texting and the English language

I just finished my second time through the Great Courses lecture series Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage1 by John McWhorter. It’s an enjoyable and fascinating set of lectures about how language is used. Given that McWhorter is a linguist, he is as interested in how language is actually used as he is in how it “should be” used. (Yes, I do seem to have a fondness for linguists.)

cover: myths lies and half truthsIn his lecture on texting he suggests that the practice is not as harmful to the language as some people might want to think. He points out that the same questions arose when the use of email first became common. He also suggests that the abbreviations used in texting do not carry over into everyday speech and formal writing. He uses the examples OMG, LOL, BFF, and WTF.

It seems to me, however, that sometimes people do say “o-m-g.” It’s a nice alternative, perhaps, in polite company to using the complete phrase it replaces. Someone might also say “b-f-f” I suppose. But people certainly don’t go around saying “lol” in everyday speech. In fact “w-t-f” might be a useful euphemism to introduce into casual conversation, but I’ve never heard anyone say it.

In any case, I think that McWhorter is correct: texting has not had an adverse effect on other forms of communication. He sees four boxes, as he calls them:

  • Being a good conversationalist
  • Having great formal writing skills
  • Making a compelling and effective speech
  • Crafting oneself as a “maximally clever e-mailer and as an aggressively clever texter.”

McWhorter tells us, “Cultivate your four boxes.”

That makes sense to me.

1If the course is not on sale, check back – the sale price will come around again



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