Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 13, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

CATNAPPING....Note to Mary Kolesnikova: If you don't like leet/lol/textspeak, no problem. We pedants have to stick together on this kind of thing. But leave the cats out of it, OK?

Kevin Drum 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (64)

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Comments

Here is a good antidote to this piece.

Posted by: gregor on May 13, 2008 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Ack! Writing about things she thinks *may* happen. KMN. :)

Posted by: K on May 13, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

I could see how a lack of appreciation of the finer qualities of kittehs would cause one's head to asplode.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

She's a tutor at 826 Valencia. A Dave Eggers disciple. Knowing just that, I wouldn't expect anything but insufferable smugness.

Posted by: Fargus on May 13, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Given how many new words and expressions some guy named Billy Shakes introduced into English back in the late 1500's, I'm betting that Mary in a previous life was back then whinging about how ol William was busy destroying the language.

Language *changes*, silly pedant. Get over it.

(BTW: she makes the 'rookie' error of conflating sentence structure with spelling. OMFG, that's TOTALLY not the same thing....)

Posted by: DHS on May 13, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Cats are hysterical when they use l33t for the same reason humans aren't.

Posted by: Toast on May 13, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Americans are writing again and that is good. Writing text messages, comments at blogs, graphic novels or even poetry. The NYT even had an article a week or two ago about too many people writing books and not enough people reading them. Young people may not be writing in the way printing press authoritarians desire, but we no longer live in a media age dominated by printing presses.

Posted by: Brojo on May 13, 2008 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Please tell me you're not suggesting Just when u thot it wuz safe 2 go bak on teh interwebs. is equivalent to Shakespeare.

Posted by: Dave In Texas on May 13, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised that the T9 coding most cell phones use hasn't caused more slang terms, like "book" instead of "cool."

I sometimes throw that around with my friends who use texting. We always call the Pittsburgh Steelers the Pittsburgh Puddles because the way it comes out on your standard T9 texting.

Posted by: AMP on May 13, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I blame the Republicans. If it wasn't for them propaganda-broadcasting through the mainstream media smears against informedness and intellectual proficiency being shameful "elitism," we wouldn't be living in a nation that has the kind of background-atmosphere that encourages shirking standard English.

Truth be told, the stupidentsia would probably like to destroy standard spelling so that "elite" types would have less reason to look down on the Ray Kellys / Bernard Keriks of the world, and think there was something wrong with them. Then the Bill O'Reillys of the world have a better chance of getting all their opinions, not just ones on how people should speak and write English, taken more seriously- opinions that move us closer to becoming like Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Dave in Texas,

With regards to the evolution of English: yes. English constantly changes. Shakespeare was a low-brow writer constantly trying to do something odd or semi-scandelous to get people to go to his plays - which included making of odd words and phrases to but feet on the ground (that he was a f-ing genius with word-play is a bonus). If he got a farthing a head more on opening night for carting "proper English" out behind the woodshed, well then, English was just gonna take a drubbing for old Willie's bottom line. The longevity of his words is a testament to his ability to turn a phrase beautifully, but that is not why he did it, nor does it preclude others from trying to modify our language.

While I would never equate [i]Just when u thot it wuz safe 2 go bak on teh interwebs[/i] with [i]all the world's a stage, etc.[/i] on style and craftsmanship, they are basically similar in how they skewer normalitive English for fun and/or profit - I Can Has Cheezburger must rake in a pretty penny for people waiting to see the next amusing cat.

Posted by: Phalamir on May 13, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not let the hacker-class start telling us what's cool, either.

Like--

OMG, you've been hanging out with dudes who watch rape-porn, stay on the Internet all the time, and who think they're smarter than everyone else even though the only thing they've spent longer than 2.5 minutes thinking about is computers, like, for a year longer than most other people have, TOO COOL! Let me know the next time you're going to start wagging your tail and drooling when you see one of them use their cool hacker-slang so I can watch you do you subservient-moves too! Awesome!

