Unlike the purity that the French desire to retain in their language (au revoir, le hamburger), American English is a dirtier affair: a living, breathing organism that adapts to changes in times and styles. Dictionaries, even the stodgier names, regularly add new words and phrases that hit the big time, and eventually phase out unused, obscure ones to rescue shelters like this. Also, we see annual lists of words and phrases that grate on us like nails on a blackboard, such as refudiate, epic fail and viral.
I like and hate this about my native tongue. I like the fluidity of our daily conversations, the LMAO moments of our melting pot. But I’m apprehensive about what our collective shorthand will do to our cultural communication skills. Will we graduate class after class of students who can’t master the art of the complete sentence? Already, I see it creeping into the workplace. My husband, once looking to hire a web designer, received an inquiry written completely in incomplete text-message-speak. “Ready when u r,” would not be too far off the mark. This dude’s first contact with a potential employer was tapped out as casually as the text he just sent his girlfriend.
Something’s wrong here. I’ve worked for myself and pitched jobs. I’ve worked for others and hired freelancers. But I don’t recall a single cover letter or e-mail to or from a potential employer that was worded so lackadaisically. (Now, there’s a word worth keeping.)
Maybe this was an isolated incident, and I’m being too hard on the class of 2011. After all, the only constant in this world is change. Who am I to even think I can hold back the advancing glacial foot of the English language? Perhaps some had bemoaned the introduction of movies, radio, and television as the death knell of civilized culture, as I rail against thumb-typing and strange acronyms now.
We survived early technology. We survived cartoon violence and Watergate. We survived Benny Hill, Wham! and Vanilla Ice. I have a feeling we’ll survive this current shift in our cultural paradigm.
After all, old expressions have their way of hanging on and easing us into the future. For every three sparkly new words entered into the Urban Dictionary, only one is jettisoned. We still say “dial” the phone even though we no longer have dials on our phones. We “cc” colleagues who may never have seen carbon paper. Collections of published music are still called “albums” even they may only exist as electronic files. Who knows? One day we might still “drive” cars that require little more than coordinate programming. Or “type” e-mails and blog posts (as I often do) by dictating into our computers. It will be a fascinating world. Although I do hope we continue talking to each other with our mouths, and not just with our thumbs.