran, Stacey and Goodman and Stubbs). At present it is probably safe to say (about a rapidly evolving form of discourse) that the basic unit of text in a rhetoric of email is neither the sustained, unified, cohesive essayistic sentence, paragraph or page, nor the bare phenomenological "bit" of informational content, but the roll of the screen, or the "scroll" (see Nash and Stacey). One of the rhetorical shortcomings of email, according to Moran, involves the scroll: you cannot see a screenfull of text when you're responding to it, unless you download to a wordprocessor and then upload to the Net again--in which case you've been back and forth into and out of an older technological form and concept of "mail" or "letter."

All of this will change as the basic email format we are familiar with now gives way to less machine-oriented headers and tags and becomes more transparent and user-friendly, as Steve Dorner, founder of Eudora, suggests will soon happen. For the time being, however, I want to settle a tentative focus upon the scroll as the basic unit of text in email, and quotation as the most delicate element available to analysis therein.

Quotation as set-piece is not exactly what we mean. The tendency in any quotation toward the stasis of commonplace is indeed present in an email note, but always tempered, indeed chastised, and then invigorated into new movement.

From Mon Jun 9 16:52:13 1997

Date: Sat, 10 May 1997 13:43:59 -0500

From: MMagers <>



Subject: Re: Hoses


I try to read every post and after a while, any signature or stock language I see in EVERY post from a particular contributor becomes tiresome. The most clever or humorous quote, phrase, concept, commercial or saying is no longer clever or humorous after a couple of readings. Sorry, man, but Tom's right.

Mike Magers

At 08:43 AM 5/10/97 -0400, you wrote:


>The fact is that this "Constant Hosaphone(tm) pushing" as you >put it is not our attempt to provide and humor and entertainment >as if we were employees of your ISP [Internet Service Provider]. >

Mike Magers is pushing language here; his expression of impatience captures nicely a major theme of a rhetoric of email: unless things move quickly they get tiresome. In this venue, humor or cleverness have to stand the test of a few quick readings--and even a few quick readings of any one piece of text is highly unusual. What irks Mike Magers is this message, attached to Ellis Workman's sig [signature] file and "quoted" then every time Ellis (and David Roth as well, as we shall shortly see) contributes to the list:


Visit Hosaphone(tm) Headquarters at:

"Visit Hosaphone(tm) Headquarters . . . " is a quotation, in this traditional sense: "The act or practice of repeating a phrase, sentence, or passage from a book, speech or other source, an occasion of doing this, and the words used" . . . (McArthur 836). As part of a "sig" file this particular quotation automatically appends to any email note Ellis Workman sends, thereby repeating itself. So far so good, but this is about all that common sense will do for us here. More important to the subject at hand is the quoting done by the machine AND Mike Magers here, and the consequent density of reference: Ellis responds to Tom and then Mike to Ellis. After we figure out that Mike has put HIS response to Ellis' response to Tom FIRST, in this note, we then recognize that Mike has used the machine to quote Ellis.

For that is what the > sign indicates. A reader pragmatically understands that ">" is provided by the machine as a signal of quoted matter. This "feel for the format" in a reader of email establishes an idiomatic or expected frame for a reference; we recognize IN THE FORMAT the intention to quote, as in this example, which puts the quoted material first:

From Tue Jun 10 10:56:46 1997

Date: Fri, 9 May 1997 05:30:10 -0400 (EDT)

From: "David A. Roth" <>



Subject: Re: I need some serious help with my history paper!

> Can anyone help me out there regarding research on the >cornetto? I have a paper due in a few weeks, and I'm seriously >low on reference materials, if anyone has info on books on the >cornetto, or has a paper on the cornetto that I can use as a >guide, that would be most appreciated. I will pay if I have

>to! Thanks!


Let this be a lesson kids. Always go to the music library first, make one stack per pile for each topic you are considering, the largest pile becomes your research topic. Think of the countless hours wasted in asking questions after the fact only to see the nose of the library staff krinkle in response with, "Never heard of it, what class is this for?".

Meanwhile, no self-respecting music scholar should be without the most important brasswind treatise of the 20th century, available for FREE from Hosaphone(tm) Headquarters, the Hosaphone(tm) FAQ:

Visit Hosaphone(tm) Headquarters at:

David A. Roth

Here again we see that "Hosaphone(tm) pushing" that appears to bother Tom and Mike. We also see that quotation marks are supplied by the computer program--again in a way that subtly affects the message: Roth doesn't quite utter the word "plagiarism" here, even though he might, for surely this young student is trying to cheat. This is a significant incidence of reticence, because in most traditional rhetorical or common sense formats, the topic of "quotation" quickly evokes the topic of "plagiarism" (as it does in McArthur and Wales). Roth's own "feel for the format," however, might mean that such a word is out of bounds here, for reasons we'll get to in a moment; and in any case, his quick lesson in ad hoc research methods (tallest stack wins!) is likely just a didactic moment, a pretext for advertising ("pushing"--depending on your point of view) Hosaphone(tm) Headquarters.