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Just to be totally clear about it, I think I'm in the middle-ground about this, like Kevin is-- let people have their lolspeak, but don't let it destroy the English language- problem solved.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Language *changes*, silly pedant. Get over it.

Exactly right. Leetspeak is just humanity's adaptation to (end exploitation of) a new communication environment. Language only freezes in place if it's dead.

At some point we'll see the creation of what will eventually be seen as a classic work of literature using leet. (Think "Huckleberry Finn," written in river-rat dialect.)

Posted by: jimBOB on May 13, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Truth be told, the stupidentsia would probably like to destroy standard spelling so that "elite" types"

Oy. The only reason we have standard spelling is because the elites used it as a way to differetiate themselves from the hoi polloi as literacy became more common, and thus less an indicator of "proper breeding". Go read anything before ~1800 in an original version , i.e not something that has been standarized to match current spelling practices; there is virtually no standardization of spelling. You wrote a word as you felt was correct; as long as someone else could read it and understand what word you meant, everyone was happy, even if no one else spelled it like that. Thomas Roe (ambassador to the Mughal Court in the early 1600s) was educated at Oxford for God's sake - and could not spell the same word the same way twice in the same freakin' sentence. He was not some dyslexic freak, he was a scion of the height of late Elizabeathan/early Jacobin education.

WE have a standarized spelling system and rules of grammer. These are not the only ways English has been spelled/written/spoken. They are not set in stone, inviolate since Adam and Eve, never to be meddled with by the likes of mortal man*. We are an abberation in how English has been communicated. It WILL change, and we (I include myself in this) will complain like Waldorf and Stadler about it - but we're not "right" on this issue, just evolutionarily left behind.

* If you want that, go to France; they have an entire system dedicated to maintaining the language in as much stasis as is possible.

Posted by: Phalamir on May 13, 2008 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

so, rather than Islam, it's lolcats that will bring down western civilization!

teh stuped, it hurtz.

Posted by: dj spellchecka on May 13, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

This lady needs to relax and enjoy the laughs over at Icanhazcheezberger - jeez, can't we have out lolcats without someone crabbing about it? I think we're all old enough to know it's all in fun.

Posted by: greynct00 on May 13, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

destroy standard spelling

"Standard" spelling, which is a chaotic mess that is so difficult we have pointless contests between people to see who can memorize more of the mess, came about because at the time of the invention of movable type, spelling was in flux. Some printers settled on one spelling, others on others, and eventually some spellings won out. Then we also added in additions from other languages, some carrying their own idiosyncratic spellings.

From my point of view, in a well-designed writing system you'd never have any ambiguities about spelling or pronunciation; both would map onto each other in a systematic way. The fact that this doesn't happen in English is an ergonometric flaw, not some sort of sacred virtue.

Posted by: jimBOB on May 13, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Ah.... I love the writing panic. it's like Lee Siegel's Blogofacism.

Posted by: MNPundit on May 13, 2008 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

The longevity of his words is a testament to his ability to turn a phrase beautifully, but that is not why he did it, nor does it preclude others from trying to modify our language.

Actually I believe the longevity of his works has more to do with English teachers wanting their students to suffer as much in class as they did when they were young.

But then, I once described the opening of Beowulf in class as "a kegger."

Posted by: MNPundit on May 13, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Look what you people are doing to my language while I was thinking about energy consumption.

Language is definitely an evolving entity, but don't mistake laziness for inventiveness. W. Shakespeare coined words, yes, but before he started he had a firm grounding the the basics of the language of his time. You need to understand the rules before you can break them creatively. The alternative is chaos. The alternative is a nation of people who can't form a decent collective idea of what to do about their collective problems, because they can't even form the sentences to communicate the nature of their problems.

Read some of the posts above, and ask yourself how many sentences you need to read twice before you understand what's being said. Language is one of our few weapons against the gathering darkness, and we need to keep it sharp. I'm not calling for everyone who LOLs to be pilloried, but slang must be allowed into the standard language very slowly.

