— Serena Williams
4scr + 7 yrs ago r fthrs brt 4th on this cn10nt a nu nAshn cnCvd in lbRT + ddc8d 2 th prop tht all mn r crE8d =
— Abraham Lincoln
Whenever one is given limited space or time to convey a message, there is an irresistible temptation to abbreviate or otherwise encode what one is trying to say. That first unverified quote may or may not ever have been uttered by Serena, but I have actually seen it on a New York state vanity license plate. Such messages are limited to eight characters, and by convention, capital letters are to be pronounced in accord with their name—N as “en” and E as long “e” for example, Digits are usually pronounced individually too; the “14” being read as “one four,” but an exception must be made here for “10” which is to be read as “ten.”
The current rage, especially among teenagers, is using their cellphones not to talk to their friends, but rather to “text” them in the language partially described above. Yes, “text” is now a verb as well as a noun, linguistic evolution that can hardly be criticized because it is so common in English. We “chair” meetings at which motions are “tabled”; “water” our lawns; “book” our flights; “silence” our cellphones; and “diagram” our sentences (or at least I still do, mentally, as I write them).
There should be a good name for the shorthand used for texting, but none has yet become standard. One candidate is “chatspeak,” derived from the now-waning days when the texters spent a lot of time on their computers “chatting” in shorthand with a friend online at the same time. But instead of the neologism “chatspeak,” I suggest that we emulate the ending of “English” or “Spanish” or “Danish” and call the shorthand “textish,” or, alternatively, use the ending of “Chinese” or “Japanese” and call it “textese,” with the latter better rendered as “textease.”
It is surprising that so many individual letters and digits can be used in place of a word. Certainly “A” and “I” speak for themselves, but one may use B for “be” or “bee,” C for “see,” G for “gee,” J for “jay,” K for “Kay,” O for “oh,” P for “pea” or “pee,” Q for “cue” or “queue,” R for “are” (or less felicitously, for “our”), T for “tea” or “tee,” U for “you” or “ewe,” and Y for “why.” Some words are easily replaced by special characters, such as & or + for “and,” X for “times,” and = for “equals,” as was done in the fractured opening of the Gettysburg Address. And finally, for now, sometimes a single letter other than one I cited above is used to convey a whole word, such as “v” for “very” or “d’ for “the” (“da”?), as is used in the proposed transliteration of the opening of “A Tale of Two Cities”: twz d bst of x, twz d wrst of x. Vowels are often omitted because they convey so little meaning relative to consonants, and “z” is a fair substitute for the sound of the ending of “twas.”
Juvenile text messages are often filled with abbreviations of phrases that are borderline clichés, examples being LOL for “laughing out loud,” ROFL for “rolling on [the] floor laughing,” BTW for “by the way,” IMHO for “in my humble opinion,” and CWOT for “complete waste of time.” But IMHO, such usage is itself a CWOT and should be abolished ASAP B4 it’s 2l8.
Though I find textease amusing, I abhor the very thought of texting. I send and receive tens of email messages per week, and those I send I write in full spell-checked English. But I have never texted anyone, and never will. Textease is helping to destroy our precious language.
Recently, a flabbergasted teacher received an essay written in textease by a 13-year-old girl. The student claimed that it was much easier to compose than if written in Standard English. She wrote: “My smmr hols wr a CWOT. B4, we used 2 go 2 NY 2 C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc.” (Translation: “My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend, and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It’s a great place.”)
The teacher was not impressed, saying: “I could not believe what I was seeing. The page was riddled with hieroglyphics, many of which I simply could not translate.”
I wouldn’t be able to text even if I wanted to. My fingers could not cope with the tiny keys on the keyboards of most cellphones that have them. But young people are so adept at one-handed texting that many become reckless and do so behind the wheel. Unfortunately, they can’t yet be arrested for DWT (Driving While Texting) because the hands-off cellular usage laws of most states have not yet been updated to prohibit such a dangerous practice. In June of 2007 in Fairport, N.Y., a teenager crashed her vehicle head-on into a truck, killing herself and four other high school students aboard her SUV. Accident investigators determined that the girl had been driving while texting.
Text messaging was reported to have addictive tendencies by a survey conducted by the Finnish company Nokia in 2001 and was confirmed to be addictive by a similar study at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 2004. A study at the Queensland University of Australia found that text messaging is equivalent in addictiveness to cigarette smoking, and that the texting habit introduces a need to remain connected called “reachability.”
Ma Bell started all this by saying “Reach out and touch someone.” But do so gently. Write or call or email, but—Cn U hr me nw?—please do not text.
Edwn D. Rly Jr lvs in NsKuna & is a rglar cntrbtr 2 d Sndy Gzet opn pg.
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