As a person literate in the rhetoric of email, Roth responds more or less intuitively to the technology of the medium; in response to a familiar prompt at the REPLY button ("Include Original Message in Reply?" or some wording to that effect), he manages text in both a block and continuous fashion, as I am about to explain. The point to emphasize here is the overdetermined nature of quotation in this medium: the technology encourages it by making it cheap and easy. It makes it super-efficient, as Kenneth Burke might point out. And whenever something is very highly efficiently achieved, it becomes hyper-emphasized, as the Burke of Attitudes toward History would point out. In a capitalistic system of production (or what Burke with an emphasis upon rhetoric and discourse would call a capitalistic "frame of acceptance"), that thing--here quotation--can then be produced, distributed and consumed on a "mass" scale. And as Myron Tuman has pointed out, the Internet is nothing if not a fantastically huge photocopying machine. . . .

Email makes quotation so cheap and easy, in fact, that we must perforce begin to question a basic, common sense notion of quotation: "The concept of quotation depends on identifying (briefly or in detail) the source to which reference is made and from which words have been taken" (McArthur 836). In a rhetoric of email, the concept of quotation depends on no such thing. As we see in the header and signature tags and the > quotation mark of an email note, it is the machine that does much of the work of quotation for the writer, attributing the source (down to time of day), supplying markers, appending tag phrases. All this would seem to reinforce a traditional notion of who owns what in a quotation, but there are powerful complicators at work.

First, traditional quotation marks ("..." in the U.S. and `...' in Great Britain) are conventional means of integrating quoted material into a "running text," as Tom McArthur explains in a common sense fashion (836). Block quotations--separation from the main body of the text, changes in margins and spacing--are used for longer passages of writing. On email, the > mark does both: it blocks text and yet at the same time it keeps the text running, because the "text" does not begin or end, conceptually, within the confines of a single note. The text is in the scroll, as I have mentioned, or the continuing conversation or argument constituted by the "thread."

It is interesting that the quotation mark looks like an arrow. Scrolled attribution, then, would not so much justify but refer--and refer and refer again--and not so much refer as continue. It is not attribution in a common sense; it is "springboarding," and its motive and warrant depend not upon possession but participation. And ultimately, then, but in the near rather than distant future, because of the way the new writing technologies make quotation so eminently doable, plagiarism may have to be redefined. Further, what Howard Rheingold is happy to call "Group Think" on the Net might very well be de-Orwellianized. Eric Crump and Nick Carbone, in the first new student handbook to address the implications of participatory attribution, acknowledge the notion of entitled participation in a rhetoric of email:

Although it is wrong to steal, keep in mind that the Internet can encourage both planned collaboration and learning and thinking by osmosis. When collaboration is planned, students and teachers can arrange ways to keep track of who does what and how to evaluate it. However, some collaboration occurs just from bringing people together. Consider, for example, that in e-mail discussions it is not unusual to absorb an idea into one's own writing and thinking. A student may pick up an idea mentioned in a message and expand on it in her own message; she may be asked a question about her expansion that makes her rethink and refine it. After her refinement, another writer might add a new twist and add it to her evolving sense of the idea. She might save a copy of the message that sums up her final position and download it to use in an essay. That downloaded message represents the work of three or four people; the student acted as a synthesizer and editor (as did the others in the discussion), borrowing ideas and reshaping them in light of new ideas.

To our minds . . . the student in this scenario would not be plagiarizing if she used any of her messages, including the downloaded one summing up her final position, a position obviously influenced by other writers. The ideas in question, even the words in question, cease to be the intellectual property of this or that writer. In the give and take of the discussion, as words are shared and merged, participating earns the writer the right to the words that emerge. However, keep in mind that if the student downloads another author's e-mail message, she must cite that. (147, emphasis added)

On an electronic discussion list such at TPIN, the authority that attaches to participation--that which "earns the writer the right to the words"--can only be located in the scroll, the ongoing, often archived (not however, at TPIN), emergent intertext of voices in dialogue. To be sure, participation has its discontents, as any long-time member of any particular list can attest, especially when we are used to possessive individualism in the way we live. On an electronic discussion list such as TPIN it often feels like the topic has a life of its own. Subject headings mutate very quickly, and sometimes people sense the complications of ownership and authority. They complain that the thread that originated here as this has permutated there as that; they compensate for transgressions or embarrassments with "smilies" and other sometimes desperate attempts to formulate paralinguistic cues; they argue that this or that line of thought constitutes digression. On many an email list, contention can become bickering can become "flaming," without much time or trouble at all.