Is this elitist? Yer fuckin'-a right it is. And if you don't like it you can kiss my Fowler's Modern English Usage

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

So uninformed. The lolcat stuff and the text message stuff isn't the same. People do not seriously writes to each other in lolcat. 20 years from now we are not going to walk into Burger King and say: "Icanhascheezburger?"

As for us non-touch typists, "BTW" is teh awesome!

BTW, I dare everyone to add "teh" to your spelling dictionary....

Posted by: Bush Lover on May 13, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

I must apologize for mixing tenses in the first sentence of my 1:22 post. Does it matter? Yes. Even if you didn't notice, it made the sentence just a wee bit harder to read.

Besides making me look like a f*cking self-important moron. Which I am, but WTF.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

BTW IMHO the LOL cats phenomenon is insulting to the cats, not the language.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

I agree actually with the point about Shakespeare. I'd bet my chips that he actually made a lot of usages, neologisms, jokes and colloquialisms that had already gained wide usage "safer" by putting them into his plays.

Shakespeare was a little like a Matt Groening (Simpsons' creator) of 400 years ago in that he managed to successfully and (cleverly) entertain both the educated classes and the "everyman" of his day at the same time. It's interesting that his works are often used as an example in these conversations about how language changes, and specifically English. I think of him as doing part of his entertaining by intoducing those new usages- think of a modern sitcom or other comedy that unexpectedly uses a hot new slang word you've started hearing over the past couple months or so (people from all classes have heard it and think it's cool- and, now, it's ok for all of us to say it without looking like wannabes or fish-out-of-water, because Seinfeld just said it last week)- people from upper and lower social classes probably thought it was neat, relatable and entertaining that the hot new play that was the gold standard for entertainment was using the new slang term they'd heard and used in the back streets (or the court!) that they weren't really sure was proper English or not. He made them feel cool and made them feel like he was one of them. It was just one tool in his toolbox to acomplish this, just like other things he put in his plays that appealed to members of all social classes: sleaziness, intrigue, sex, clever speech, and so on.

As far as jimBOB's thoughts on standard spelling (comment at 1:02), standard English/spelling really has an important use, and it really enables a lot of people to communicate more effectively with each other. The misspellings and misusages that have creeped into the mainstream media too often nowadays should cease immediately. Standard spelling and standard English don't exist to make kids who can't master them as quickly as others feel bad. If anybody ever intentionally gave you a hard time about it when you were a little kid and they shouldn't have, that is too bad, and certainly, not all intelligent people are as nice, understanding, or mature as they should be. But just because some of you may have had bad experiences related to it does not mean that standard English does not serve a useful purpose, or that the way you were treated by that one person represents what everyone who understands the purpose of standard English and accepts/promotes it is trying to do.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

Someone get that woman a lawn chair, a box of balloons, a can of compressed helium and a loaded shotgun.

Posted by: s9 on May 13, 2008 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Language is definitely an evolving entity, but don't mistake laziness for inventiveness. W. Shakespeare coined words, yes, but before he started he had a firm grounding the the basics of the language of his time."

I doubt you can talk about "basics of laguage" in his time. English had just finished turning into Modern English and a lot of the "rules" were just beginning to jell - heck look at how different his language is from ours. Anywhoo, any basics were also more than likely descpritive rather than prescriptive, ie told you what people actually did instead of telling you what not to do, so the "basics" were whatever people actually did, which would happily incorporate innovation, not invalidate it.

"You need to understand the rules before you can break them creatively."

Yeah, not so much. You can do it that way, but freestyling doesn't require a PhD in English

"The alternative is chaos. The alternative is a nation of people who can't form a decent collective idea of what to do about their collective problems, because they can't even form the sentences to communicate the nature of their problems."

This would be called the Imperial British until the mid Victorian period - dumbasses conquered a quarter of the freaking globe, but we don't count that because they spelled badly and had horrible sentence structure compared to today.

