In the fairly long history of the English language, nothing has brought it greater downfall than the formidable, barely disguised language butchering affectionately termed SMS lingo.
Agreed that the language is constantly evolving and it adapts to the style that is in vogue. But in no era is it acceptable to use the spoken version in the place of a written version, and it is always considered good manners to use the formal version of the language in professional settings. It creates a better impression and definitely changes the perspective of the receiver.
I remember the good old days of the SMS – I was right in my teens when it was a great fad to send text messages. Trying to match the character limit of 160 meant we shortened long words, forgot the rules of grammar, avoided punctuation altogether and allocated every spare character to creating ‘smileys’. It was considered personal achievement to get the meaning across in as few letters as possible.
Then dear old TRAI imposed another restriction. 75 messages per day, they called it. And what with the forwards we had to send, we knew who were important to us and who we were important to. The shortened ‘friends list’ for receiving the daily forward has broken many friendships. In that sense, it stands second only to the ‘draw four’ UNO card. Each recipient counted as one extra SMS and the available limit was carefully counted.
Belonging to someone’s ‘forward list’ was an honor and it was not easy to come by. Friends’ groups became smaller and much more intense. And of course there was the never ending battle of shortening the ‘have’ to ‘hv’, ‘like’ to ‘lyk’. Things were escalating when ‘ur’ became the go-to word for both your and you’re.
And perhaps that is the main reason why the two words are often interchanged so much nowadays that knowing the right usage makes one an ‘English Poet’. I know, I know. The reference and the connection go over my head too. This was just one of the titles I got for this very purpose. I am grinning and groaning.
But the situation became wilder when the word substitutions stopped making sense. For instance, I still fail to understand why the perfectly short ‘my’ would become the confusing ‘ma’ and sometimes even ‘mah’. And why the perfectly reasonable plurals using ‘s’ would suddenly become words ending with ‘z’ or ‘zz’. For instance, ‘rules’ became ‘rulezz’. (As in ‘mah lyf… mah rulezz’).
It was all considered alright when the substitutions and alternate spellings reduced the word count. I was almost deluding myself into believing that the SMS lingo would fade until I recently saw a neighbor (a 21 YO girl filling her job application) used a crucial spot in her resume to brag about her ‘team building skillzz’. Something told me she was bragging about creating and maintaining a WhatsApp group of all the twenty somethings in the apartment complex. I had to appreciate that particular skill though. She was the ‘admin’ of the group after all.
If the advent of Twitter had done any good to this scenario, it is the reduction of the character limit to 140. (URLs excluded!). And good spelling has become such a rarity that the SMS lingo is slowly sleeping into work e-mails, professional letters, formal essays and even examination papers. I am fairly alarmed at the rate with which the new words are slowly occupying the space of the original words.
Spelling it right has almost gone out of fashion, and anyone who gets their ‘your’, ‘their’ and ‘whose’ right are considered grammar snobs. The affectionate term for those who correct the misspellings is ‘grammar Nazi’ – a title I have received on more than one occasion. I am not entirely against the ‘fun’ version of English words. But I do put the foot down when they are advertised as the normal way to spell.
Earning the title of Grammar Nazi has been an easy journey. But what is priceless is being approached by those who conferred me with the title when they want something ‘official’ corrected to proper spelling and grammar. A small self-satisfied smile is my personal reward on those occasions.