Late last month, the Oxford English Dictionary revealed the new additions to the christened “premier” dictionary of the English language. The most striking of these additions: OMG, LOL, and the heart symbol (as a verb). These acronyms (and symbols — in the case of “to heart”) join existing modern-day acronyms, like IMHO (in my humble opinion), TMI (too much information) and BFF (best friends forever).
These additions lead me to wonder if our generation, Generation Y, is contributing to or crippling the English language. In search of convenience, we opt for phrases such as TTYL or CU L8R. Our greetings, goodbyes and the conversations in between can consist entirely of letters, symbols and emoticons. Even if an enlightened dialogue, its depiction in simple cuneiform, causes all speculation of refined thought to subside.
There is one advantage to terse text — we extract the meaning of the message quite easily. We are forced to choose only the most essential words that allow us to accurately convey our intentions.
Brevity is a critical component of intelligent communication, however in our effort to be laconic language experts, the necessary precision in our meaning has gradually eroded. When done well, pithy word choice can create a witty bon mot, eliciting admiration and possible chuckles; when poorly constructed, monosyllabic style is cryptic and unintelligible — too often we fall into the latter trap.
Over the past couple centuries, common parlance has slowly deteriorated into a subpar form of its erstwhile self. Leafing through a Victorian-era novel of any of the three Brontë sisters, this degradation is undeniably transparent. Modern-day articulation sounds disastrously cacophonic in comparison to the flowery prose of the foregone and now obsolete Victorian, and even Edwardian past.
In such times, one can easily picture a writer meticulously mulling over the perfect words to encapsulate his every thought. Convenience and urgency makes such precision a subsidiary pursuit in communication. In few cases, convenience may take priority; acronyms and simple language in these instances are preferred. The problem lies when this convenience is favored in every opportunity for dialogue. Formal language is replaced with colloquialism; expression is exchanged for banality.
In this process, we have lost the high caliber of vocabulary of previous times and the ability to pen description, detail and nuance. Eventually, the degenerative disease that has plagued the English tongue will be able to utter only newspeak — all matters to be described will be only good or not good.
Perhaps this gripe is only a writer’s histrionics, but even if hyperbolic in nature, the trend holds true. Small changes can prevent this from happening on an individual level — for example, learning a word-of-the-day (I’ve inserted mine in the preceding sentence). Another suggestion is to attempt to emulate the writing style of a literary great.
Digital communication and insightful language do not have to be opposing forces. If you diligently develop your own writing style, you’ll soon be texting Shakespearian sonnets to your significant other.