Posted by: Phalamir on May 13, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, I know that my own English and spellings in my comments often aren't impeccable, but I'm not trying to start a revolution by it or anything-- rather I recognize that my spelling/grammar isn't what it should be, and I'd prefer everything I write to live up to that standard, but I'm just not always taking the time to proofread every comment.

This is besides when I'm purposely corrupting my English for comedic/colloquial effect, of course. Somethimes a "street" English usage seems to communicate my meaning or attitude better and anyway, I come from a common background where every says "gonna" not "going to" and drops the gs from their -ings, so I know how many people out there speak "everyday" English and are probably on the blogosphere, too, and I don't expect even educated liberal blogosphere readers to hold me to unnecessary or unrealistic standards of correctness when this is actually a pretty informal forum. It seems like most of us readers on the blogosphere pretty much feel that way.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

I guess that it is appropriate that the cat currently heading the ICHC page is having a "vowel movement" right now. LOL

And speaking of vowel movements, it looks like Swan has another case of written diarrhea today.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Phalamir wrote:

This would be called the Imperial British until the mid Victorian period - dumbasses conquered a quarter of the freaking globe, but we don't count that because they spelled badly and had horrible sentence structure compared to today.

This is like an argument a conservative would make-- "Since that's the way it was 150 years ago, it should be okay to do it that way today"-- makes no sense.

If people use better English today more often than they did 150/200 years ago, it's because we have more access to education today. That's probably what people of 150/200 years ago would have wanted and preferred, but they couldn't have it because the economy or some of the conventions of society didn't make it possible, for whatever reason. Even people from back then would generally have recognized it as a better thing if everyone could speak English correctly. Only a few activists from today who look st the world very unrealistically try to make these excuses for why everyone should not speak English well enough so that we can communicate our thoughts very accurately and effectively to other English speakers.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

The misspellings and misusages that have creeped into the mainstream media too often nowadays should cease immediately.

And people who use "creeped" instead of "crept" should also cease immediately. ;)

But just because some of you may have had bad experiences related to it does not mean that standard English does not serve a useful purpose

Like what?

Personally I'd prefer my daughters to learn standard English and spelling, but it's for social reasons, not because I think this particular rigid system has unique communicative abilities.

BTW, I never said I'd had bad experiences related to standard English. I just said that having a chaotic spelling system is pointless. Acting like it's a sacred trust is silly.

Posted by: jimBOB on May 13, 2008 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Phalamir: freestyling doesn't require a PhD in English
Absolutely. I don't even have a BA in English (or anything else.) I just get worked up about language.

Yes, rules are descriptive, not prescriptive. But they still need to be understood. Whether you define the rules as "how the language is actually used" or "how the language should be used" they're useful guidelines if you want to communicate something useful.

Re-read your own post. Most of your sentences have subjects and objects. The few malapropisms are deliberate. You know how to use "ie," for heaven's sake. You write with clarity and precision. Otherwise, I wouldn't know what you were talking about, would I?

I wasn't aware that Victorian English suffered from bad sentence structure. Ornate, by our standards, yes, but that's a different argument. I ain't goin' there, dude.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Swan,
It's not that your writing is terrible. It's that there's so damn much of it!

"Brevity is the soul of wit."

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Optical weenie, the moderator doesn't let me write anything about trolls or about who is a liberal or a conservative, because the moderator claims that my drawing a conclusion about who is a troll or who is a liberal is , he or she claims, equivalent to my trying to be the "arbiter" of who is a liberal and who is a conservative.

So I won't write anything else in response to your comment.

jimBOB, maybe I just didn't understand you totally, but I do agree that some people take misspellings to say way too much about how intelligent you are and what your opinion is worth. And I would say it coincides with class-lines a little, too- people who grew up with me would know that I'm a great speller and can do proper English well, but that no one's perfect and that I'll let a mistake (one I probably even know better about) slip through sometimes. We're laid back about it. I think some upper-class people are really neurotic about it, though, and it's just a norm of their culture that misspellings are one of the 500 standards you use to conclude that someone must be some kind of subhuman who lives in a Winnebago and just broke out of Attica.

