(English: I hate Instant Messenger-speak)
Recently I came across an article in the Seattle Times about IM slang, entitled ” ‘Generation Text’: Teens’ IM lingo evolving into a hybrid language”. (Microsoft Word synonyms for hybrid: mixture, fusion, crossbreed.) This has been a long-time passion of mine—I have very strong opinions about the use of IM slang.
1st of aL, I wud lIk 2 mAk it vry clr dat I do not Uz Instnt msgR.*
For your sake, dear reader, I just couldn’t let the idea of English (my mother tongue, after all) “evolving into a hybrid language” escape unmentioned. The ‘Generation Text’ article announced the existence of dictionaries for IM slang. I reacted to this news with mild distress—that is to say, I stormed around the house slamming doors and screaming.
When I calmed down a bit, I pondered the fading rationality of the article’s author. When using IM slang, she explained, “the written language is stripped of everything unnecessary (punctuation, capitals, traditional spelling) until it’s a bare, phonetic representation of how people talk.” Oh, those superfluous commas. “A genuine linguistic revolution,” wrote another editorialist. (italics added, shudder optional).
If you don’t know what IM slang is, you have been blessed. (You also do not have an Internet connection, which kind of compromises the “blessed” thing.) Please turn the page now, before my explanation corrupts you even further than my title already has. But for the brave and the free, read this description from the aforementioned article: “As teens use it, instant messaging is full of acronyms (brb equals “be right back”), words missing vowels and a complete lack of capitalization. It’s like trying to read a sentence made of vanity license plates.” Oh, and don’t forget the ever-useful pos (parent over shoulder), which allows the recalcitrant teen to immediately switch mid-“conversation” to a discussion of Homer or why Julius Caesar was told to beware the Ides of March.
IM slang originally developed because chatting takes place in realtime. This means that Sarah can hit her enter key, and almost immediately Victoria will see Sarah’s message, in all of its glorious awfulness:
u wana go 2 de mall 2nite
(Translation, in rather ungrammatical English: You want to go to the mall tonight?)
It’s a sort of shorthand, and if people would leave it at that, I would be fine with it. Actually, I lied; there is very little that could make me accept Web lingo—it’s the most annoying thing since Captain Underpants. (Harsh, I know.) But, to add insult to injury, some people with way, way, way too much sugar in their systems have decided that IM-speak is a complex linguistic form. Dan Wilton, the 28-year-old “prez” of www.transL8it!.com is credited with coining the term “Generation Text”.
A linguistic form created by dropping capitals and vowels, not to mention inserting numbers? Please.
I admit, Internet addicts have a distinctive way of speaking . . . typing. Whatever. It’s a rare addict who doesn’t use some form of web shorthand. BTW. (By the way). LOL (Laugh out loud). FWIW (For what it’s worth). IMNSHO (In my not so humble opinion). Annoying, yeah. This does not mean that we claim the right to create monster mutations like “plz” (please.)
I’m a writer—an amateur, but a writer nonetheless. Therefore, in accordance with the laws of logic which are so non-prevalent in this world, I hang out at sites for writers. I’ve seen writing that should not have been loosed on our defenseless planet. By a remarkable coincidence, many of the “writers” of these “stories” use IM slang.
There is no excuse for this. These “writers” aren’t communicating in realtime. They have all the time in the world to spellcheck. (By the way, I thought you would want to know that my spellchecker does not recognize “spellcheck” as a word, though it does recognize “spellchecker”). Their use of IM slang is just a habit, carried over from hours spent discussing deep topics such as, “u tink we shud go 2 bd no itz 11 n i hve hmwrk”. (English: You think we should go to bed now? It’s 11:00, and I have homework.)
IM slang isn’t affecting anything but chat? Think again, sweetie. It’s affecting the development of hundreds of wonderful, talented writers, who are forced to endure stories written with IM shorthand. When the world continues to lack good books in the future, I will blame the children who used IM slang. (Continuing my great tradition of fairness and coherence, I’m sure.)
Online writers have a natural aversion to people who use the abbreviations. We don’t take them seriously, not after a few sad experiences. We kind of laugh, and move on. (Or we kind of snarl, and move on anyway.) Or we chant to ourselves the sage words of Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University:
“If writing doesn’t give you a way to express yourself with clarity, power and nuance, then writing is failing you. If we lose our ability to be clear, then I grieve for these changes to the English language.”
I actually have read some (well, two) stories that were well written, despite the use of IM slang. But it cost me a lot of effort, a lot of mental anguish, and gave me a splitting headache. I’m not even going to guess how many people just ignored the stories.
People who use IM shorthand are thought of as immature, stupid, and a waste of bandwidth. I have a hard time viewing this as unfair—the whole slang developed because people were too lazy to type out full words. Perhaps I’m biased, as I began learning to type at about three months, and have always been forbidden to use IM slang. It’s habit of mine to type out full words, I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. (Fine. I admit to the occasional LOL.) I just don’t understand the argument that IM slang helps with speed. It’s not that hard to learn to type quickly.
It’s even harder to understand what people see in IM speak—it turns the most wonderful words into a mockery. To demonstrate this point, I’ve taken Portia’s mercy speech (one of my favorites from The Merchant of Venice) and translated it into IMspeak. I may never recover—the horror. (Warning:extreme stoicism is required.)
de kwaltE ov merC iz nt strAnd
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
it dropth az de gntl rain from hvn
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
upn de plce bnEth it iz 2s blst
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
it blessth him dat gvs and him dat tks
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
ts mItEst n de mItEst it bcums
The throned monarch better than his crown;
de trnd mnRk bttr dan hs krown
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
his septR shws de force of tmprl pwer
The attribute to awe and majesty,
de attrbte to aw n mjsty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
whrn dth sit de dred n fEr of kEngs
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
bt merC iz abuv dis septRd swA
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
it iz enthrnd in de hRtz of kEngs
It is an attribute to God himself;
it iz an attrbte to gd hmslf
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
n erthly pwr dth den sho lkst gdz
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
wen merC sEsns justS ther4 jew
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
tho justS b thy plE cnsdr dis
That, in the course of justice, none of us
dat n de cOrs of justS 0 of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
shud C slvtn we do prA 4 merC
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
n dat sAm prAr dth tEch us al to rndr
The deeds of mercy.
de dEdz of merC
The bottom line? I’d like to buy a vowel, please, before they become completely extinct. (b4 dey bcum cmplEtlE Xtinkt) . . . Aargh.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, dear readers. I am going now to continue my very non-phonetic studies of Gaelic …. I bid you all a very fond farewell. Goodbye.
Cheerfully and with great grace,