Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is Everyone Becoming a Stenographer?

This year's crop of new words in the dictionary got me thinking about the language. I'm a pretty terrible speller; too much rote memorization for my taste. And in many languages, of which English is a prime example, there are precious few patterns that hold consistently. We have to deal with words that sound the same, but have different spellings and having more sounds to express than we have letters to express them with. But people are writing more than ever before, thanks to modern technology. Web sites, e-mail, text messaging, and instant messaging are conspiring to make it necessary for everyone to write, or more specifically type, all the time.

The real time nature of instant messaging and the user interface limitations of phone text messaging have spawned all sorts of abbreviated ways of typing things as well as a variety of symbolic representations. The increasing use of these abbreviations has even been a cause of concern for some. But people abbreviating written language for speedy use is far from a new trend. It even has a formal name: shorthand. Shorthand forms were very widely used before recording machines were available. Even today there are a couple of professions that require the transcription speed that shorthand allows.

As speedy written communication becomes more pervasive in our lives, it's natural to assume that we will develop ways of facilitating that speed. The use of text messaging and Internet shorthand is hardly something to be feared, rather it is an indication of the increased importance of the written word in our everyday lives. It is possible that some of the shorthand forms used now will be absorbed into the language in such a way as to take on their own meaning without the currently necessary context. It has happened before. Have you ever heard "the proof is in the pudding?" Do you know what that phrase means? Did you know the actual saying is "the proof of the pudding is in the tasting?" Does that matter anymore? The word laser used to be the acronym LASER. Etc. (Rather than et cetera.) Who knows, some day you may be able to look in a dictionary (or on Google more likely) and see something like this:

lol v. - to verbally express amusement [from abbr. laughing out loud]

1 comment:

Lee said...

I remember when I first heard someone say "LOL" in conversation. To express amusement no less.

True, we see the importance of text-based communication, but my thought is on the quality of that communication. Do we abbreviate meaningful statements or "LOL"? The ones that get abbreviated are the ones that get used.