Saturday, August 11, 2012
Lightening Up On Language
Even so, at 38 years old, I have never been a very skillful textist. I am that annoying contact in your address book whose texts are almost always typed in complete sentences, with proper punctuation and all words fully spelled out. While I pride myself on this at times, I am forced to admit that what I see as my attention to grammar and an effort at clear communication completely defeats the purpose of texting altogether - that abbreviated check-in kind of function for which the text feature was originally intended. Problem is, I text more than I talk on the phone, so I put a lot of pressure on this tiny little window of opportunity to convey every thought and sub-thought I have whether I am arranging to meet up with someone for coffee or having an in-depth political debate that requires me to send my well thought out thesis in five separate texts.
Over the years, the people I text most frequently have commented - sometimes through jokes, sometimes referring to their suddenly-much-higher cell phone bills - about the lengths of my texts -- or, more specifically, the lengths of the words therein. As a result, I have worked to bottom-line my thoughts and ... shudder/gasp/horror ... use anagrams whenever possible. My repertoire is pretty limited to the basics: LOL. IDK. ROFL. OMG. And every now and then, when I'm having a particularly intense reaction to something, an OMFG seems to fit the bill and a ROFLMAO almost expresses the level of hilarity involved. Always the resource-seeking researcher, I have found various glossaries and lists of texting shortcuts to assist me, but who in the world (besides a teenager of course) can remember a list this extensive: http://www.boltop.com/private-message.htm ? I have to write out "Oatmeal. Bananas. Broccoli." when I go to the grocery store or I will forget at least one of the three items that necessitated the trip in the first place.
But the issue doesn't stop at texting, per se -- it seems to extend to speaking. Or, as it is more aptly called: Text speak. I am going to call it talkxting as a rebellious way of taking language back and making it my own, though I don't assume my idea will catch on. Not many of them do. But what has become way too popular is this tendency to SPEAK the letters "O.M.G." and "I.D.K." So when my friends mentioned this YOLO situation, they weren't referring to it as a texted phrase, rather as something people (again, young people) actually say. "YOLO," they utter any time an old person (read: anyone over 30) questions or disciplines them. Though I haven't even talked to many teenagers since I taught ninth-grade English over a decade ago, I still hear the phrase often, in stores and coffee shops, on streets, even at the gym. It is nice to finally know what it means, in the same way it was nice to find out that BOGO stands for "Buy One, Get One" Free last year. Although I don't foresee myself becoming a YOLO user (though the BOGO concept is right up my alley, and probably a topic for another blog post altogether).
You see, as someone who is more closely alligned to the teachings of Buddhism than to any other religious or faith-based organizations, I actually believe that we live more than once. Or that if we do only live once, we continue to take on various forms through infinity, based on each version of life we lived before the one we are living now. But even as I write this here, I realize that this is not the kind of conversation a frequent user of YOLO is likely to stick around for. In fact, I imagine I would probably get a "WTH?" response - as I probably should - for analyzing anagrams on this level.
As I think about the concept of lightening up in its many forms, this is one area that does sadden me a little - this lightening up on words and their meanings, on grammar and punctuation and, well, literacy in general. While texting has its place and can certainly cut down on cell phone bills and time spent reading nonessential, though perhaps perfectly crafted information, I worry that it has become so ubiquitous that younger generations - the YOLO set - are not going to use text speak for the same reasons my generation may, but because they really don't know how to spell what they are trying to say. Or, in some cases, because they don't even know how to say what they are trying to say.
And while the addition of an emoticon often seems a helpful indicator of tone, :) = smile, :( = frown, and so on. I still shudder at the memory of a rare text to my mother in which I inadvertently called her a "HO," not realizing I hadn't hit shift when typing the : and the ) that I had originally intended. That was not an enjoyable early morning conversation, as I attempted to explain to my extremely conservative sixty year-old mother that I was merely trying to insert a smiley face at the end of my long and winding text whose content I can't even remember.
So I guess my final plea is this - there are so many ways and places to lighten up in life. Stay word heavy. Use as many words as often as possible. Jump into complete sentences and correct grammar and splash around. Learn all the rules about how to communicate with these little gems - after all, where else in life can you find something that is physically weightless but packs a punch, is completely free but increases your earning power, is always available and on the tip of your tongue even when you struggle to find it?
Starting today, I do hereby commit to being a more savvy and courteous texter. I even vow to try to understand some of the phrases I am hearing "on the street" - though I will be more careful about where I seek clarification (I probably shouldn't have asked what "FML" meant while in the middle of a work meeting). And in return, I urge you to word binge, using the most perfect phrases and the most accurate words you can find when the situation calls for - or allows for - real language. And when texting or talkxting seems a more appropriate alternative, well then FFS, anagram away!!