March 24, 2011

Grammar And The Internet

If this guy ever comes into your lunch place, run.

I recently (and by recently I mean several weeks ago, I just forgot to publish this post) finished reading a grammar book called Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss. Though it may sound nerdy, it was actually very funny. Even the title is a joke:
A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. "Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. "Well, I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up." The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. "Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."
Get it??? Pandas eat shoots and leaves (you know... bamboo) but the manual incorrectly used a comma in between eats and shoots so the panda ate, shot and left! Ha ha!

Anyway, the rest of the book was fun to read. But towards the end I did find a funny problem, and it had nothing to do with the fact that this book is about English English and I'm an American (though I could adapt to English English very quickly as I already use some of the un-American grammar described in the book). The book was first published in 2003 when personal computers and access to high speed Internet was first fully mainstream. So when I was starting college, buying my first laptop and becoming fluent in what Truss (and others) have dubbed "Netspeak" she (and others) were trying to make sense of this chatting and texting business that seems to have forgotten all about grammar. Which is perfectly understandable. When something comes along that changes life as we know it so dramatically (do you remember the time before the Internet?) those who were not only used to the previous way of life but who made a living in that previous way of life must be a little reluctant to adapt to these new ways. Especially if that previous way of life was proper English grammar and those who made a living in that previous way of life were grammar sticklers (we call them Nazis). Texting and chatting shorthand must drive them up the wall. However, this paragraph made me lol:
I've just spotted a third reason to loathe emoticons, which is that when they pass from fashion (and I do hope they already have), future generations will associate punctuation marks with an outmoded and rather primitive graphic pastime and despise them all the more. "Why do they still have all these keys with things like dots and spots and eyes and mouths and things?" they will grumble. "Nobody does smileys any more."
HAHAHA, Ms. Truss, how little you knew. Welcome to 2011, where the emoticon is not only still just as popular but often absolutely necessary. No matter how effective of a writer you are, it's still nearly impossible to get the proper tone across when dealing with a sensitive issue (or just teasing, as I've come to learn) in a short text message. Plus, it facilitates flirting a whole hell of a lot.

Though I have to agree with Truss on other annoying means of emphasis. Exclamation points are not to be used in every sentence and certainly should not be over-used (which I find is a symptom of the older generations!!!), all caps means YOU ARE YELLING AT ME (which just makes me ANGRY), and italics and dashes (oh god, and ellipses, please please please do not use ellipses after every half thought) need to be pulled out only when necessary. But then again, I'm the kind of person who writes full and completely punctuated text messages, judges those who don't, and has a hard time deciphering poorly written and badly punctuated corporate emails.

But an interesting thing has occurred in recent months; a new form of emphasis has been adopted by the younger generation (younger being those still in high school, a whole ten years younger than me) which involves retyping the last letter of a word to emphasize that word. "I love you" is now "I loveeeeeee you" and it means "I love you very much." This would make sense with a word like "so": "I love you sooooooo much" is something people actually say IRL. People don't actually say "loveeeeeee." You can't even pronounce that because the "e" is silent. But, and here's the logical kicker, you could say "loooooove." Quite often now I see on Facebook, "I'm veryyy exciteddd!" I can only assume that some kid somewhere knew enough to figure out that some words can be emphasized by retyping the last letter in that word (like "so"), but didn't know enough to know that it doesn't work with every word (like "very"). But it caught on anyway. During a chat once I actually mentioned to a friend my appreciation for his knowledge of the difference between words that can be emphasized that way and words that can't. He wrote, "I'm reeeeeally looking forward to..." when he could have written "I'm reallyyyy looking forward to..." So I thanked him. And to my surprise he knew exactly what I meant and said it annoys him too. Halleluja!

I doubt the new emphasis of retyping the last word will stick on, and if it does I hope it will stay among the younger generations (I hope people grow out of that and we're not reading corporate emails with "very importantttttt" in the subject line), but I like that the Internet is causing trends to be born at this quicker rate. Truss mentions that in the time before the Internet it was near impossible to add a new punctuation mark, and even if one got approval from the grammar gods it was hardly used and would likely not become mainstream. I think if an idea is good enough it will stick around long enough and with access to all the ideas out there at our fingertips we have an opportunity for communication that would never have been possible otherwise.

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