But I have always been a "words" person, and I have always read a lot, and learned my vocab lessons well in school. The time others spent in Little League, I spent with a book or watching TV. I therefore know that English contains a word for any occasion, a way to express yourself and say just what you mean. You see it in a lot of novels and good writing. You can begin to appreciate it just for its aesthetic value instead of just its practical value, too.

The propagandists may think they disagree with me, but they take advantage of it- many words that we use that have a standard meaning also have glosses and connotations they've picked up. Knowing standard English really well enables you to avoid words with connotations that will make your message sound like it means something you don't mean it to (ex.- the "bitter" controversy- Barack just meant a regular meaning of "bitter,: but since the word is often used to put down people as being overly resentful, the right-wing was able to smear him over it; if people had just talked about this openly as an English-usage question, there would be no controversy- conservatives purposely bending English usage made Barack look bad). Professionals who are very educated all know how to speak English very precisely, and all our fields of knowledge would suffer greatly if they all couldn't count on each other to agree on and use the same accepted meanings, very specifically-defined words, and shades of meaning. Double-entendres and ambiguities would creep up all over the place. The Republican war on English is patenly harmful and gravely misguided, just like the rest of their regimen of quack-sociology and social engineering.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

I actually prefer: "Brevity is the soul of wit....you soulless, witless, bastard."

This is like an argument a conservative would make-- "Since that's the way it was 150 years ago, it should be okay to do it that way today"-- makes no sense.

C'mon now. The point is that chaotic language does not automatically lead to disaster and you can accomplish some pretty incredible things with them. Does it help if there's a more coherent language? Probably. But it's by no means the end of civilization.

Posted by: MNPundit on May 13, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I'll say it.
Weenie,
you are clearly a conservative troll.
Swan,
You're clearly a moron. There are no such things as words without connotations.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Swan,

No, that is the arguement a historian would make (and since I am one, I did). People 150-200 years ago did not want "better English" because they were quite happy with it as they spoke it. The "convention of the day" was "it works and despite the lunacy we communicate quite well, thank you". The standardization was pushed by the elites to differentiate themselves from the non-elites; as literacy became more common, being able to read was less and less of a social deliniator. So by adopting "proper spelling" and "proper grammar", they were showing they were different from their lessers, because the common man still spoke and wrote an English that was closer to old Willie (not identical, but less cluttered with DO NOT rules*). Heck, a lot of the no-nos of modern grammar were based on late Victorian nobs making English more like Latin (which was considered the language of the learned and elite); split infinitives, double negatives, and dangling particples were all banned because they made English less like Latin - before that (and in the language of the great ruck-and-run of English speakers) those were considered perfectly aceptable because everyone did (and does) know what you are talking about. Standardized English is not some tool to elevate the masses, but to split those who are considered worthy (by using it) to claim superiority over those who do not. By demanding people obey rules that are arbitrary and nonsensical to the way English is actually spoken by the average English-speaker you are not "raising the masses up" but demanding the masses heel before you give them a bickie. If people understand what you speak/write (and that takes a whole lot less rules than you think, in both grammar and spelling - especially when you don't demand people kow-tow to a bunch of late Victorian toffs), that is sufficicent for 99.9% of human communication. The reason I used the Imperial British is that they created the largest, most powerful empire in the history of the world [Full Stop] while using a form of English that makes LOL look like the Queen's Own - which is proof that you don't need half the crap that clutters grammar books to conquer and run some rather impressively complex systems.

thersites,

So I can write well - having a graduate degree does that to one's writing. Big deal. I could write like the north Florida redneck I grew up as, and I would bet you could understand 90% of what I wrote. All the education and writing polish does is let me add flouishes that are more difficult without them, but I ain't gotta write that way, and I imagine y'all will still grasp what I'm up to. Capishe. [And yes, I speak like both a college professor and a backwoods hayseed as the mood hits me, often in the same conversation - just ask my students]

* Descriptive rule of language: a rule that is based upon everyday usage and how people actually speak the language; said rule will change as time and new innovations modify the language.

