One day I am sitting there texting furiously back and forth with my kid brother, basic stuff like:
Me: how r u
Me: what u doin
Him: TV, Stewart, ROFL
Him: WTF! NIMBY Republicans
Me: ??? ROFL
Him: LOL rolling on the floor
Him: OMG, TTYL
Now that I know the meaning of WTF, can I just say WTF?! WTF??!! WTF???!!!
Okay, let me start by saying that I absolutely love the flexibility of the English language. We make verbs out of nouns (texting, googleing, xeroxing). We co-opt all sorts of foreign words and use them in our own unique ways: hors d’oeuvres, à la carte, cul de sac, macho, piñata. All of this has a certain artistry to it, but I have to tell you, recently it seems as if technology and the need for speed have driven the English language to the point of absurdity. I am talking about the ever-expanding universe of initialisms and acronyms that have become so commonplace in our language.
BTW, FYI, initialisms are abbreviations that use the first letter of the main words in a phrase or title. Acronyms are a distinct kind of initialism as the letters create a new word.
Today’s modes of communication demand that we go faster, shorter. Our entire world is now on superdrive, grammar be damned and sentences be gone. We no longer have time to form whole words, let alone full sentences.
Okay, maybe I just need to get with the program and keep up. But seriously, last week I see the headline “What Obama needs to say in SOTU.” I was stumped. Despite the fact that I was anticipating the State of the Union address, I was momentarily like: OMG what is POTUS up to? And, does FLOTUS know?
Now I know there is a practical history to acronym usage. Can you imagine the length of some articles if we didn’t have FBI, CIA, OPEC, NORAD, NATO? It was this pragmatism that led to the creation of POTUS by the major news wire services of the 1800’s, that used telegraph code, to post their articles. Interestingly, at the same time that the Secret Service adopted POTUS as part of its communication code, they also came up with SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States). Thankfully, this one is not as popular. Let’s face it, SCOTUS sounds like scrotum, which, BTW, is not a bad mnemonic device for a judicial body that has been predominantly male for all of its existence.
The dynamism and adaptability of the English language have allowed us to quickly adapt to sophisticated technology, but this may come at a high cost—the destruction of the English language. Will this phenomenon take us back to the time when we were grunting and pointing instead of speaking and writing? Hopefully not.
I do see a light at the end of this particular tunnel. The advance of the video phone call may replace our texting habits and reduce our current dependence on fast finger dexterity. After all, video facilitates the use of full sentences and allows us to see each other really laughing aloud, instead of LOL’ing!
Note: Original version originally published in 2011 on the now-defunct commentarista.com when I was one-half of a 2-member writing team.