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OMG! They're texting!

One of my readers wonders about my take on texting, and I don’t have one because I don’t care.

Never mind all that carrying on from the English-is-going-straight-to-hell crowd. They have to keep finding things to deplore.

Here’s why I don’t worry. The concern seems to be that The Young People are being corrupted, with English following close behind. The Young People like texting because it’s a useful shorthand, of course, but also because it’s a kind of code, like their slang. Once the code is more generally understood, and even used by, the Cootery, its charm will fade rapidly. *

I still remember the 1980s, when the spread of a different form of technology appeared to threaten to overwhelm us all with CB slang. Remember those days, good buddy? It was a vogue, it had its little day, some people made a little money off the publication of lexicons of CB lingo, and it all faded away like the dew in the morn.


* See Mike Pope’s astute comment on yesterday’s post.



Posted by John McIntyre at 12:00 PM | | Comments (15)


10-4 Daddy-O.

Perhaps interestingly (certainly relevantly), a very similar kind of slang / shorthand was used between telegraph operators in the 1800s. Good English seemed to hold up all right. There's nothing new under etc.

See Tom Standage's delightful book The Victorian Internet.

I don't know, Prof. McIntyre. I had a CB (handle: Silverjack) and used the CB jargon in writing as well as speaking. While it was jargon, we spelled it correctly.

Texting encourages misspelling by being more efficient when the texter uses simplified spelling to save time. It is more than "U" for "you". I get regular text messages from my teenage nephew that tell me he's "bord." If it was limited to text messages, I would understand that he is just saving a keystroke. But the same simplified spelling leaks over into his e-mails.

I think this is more serious than CB jargon.

Just lie down until it all goes away.

Yes, Bucky...that is the one concern I have. Slang is fun, interesting, intriguing. Coolio.

While I'm neither a proponent of spelling bee memorization nor a stickler for language rules in casual conversation, I have noticed a certain loss in my teenaged granddaughters' ability to spell even simple words in non-texting settings. That worries me a bit.

Not as much as global warming or nuclear proliferation. But still...

"Texting encourages misspelling by being more efficient"

Wow, imagine that!

Was I being dissed? I can't tell. But I think I was.

Then there's amateur radio expressions, notably XYL for one's wife (ex young lady). Teenagers were illiterate in the days when I wore shorts I seem to recall.

The reason that CB slang has disappeared is that CB radios have disappeared, displaced by cell phones. My guess is that some, perhaps even most, text messaging slang will disappear, but not for the same reason as CB slang.

Moreover, some of the slang will survive. To illustrate: In the course of emailing the opposing side in litigation or a negotiation, I will always "cc" my client. Do you think that I use carbon paper for that purpose?

I think your memory might be failing, Prof. McI.

The high point of CB lingo was the late ‘70s, not the ‘80s.

Other than that, you’re right on the mark.

It's not my memory that is at fault. It was the early 1980s when my parents and their friends in Fleming County, Kentucky, were infatuated with CB radio. My mistake was to fail to allow for the Kentucky time lag.

My mistake was to fail to allow for the Kentucky time lag.

Reminds me: on the outskirts of Amarillo, Texas there is a sign that says, "Welcome to Amarillo. Please set your watch back 20 years."

A striking example of this can be found over on Read Street, under the blog where Stephen King is quoted as saying that whoever wrote the adolescent-vampire-book-that-was-recently-made-into-a-movie is not a good writer. Multitudes of responses from what seem to be outraged 12-year-old girls are written in U R lingo.

The Read Street responses come as no surprise.

I used to edit copy for a weekly newspaper in Kentucky.

I used to teach freshman English.

I used to look occasionally at letters differing with the pop music critic's reviews in an alternative paper.

Subliteracy in public has no novelty value.

Update and a mild recanting: Just back from several days with my teenaged granddaughters. Learned while I was there that, if hard pressed, (as in, a grade is involved) they can spell very well. My bad.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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