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OMG WTF >:-O-B-|->===[

October 14, 2009

omg wtf is happeningyou guy’s

Like everyone, I either rightly or wrongly consider myself to be a reasonable person. And to the extent that I’m outspoken about anything, I’m outspoken about the inherent fluidity of language. The tension between grammar and culture is the essence of creativity, goddamn it. Actual vs. potential, indicative vs. subjunctive, can vs. should, does vs. could. These are the power couples whose spats and sexy reunions and gorgeous offspring should form the backbone of entertainment news columns. Without them there would be no Aeschylus, no Nonnus (Nonnus? Who the fuck is Nonnus?), no Ulysses, no Infinite Jest.

But, men of Athens, was there not a time when WTF stood for World Trade Federation and LOL stood for Load Of Laundry? Jurors, was there not a time when human beings were able to communicate fluently and effectively in writing without recourse to increasingly bizarre and elaborate series of punctuation marks? And, brothers and sisters, wasn’t “heart” a noun, once upon a time?

Gentlemen, do I have four numbers right?

These days, every sentence aspires to become a pithy phrase and every pithy phrase aspires to become an acronym. Syllables are being lopped from words like the feet of the guests of Procrustes. Any butchery of the language is acceptable provided it’s undertaken in the name of faster or shorter text messages. I’m pretty sure studies would show that 90% of teenagers consider the number 8 and the noble Roman suffix “-ate” to be synonyms. I can’t say that I entirely heart these recent developments in language use. They’ve got nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with laziness and ignorance.

Psychology type people are always tossing out statistics about what proportion of communication is verbal and what proportion is nonverbal. It’s always some shocking ratio like 25-75. I say “shocking” because for me this statistic was always really shocking. Not literally. Literal shock is caused by electricity. Figurative shock is far more common and can be caused by almost anything, but usually it’s unexpected or troublesome information. The figurative shock mentioned above was a result of the fact that I’ve always been comically terrible at body language. All these fucking things like eye contact and knowing what to do with your hands and not freaking out when someone steps into your personal space in what they consider to be a gesture of affection or  approval have always been beyond me, for whatever reason. (Maybe I should hold a mug in each hand. “Integortion”? Was any of that usable?) Meanwhile, though, since the day I was born or shortly thereafter, I’ve been insanely fascinated with language and writing. I can’t tell you how many angsty high school nights I spent praying to God to find me a written universe, an unembodied world to hang out in at least for a few hours a day to make up for the constant in-person misunderstandings and indignities. I’m wiser now; I know it was Zeus up there the entire time and when I was confiding my most humiliating weaknesses and my deepest wishes to him I was just giving him ammunition. As is both his will and his wont, he granted my prayer in the silliest possible way. The internet. Here you go, Kate. It’s exactly what you asked for, right?

How can I respond, except to state that my cell phone came programmed with a series of pre-written text messages, one of which is “BOOTY CALL?”…

On the other hand, it is mildly entertaining and majorly interesting to watch humanity flounder about in a world without body language. I can’t help but be a bit schadenfreudily entertained by how poorly most people handle it LOL! Now who’s socially inept ROFLMAO :D!!! All the idiotic recent developments in English grammar and syntax are direct results of people’s inability to express themselves in writing. They can’t type, or they’re too lazy to write out entire words, or they genuinely don’t know how to translate their thoughts and emotions into comprehensible, grammatical written correspondence and so rely on acronyms and catchphrases. In person, body language can hide or make up for a certain amount of incoherence. In writing, not so much.

It took about ten minutes for someone to invent emoticons, the ad-hoc body language of the internet. But it’s hilariously primitive and inadequate, plus it’s sideways.  Emoticons capture the spirit of perhaps 1-10% of whatever body language would have been expressed in an in-person interaction. And the acronyms that must have started out as indicators that some action was taking place – that the person at the other end of the conversation was laughing, for example – quickly became meaningless. Nobody laughs out loud 500 times in one conversation, however hilarious it may be, and it probably isn’t. Now people are taking it a step further and adding stage directions: *shrugs*, *rolls eyes audibly*, *licks finger and sultrily touches your profile photo on monitor*.

Some of the new technology of the past 25 years could have made a positive contribution to literacy. The 100-0 ratio of words to body language could have made people anxious to improve their writing skills. That was more the kind of thing I had in mind when I was praying for an incorporeal universe. I think it would have been pretty awesome. But the exact opposite is happening. Instead of giving us incentive to write well, the internet and its offshoots try to convince us to partake of really subpar, superficial, unnecessarily incessant self-expression. Quantity over quality. No standards. Superficiality, borderline-incomprehensibility, and sentence fragments consisting almost entirely of typos are of no concern as long as the person at the other end can decipher the gist of what his/her friend is trying to say. Kids have cell phones and Facebook accounts and blogs but they have a decreasingly clear sense of how language works, what punctuation does, how valuable and important creativity and originality are and how neither of those are possible in a grammatically ignorant world: until you learn the rules you can’t meaningfully break them. Fifty years from now only the town elders will remember the days when apostrophes were used to indicate possession or contraction and weren’t used in the creation of plurals. Only the town nerds will know the definition of “etymology” and the etymology of “definition.” Capital letters are courting extinction as we speak – an ironic fate considering that they were created long before their minuscule counterparts showed up.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Facebook…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anneke permalink
    October 28, 2009 9:39 pm

    My mum used to work as a nurse, and claims that LOL still means ‘Little Old Lady’ to her.

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