Life in the Pedestrian Lane

AAAAA: 'texting' leaves writer ROTFUTS

Posted: Sunday, January 06, 2008

Did you ever write "2YsUR, 2YsUB, ICUR2Ys4 me" in someone's yearbook?

Looking at today's text messages, I think we were before our time. A few of the shortcuts are quite inventive: "OIC" and "RUOK." I especially like "2MORO" and "GR8," but I needed help with "SCNR" sorry could not resist and "GAL" get a life.

Nothing so points up the fact that American English is becoming a lazy language as receiving a letter or even an e-mail from a teenager who texts.

When I was 10 or 11 I decided to learn a new word every day. Of course, according to my granddaughter, in whom I am trying to instill the same habit, the language was only 200 years old then and had about 5,000 words in its vocabulary.

The practice stayed with me through my high school years and beyond until I realized that English does, in fact, have only about 5,000 words and we keep recycling them in different forms, much like old newspapers turned into greeting cards or aluminum cans paraded as upscale jewelry.

We have the habit of creating new words by grabbing a couple and slapping them together. Windshield and snowmachine come readily to mind along with my personal favorite, popcorn. Most of these words are self-explanatory, but occasionally figurative thought will surface and we get fireweed or moonglow and of course Starwars, which began in someone's imagination and entered the mainstream vocabulary as shorthand for futuristic military actions.

Another technique to recycle used words is to add things at either end sometimes at both. The best example of this practice gone mad is "antidisestablishmentarianism," reputed to be the longest word in the English language. That word went through so many cycles it ended meaning nearly the same as it began, only six syllables longer (and, just out of curiosity, have you ever used it in conversation?).

I remember reading somewhere that aluminum cans can be recycled about 75 times, then they vaporize in the process. I think that word has just about reached its limit.

These days exactly the opposite is in practice. The text-set eliminates as much as possible while trying to keep the word apparent. For instance, I know "Gpa" is the man I live with, and "BFF" changes every week or so. I knew "LOL" from surfing some chat rooms and figured out "THX." "XOXOXO" is as old as my parents (or theirs maybe). WYSIWYG and DIY are in the public vernacular along with SNAFU. Some, I think, it is better I don't know!

English has never been a precise language. It might take us 15 words to explain ideas that other languages have one or two words for. But language definitely loses something in the effort to become succinct.

For instance, "summit" is one of those noun cum verb words we have co-opted in the effort to make the language more exact as in "The climber summitted the mountain." Not quite the same visual as "The climber fought his way to the top of the rugged peak." Summitted just tells us he got there and leaves the rest to our imagination.

However, it does point up a certain "wordiness" to English that texting apparently is trying to avoid which won't make any difference in the future, as we are losing the art of conversation, too. I watched two people sit side by side on the couch texting each other and not saying a word until one looked at the other and said, "I can't talk anymore, my batteries are dead."

I had made some progress with the granddaughter by suggesting that she should know some new words so in case someone said she was "scintillating" she'd know whether she had been complimented or insulted, and then text messages came into in her life. Her father got her a cell phone that hasn't had 50 words spoken into it, but probably thousands of text messages keyed in by now (no one "types" anymore).

Talk about succinct! I am right back to where I was at 11! Every day a new acronym comes into being that I am expected to understand right away. It doesn't help that I don't speak the language to begin with. These little jewels come to me in e-mails, in TV commercials and in handwritten notes, and not just from my granddaughter. People I know who can write perfectly well in plain old-fashioned English have begun with the textese, especially in e-mails.

Frankly, it is a PITA, IYKWIM. It wouldn't be TEOTWAWKI if everyone just remembered their eighth-grade English teacher and what she'd say about Instant speak (or whatever it's called). I'm ROTFLMAO at that picture!

Glossary: AAAAA American Association Against Acronym Abuse;

PITA Pain in the you-know-where;

IYKWIM If you know what I mean;

TEOTWAWKI The end of the world as we know it;

ROTFLMAO Rolling on the floor laughing my (same place I had a pain) off; and

ROTFUTS Rolling on the floor unable to speak.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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