How does one participate in a quote? Collaborative activity seems to have little room in a common sense view of quotation such as Tom McArthur's, in the Oxford Companion to the English Language, who gives this traditional view: "If sources are not identified . . . and the borrowed material is substantial and presented explicitly or implicitly as the writer's own, the person who does so may have engaged in plagiarism, the theft of someone else's words" (837). David Roth senses, I suspect, the change in perspective described by Crump and Carbone, when he stops short of uttering the "P" word in his email note chastening the writer to do her own research into the cornetto. I think Roth knows, on the beat of his pulse if not more consciously, that in this new medium borrowed material is indeed "substantial"; if this be not "theft," then, what is it? Here is Katie Wales on quotation:

A text with quotations is clearly polyphonic in the sense of Bakhtin (1983), or "multi-voiced": the voice of the writer interwoven with the voices of his or her sources. It is also dialogic in Bakhtin's sense, in that much of the dynamism and tension of criticism comes from the engagement of the writer with the quotations since (s)he may or may not agree with them. It is also intertextual since a text with quotations depends on the writer's (and reader's) knowledge of previous discourses. (388)

Polyphony (multiple voices), dialogism, intertext. Literate manipulation of the tools of a rhetoric of email involves, at present, an expressly dialogic use of the cursor to create space in a message. You accede to the prompt and "include previous message in reply." You move the cursor to where you want your own voice to be heard, and click there to interrupt the flow of the scroll. Roth and anyone else who gets past "lurking" on an electronic discussion list knows how to manipulate on the machine an awareness that the > and >> indicate layers of quotation, levels of voices, texts in interaction. It is an ongoing, continuous, public, participatory kind of discourse.

Participation can be efficient enough to generate irony out of multiple references, sooner rather than later in any given discussion thread. In order to understand the participatory complexities of voice and text in the following note, you need to know that wherever trumpeters gather, they seem to want to talk, sooner rather than later, about how high (and fast and loud) they can play.

From Tue Jun 10 12:16:21 1997

Date: Thu, 8 May 1997 18:35:37 -0700 (PDT)




Subject: Re: I just played a double C

Which of the two below would you say is the most insecure?

On Thu, 8 May 1997 wrote:

> In a message dated 97-05-08 02:19:59 EDT, you write:

> > << I'm going up to a double C in the Caruso exercises >>

> > Would you like a medal or a dog biscut? [sic]


This indicates the direction in which this discussion now needs to go: toward an understanding of the "inside" or vernacular kind of irony evinced here--and how it develops naturally enough out of participatory quotation on an electronic discussion list. Difference and distance added to quotation, as Linda Hutcheon argues, or displacement and divergence in derived expression, according to Walter Nash, get you rather quickly to parody. And it just so happens that out of TPIN has emerged a wonderful celebration of the human impulse toward parody, in the form of Hosaphone(tm) Headquarters, an elaborate and continually developing web paged maintained by David Roth and Ellis Workman at Here the expensive and haughtily traditional "natural trumpet," literally baroque in all its crooked and tasselled splendor, gets reduced, with loving and vicious care, to eight feet of garden hose, some black tape and a tin funnel. So too does the mighty new Monette-a-phone, similarly expensive and also gorgeously adorned but this time in "post modern" rather than historical affectation, here receive its bloody due.

Out of TPIN comes an collection of messages that are now quotations--notes collected into a FAQ and repeated at every occasion the page is accessed. The FAQ at Hosaphone(tm) Headquarters is a FAQ and a parody of a FAQ--the normally dialogic nature of the format of "frequently asked questions" is consciously heightened--displaced, "differenced" and "divergified," we might say--in a very funny Dialogue between a Master and "David," personae adopted by Workman and Roth (a name for a comedy team if ever there were one!) for the betterment of their own giddy ends and our own enlightened entertainment.

Works Cited

Anderson, Michael. "What is TPIN?" The Trumpet Players' International Network. (4 June 1997).

Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. 2nd. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Crump, Eric and Nick Carbone. English Online: A Student's Guide to the Internet and World Wide Web. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

Hale, Constance, Ed. Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age. San Francisco: HardWired Books, 1996.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody: the Teachings of Twentieth Century Art Forms. New York: Methuen, 1985.

McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Ed. Oxford: OUP, 1992.

Moran, Charles. "Notes toward a Rhetoric of Email." Computers and Composition 12 (1995): 15-21.

Nash, Walter. The Language of Humour: Style and Technique in Comic Discourse. English Language Series, 16. London: Longman, 1985.

____. The Writing Scholar: Studies in Academic Discourse, Ed. Written Communication Annual, 3. Newbury Park, California: Sage, 1990.

Nash, Water and David Stacey. Creating Texts: An Introduction to the Study of Composition. London: Longman, 1997.

Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.

Roth, David. Hosaphone(tm) Headquarters. (4 June 1997).

Stacey, David and Sharon Goodman and Teresa Stubbs. "The New Distance Learning: Students, Teachers, and Texts in Cross-Cultural Electronic Communication." Computers and Composition 13 (199): 293-302.

Tuman, Myron C. Word Perfect: Literacy in the Computer Age. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992.

Wales, Katie. A Dictionary of Stylistics. London: Longman, 1989.

© Copyright 1997 David Stacey