Looking at the title of this post you might think the topic could be any number of things. This is not a post about profanity, though I have written a blog post touching on that topic that was quite successful. In fact, that post currently sits second on my all-time views list behind by sneakily-titled Size Matters post. Nor is this a post about punctuation, though with the legal vindication of the Oxford comma coming this week I could have touched on it. Nor is this (necessarily) a post about the evolution of language and how today the word “literally” literally includes a definition that means “figuratively”, though that’s probably the closest I can get to describing the topic.
Today I want to talk about abbreviations, acronyms, and emojis.
Now, I am generally of the opinion that a person shouldn’t police another person’s language. In fact, a friend of mine argued quite effectively with me once about how this is not only pedantic but also at best culturally insensitive and at worst racist.
That said, SRSLY. WTF?
Look, I can LOL and WTF with the best of them, but when I see stuff that’s exclusively gibberish it makes me cringe. In my head, I’m very much a “Use your words!” type of guy. If it’s a friend I’ll respond with something snarky or smartass-y but most of the time my internal monologue is freaking out. For me, it’s about time and place. It’s about context. Sometimes a smiley face is a perfect response. Other times it is too casual or aloof. In other words, know your audience.
I’ve seen people completely wig out over the fact that every tweet, post, or comment isn’t written with perfect spelling and impeccable grammar. I presented many of the same arguments my friend did when we spoke on this topic to one individual and was subsequently accused of contributing to the dumbing down of society and being anti-education.
I will agree that in some contexts my expectation is that text should be grammatically sound with no spelling mistakes. Take as an example a job application or resume for a job in which written and oral communication in English is essential. Alternatively, I can tell you that I’ve personally hired people who have submitted resumes that were sub-par in the areas of grammar and spelling. They were computer programmers and they needed a base level of English skills (oral, comprehensive, and written) to be proficient. English wasn’t their first language, but holy hell could they write code.
Additionally, some abbreviations have been around for decades or even longer. Do any of these look familiar?
- i.e. – Latin, id est, meaning “that is” and used to shorten the phrase “in other words”.
- Et al. – Latin, et alia, meaning “and others” and used to round out a list of names instead of writing them all out.
- e.g. – Latin (surprise!), exempli gratia, meaning “for the sake of example” and used when, well, giving an example (e.g. this list).
This reminds me of one of my high school math teachers. He was at the chalkboard one day and writing something out and someone asked him a question and he didn’t know the answer. He turned around and while juggling his chalk he said, “I don’t know. I would rather tell you that than make something up or dance around it. I’ll let you in on a secret, though. Most of the time when a teacher doesn’t know the answer they’ll say, ‘It’s Latin.'”
The class appreciated his honesty and on we went with the lesson. A few classes later he was at the chalkboard again and was giving an example of something and he wrote “i.e.” on the board and then another phrasing of whatever it was he had just written. Almost immediately one of my classmates thrust her hand in the air. “Sir,” she said. “What does the ‘i.e.’ stand for?”
The teacher’s shoulders started to bounce as his laughter overcame him. Within a few seconds, the laughter spread to everyone in the classroom. The teacher turned around and with tears streaming down his cheeks from laughing so hard managed to blurt out, “It’s Latin.”
I never did find out if the girl who asked the question genuinely didn’t know what “i.e.” meant or if she just saw a golden opportunity for a laugh and took it.
I can see both sides of the argument and as mentioned earlier I break it down into context. More specifically, formal versus informal. To me, any formal correspondence (work emails, resumes, letters [do people still write letters?], schoolwork, etc) should be held to a different standard than informal correspondence (text messages, casual emails, social media posts & comments). That means in formal correspondence no emojis and no non-industry acronyms. You can GTFO with that stuff, as far as I’m concerned.
I asked my daughter and two of her friends (all in the 9th grade) if they felt the need to use texting lingo in any of their schoolwork and they looked at me like I had two heads. Granted, it’s a small sample size but all of them agreed that using “LOL” on a test, paper, or as part of their homework would be unprofessional. One girl heard of someone using text message based acronyms in a paper and they received a zero (I suspect this might be an urban legend propagated by the English teachers in order to scare students into utilizing a more historically conventional vocabulary).
Here’s an experiment that you can help me with. A teacher gives her class the following instructions:
Email me a short paragraph of three or four sentences explaining your thoughts on the use of profanity in society.
On a scale of 0 to 10 (ten being perfect), how would you grade the following responses?
I think that there is a time and a place for profanity. You can’t just run around saying, “What the Fuck?” and “Get the fuck out!”, but some sometimes, “Well, shit,” sums it up perfectly. Also, in many languages and cultures different English words mean different things. I don’t know how my words will be interpreted and vice versa. The best thing to do in that situation is to add a smiley face.