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The Text Message Mess

The Text Message Mess

Text messaging is destroying the English language and I'm not going to stand for it! R U with me?


R u there? K. ttyl.

If you understood any of that, you probably have a kid who's 9 or older who is already fluent in "Texting as a Second Language" via cell phone or computer. As the mother of four text-message crazy teens, I am doing my best not to fall into a deep, English-major induced depression that people under 30 now spell "Thank you" as "thnx" and are cavalierly lopping off letters from thousands of other innocent words. This has reduced the overworked and underpaid verb "are" to a single, lonely consonant, and "later" now arrives that much sooner, since its two vowels have been ditched.

I am doing my best not to fall into a deep, English-major induced depression that people under 30 now spell "Thank you" as "thnx."

Call me an old mossback (I won't mind at all, as long as you spell it right) but I worry that unless somebody takes drastic action soon, we will be communicating in snippets no longer than the average license plate. And then what is to become of all our loyal vowels and conscientious consonants? They have no pension plan; no 401K, no safety net. They are simply being hurled from the keyboards of Blackberrys and other mobile devices like so much recycling dumped into the bins. So, as my kids would say, ttfn ("Ta ta for now") to these wonderful letters that gave our words shape and made them whole. Nice knowing u.

As you can see, I am not happy about any of this. And don't you agree that writing "I am not happy" is much more evocative then typing its texting equivalent, which looks like this: :-( ? Can somebody explain what makes people so busy that they can't take the time to spell out simple words and phrases? Based on a recent review of my kids' voluminous text messaging archives, they are busy preparing their next profound electronic question to their pals, such as "sup?" ("What's up," for those of you who require subtitles in pre-millenial "old" English.)

I know -- my complaint is neither new nor original. In 1733, Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay in which he bemoaned that "modern Writers injure the Smoothness of our Tongue, by omitting Vowels wherever it is possible, and joining the harshest Consonants together with only an Apostrophe between; thus for judged, in it self not the smoothest of Words, they say judg'd. . . "Poor old Ben – he ought to be very Grateful that he is not alive to see what Writers have done to the Smoothness of our Tongue today!

Part of me would like nothing more than to launch a rebellion, complete with armbands and whatever color ribbon hasn't yet been taken for other causes, and Save the Vowels. I'd raise money and contact Vana White to see if I could simply buy a few vowels. I'd petition Amnesty International about the savage, wholesale vowel-ectomies and consonant-killings by our nation's youth. Unfortunately, I don't have time. This is because as much as I hate the text messaging phenomenon, I have been forced into it by my kids. Like the old Jewish mother complaint, my kids never call, but they are sure to send me text messages, which are often painful to read, such as "Cn u pick me up?" or "Need $$." Well, at least they are thinking of me, even if it's only for my ability to drive and dispense $$.

I'd raise money and contact Vana White to see if I could simply buy a few vowels.

Sometimes I think they force me to text message as a punishment, because they think I'm obsessed with proper English. I mean, just because I asked the manager at a Borders book store why they had an ungrammatical sign on display that said, "Books you gotta read" and lectured them on why that was irresponsible and demeaning to our language? Is that obsessive?

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only literary Luddite in the world who insists on spelling out whole words and sentences in text messages, no matter how laborious or time-consuming. Once, exhausted from punching the tiny keys on my cell phone to spell out what any 11-year-old would have texted in acronyms in a nano-second, I guiltily typed "4" instead of "for." I was punished for this by a nightmare in which a SWAT team of editors from the Oxford English Dictionary stormed my office, grabbing my journalism and English diplomas off the wall and yelling at me that I no longer deserved them.

Still, I'm not giving up. After all, I'm Jewish, and we Jews believe in miracles. So starting today, I am refusing to respond to any text message unless it is spelled out completely! Of course my kids will have fits, and they'll have to explain about their crazy mom to their friends, who will wonder what's taking them so long to send a simple message. But at least they'll understand that ancient people like me, who one day will have the power to hire them, will be much more likely to do so if they remember to send real thank-you notes after job interviews and not an offhand "I Wud ? 2 Work 4 U!" (sent via Blackberry).

So wish me luck as I launch my rebellion. I'm determined to save the vowels, one message at a time.

August 10, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 24

(23) regit, February 7, 2013 11:21 AM

It's REALLY ancient!

C'mon now! (OOPS! So sorry Ben! LOL) As a Jew, you're telling me that loss of vowels is a problem? When was the last time you read any Hebrew? And let's not forgot written Old Egyption! Do you know it was impossible to translate it until the vowels were "discovered" by examining other related texts? So "vowel excision" has been around a L-O-N-G time!

(22) TMay, February 5, 2013 10:39 PM

Major problems.

2013 Well in the last month there have been 2 major misunderstandings in my life based on short communication which has put me on guard about the whole subject. As far as I know, one broker lost out on a $10,000 dollar/year management fee over a million dollar account due to the love of never writing anything longer than a tweet 140 characters. These short communications led to a lot more than 140 characters being sent in various directions to a bunch of people. Sometimes trying to save words and time leads to using a whole bunch of words and time. These misunderstandings could have been averted with a phone call. I sure hope world leaders will use the phone and not tweet about starting WW III !! Can you imagine "I wud ? to bmb Iran." Answer " : ) " . 10 minutes passes and another text comes through " I meant " : (" . Reply "Oops." .

(21) Seanette, July 6, 2009 10:20 PM

No, you're not the only one

I generally use complete sentences in text messages, and usually spell words out (I do use generally accepted abbreviations at times, I admit). I HATE HATE HATE "txtspk" shorthand (got twitchy just typing the part in quotes). My husband's the same way.

(20) Eliyahu, August 19, 2008 8:25 AM


I find the text-messaging frenzy amusing in and of itself. Savvy phone companies have taken an obsolescent technology left over from the early days of alpha-numeric pagers, one which costs them absolutely nothing in terms of ongoing costs, and are charging extra for it as if it's something new and expensive for them to provide. It's a great marketing ploy for them, and I wonder how long it will be before their customers realize they're being taken to the cleaners.

(19) Anonymous, August 18, 2008 10:03 PM

bad words

well when i read this it made me think of IMing. the thing about both of these things is that not only are peaple messing with the words,(I admit to that crime on occasion) kids seem a lot more laid back since they are only chatting over a phone or on line some kids may even swear or use words they would never use any other time. (something i dont do!!) Although i dont mind spelling things shortly very much i had to bring this up

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