Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Language Electric

Through a convoluted series of clicks while websurfing, today's blog subject zapped me like a bolt of lightning. I hadn't even planned on posting until Friday Photography! But this article on How Fail Went From Verb to Interjection got me thinking about "electronic language," or communication that occurs with an electronic medium. That is, e-mails, texting, chatting, Twittering, Facebooking, and all the other "ings" that might fall into this category.

We've seen in this electronic age just how fast language can transform. 20 years ago, acronyms that we see and use every day, like LOL, ROFL, OMG, and NSFW didn't have a place in our vernacular because most communication was done in person, over the phone, or by mail. Now texting, e-mailing, online social networking and instant messaging have shoved at least "phone" and "snailmail" off of that list.

With the use of these mediums exploding, shorthand has been launched into a whole new realm and like this Telegraph article shows, texting is making English a foreign language. If you're not up on some of the new e-lingo, it could be detrimental. You've heard of people losing their jobs over poorly planned Tweets and Facebook status messages. Now you can also read about Kate Washburn, who didn't know what NSFW meant and was consequently fired from her job after viewing an e-mail that was "Not Safe For Work." Or in the same article, you can read about Cassandra McSparin who thought LOL meant "lots of love": “I’m so sorry to hear about your mother passing away. LOL. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Mortifying!

This is something that people even 10 years ago didn't have to worry about but language evolves very quickly. Especially when its combined with electrical devices that we carry with us all the time and use as constant communication tools. Some people say that it may be detrimental to the English language, but I disagree (and so does the first person in the world to get a PhD in texting).

Forms of popular communication have gotten shorter and shorter and now, with the advent of Twitter, we're squeezing out profound thoughts, recipes, inane banter, and all other matters in between in 140 characters or less. As I said in my post Language Obsessed, the constraints have only expanded my vocabulary and understanding of language. It makes language like a mini game of Tetris where the point is to get words of different shapes and sizes to stack well into 140 character spaces. I know I'm not alone in thinking its fun, as the Twitter service has exploded with new users and SMS text messaging has now surpassed mobile phone calling.

E-mailing, texting, and social networking are here to stay. As a result, language from now one will always be in flux. With sent text messages to hit 2.3 trillion by 2010 and no sign of its popularity slowing down, English will continue to evolve quite rapidly for years to come.

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