by Ali Dotson, Free Spirit copyeditor
IDKAYBKUWAOTAKUTIGMAMD. (I don’t know about you, but keeping up with all of the abbreviations kids use today is getting more and more difficult.)
Of course, kids aren’t alone in using clever abbreviations for commonly used phrases; adults use them as well, and I have never understood why. Even before people started instant messaging all the time, Facebook exploded onto the social networking scene, and texting became more prevalent than talking on a phone, it drove me a little crazy when people would handwrite a note, signing off with “Thx!” Is thanks really so much longer than thx? The fraction of a second saved may matter in the Olympics, but in the office?
I’m only 33, but I can already say (and in a crotchety tone of voice if one is called for), “In my day, we wrote letters with pen and paper and sent them through the mail. Yes, right, ‘snail mail.’ The mailbox—sure, it’s sort of like an inbox—wasn’t just for bills and flyers that go right into the recycling bin. Why, my cousin and I wrote letters to each other all year round! The phone? No, I reckon the phone was too fancy for our sensibilities.”
It’s amazing how quickly technology changes, and how quickly it can leave people in the dust. Living in a fast-paced world doesn’t really require that we get even friendly messages across to one another as soon as possible—does it? “IDK” takes less time to type than “I don’t know,” but IDK if it matters. You’ve just communicated with incredible speed that you don’t have the information the person’s looking for. (If the person responds with “Thx!” you can assume it’s to mask disappointment.)
This is one bandwagon I haven’t jumped on. If something makes me laugh out loud, I don’t write “LOL.” Sometimes I write, “I am literally laughing out loud” in reference to the abbreviation, or “Hahahaha!” to mimic my laughter. Other times I say, “That is so funny!” I must seem like an old relic, dusty and brittle, ready to snap in two if someone so much as touches me (or “pokes” me on Facebook). But the reason I usually write everything out is that I think it keeps me sharp. Even when I write an email to a friend I pay attention to my grammar because it keeps me on my toes. I’m afraid that if I let myself slide too much in my own writing I will somehow forget what’s right and wrong and become a lousy copyeditor.
So I often wonder what effect IMing, texting, Twitter, and the like will have on young people’s grammar and writing. I assume the effect will be negative. I cringe when I try to imagine a 15-year-old who’s practically grown up on autocorrect someday entering the workforce and having to write a coherent and logical sentence using whole words. That 15-year-old is living in a different world than I was at 15, a world where a person can type, “R u therr?” into a smartphone that will fix it to “Are you there?”
But even thinking there might be a problem makes me think there isn’t actually a problem—what generation hasn’t worried that subsequent generations are heading down the wrong path, taking too many shortcuts or leading a life that is somehow too easy? Change is inevitable, and it always feels strange to older generations when it comes along.
And I have to remember that there are still separate spheres in which we all communicate—private vs. public, personal vs. academic or professional—and while a smartphone may convert a letter into a whole word, the spell check in Word will not. And a student will not get a good grade on a paper filled with IDKs, LOLs, and SMHs—in fact, I was once scolded in college for using “etc.” instead of adding a valid example or ending my sentence before “etc.” There are rules in place that will make it clear to teenagers that while their abbreviations may work well while they’re thumbing out a rapid-fire message about Friday night plans, they have no place in academics. And they will likely not be well received in the workplace, either. Like anyone else, teens will have to adapt or be left behind, and maybe having to switch back and forth in order to communicate appropriately for the given situation actually strengthens their language skills.
Not only that, but I know plenty of adults who can’t spell to save their life, and they weren’t born with a phone in their hands or Facebook at their fingertips. No matter what, there will always be people who excel in different ways, and the current culture of clever abbreviations won’t necessarily cause someone to misspell words or write incomplete sentences—rather, it may be that the kids who use the “in” abbreviations now have a way to get a message across that they wouldn’t have tried to convey otherwise. As painful as it can be to see how some kids write, at least they’re writing something. Teenagers who may have thought of writing as nerdy or boring before this latest technological phase may now have a Twitter account, or even a blog.
Change can be scary, for sure, and it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Not all trends are positive, but I have been loving all of the “new” words popping up lately—staycation, frenemy, and webisode come to mind. And if no one had ever come up with the concept of Web logs, I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now.
What’s your take? Do you LOL with good-natured humor when you read abbreviations instead of full words? Do you think kids who use them will have a hard time with professional communication someday, or do you think grammar curmudgeons need to chillax?
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