Integrity Matters
November 29, 2006

Traditional writing losing out to Internet shorthand

Question: (E-268)

Dear Jim:

Are you concerned that Internet "shorthand" is doing harm to spelling accuracy, writing quality and the integrity of language?


Yes. Cute abbreviations are simply that, cute. But when a generation replaces established writing standards with instant-massaging protocols, folks who have not studied the new language patterns will be even more confused.

For example, a traditional business e-mail might read like this: "You are to be at our offices for an interview at 8:30 am. to discuss a position, salary and start date." A more contemporary method might read like this: "U R 2 B @ Corp. 4 8.5 AM tlk re:jb, $ and Git-Go."

There is nothing wrong with either. But only the naïve assume that all patterns of communication are clear. Furthermore, without the rigors required for mastering spelling and language structure, there is no baseline from which to build direction and accountability. It would not be appropriate to take the pressure off, simply sounding out each word using phonetics - or maybe just call them "fonetiks!"

Many years ago, the word "super" was the cliché of the day. If someone asked you how you felt, the answer was: super. How was the movie, your dinner, vacation, birthday present, parent-teacher conference, new home, golf game, fishing trip and on and on? Always, SUPER! And, to add insult to the situation, decision-makers of the National Football League, in their effort to properly title the Professional American Football Championship, elected to call their title game the Super Bowl.

Other terms and phrases that have been and are overused, even abused: totally, passion, cool, the cat's pajamas (that one shows your age), empower, really, are you serious?, bitchin' (from the 1960s) and you can add to the list. These "hot and relevant" words pepper what otherwise would be intelligent conversation. They become throwaway terms and fail to add meaning because they are used indiscriminately.

Another word is "goes" - and it has become the verb of choice for those not listening to their speech. Instead of, "He said he was going to be late for the meeting," the new age linguists say, "And he goes, 'I'll be late.' " "Goes" becomes the catch-all and makes the speaker sound like a gum-chewing, airhead with no awareness that nouns and verbs are to be taken seriously. The word "goes" is not the same as mentioning that another person: said, suggested, challenged, confronted, encouraged, offered, sobbed and lamented.

Precise language is more effective and needs to taught, modeled and monitored by those guiding the next generation. Language discipline is one window into the operational integrity of a culture. Short-hand dialogue and clichés are useful, but only when they do not violate the integrity of communications, interpersonally, professionally and on the Internet.

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