Prescriptive rule of language: a rule that tells people to avoid some structure of the language because said structure is "wrong" or "bad"; almost always developed by elites to show their eliteness because non-elites tend to not follow the rule or follow it imperfectly - mainly because they are following the descriptive rules.

Posted by: Phalamir on May 13, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Mechanization is responsible for standardized spelling, just like it was responsible for standardized time keeping.

As mechanization's dominance recedes, so will its standards. It is fascinating to witness how quickly the human mind is able to adapt to the changes communication technology creates. Few remember the telegram, but the economy of prose has been replicated in email and texting.

Posted by: Brojo on May 13, 2008 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

The "bitter" thing is a perfect example of the importance of knowing standard English. If your psychiatrist or your Starbucks-swilling liberal friend says to you "Are you bitter that your wife left you?" and you don't know standard English well, you might assume that he meant "Are you being a wimp about your wife leaving you?" when he really meant "Are you still down about that, man?" You might think an "elitist" is looking down his nose at you when he's doing nothing of the sort. That's probably a big part of a lot of this polarization: some people know English very well, others don't, and people are telling the ones who don't a myth about what the ones who do are like. And I'm the first one to say that sure, there are snobs out there, but if you think liberals equal snobs and that every upper-class person isn't looking out for you interests at all, you're dead-wrong.

Thersites, my point was that words do have connotations, and that it takes knowing standard English well to know both the (still-accepted) standard (that is, original or dictionary) meaning, and the (widely accepted) gloss or connotation that is being put on the word, and to know whether a given person/writing using the word is likely to be using the standard or non-standard meaning. It takes knowing standard English well to know whether it is more appropriate to use the word in a given situation, or to pick a word that doesn't have an additional connotation instead. You shouldn't jump to being rude to me, and this really looks like an instance where you're fishing for me to be saying something stupid when what I actually meant by what I wrote is pretty obvious.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Mechanization is responsible for standardized spelling"

Brojo - read some of the stuff my wife does (printed materials from the English Restoration), and you'll lose that perception pretty damn quickly :)

Posted by: Phalamir on May 13, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Phalamir,
I have to admit that the fact that in spite of your good writing Swan has no idea what you're talking about tends to support your argument, not mine. Reading comprehension is a different, if related, subject.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

But leave the cats out of it, OK?,
—Kevin Drum

but kevin, you have to admit that the lolcats page is more gag-inducing than gag-producing.

i do know some otherwise smart people who think it's, well, the locat's pajamaz, but then, they're Cat People.

your yellow-dog pal,
blake

p.s. could you change your format so the commenter's name is up top, so i and others don't have to read a few sentences of gibberish only to then scroll down and see, 'oh, yeah, it's swan again'? thanks.

Posted by: blake on May 13, 2008 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Oh my. It didn't take long for a conversation on use of language to devolve into characterizations of weenie, moron and troll. Have to love the internets.

I agree with Phalamir that Shakespeare's English was a rush of new and creative usage of language. As he or she said, there was no real standard of English to follow in his time. Spell it like it sounds was the rule until the 19th century.

And I'd agree that web communications has sparked a much looser, freer form of writing, in which we write as we talk. Many of the formal rules deserve to be broken.

I draw the line at seeing l33t and other cutesy digital hipster phrasing as a sign of linguistic creativity. It is more a self-styled dividing line between the hipper-than-thou and the rest of us who just. want. to. talk.

It's no more a burst of creative growth for the English language than the inside-baseball usage found in faculty lounges and engineering shops.

Posted by: Dave In Texas on May 13, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Dave in Texas,
For the record:
"weenie" is a short form of optical weenie's handle.
"troll" I used facetiously. I think highly of weenie, even though she constantly makes fun of me.

OTOH, I stand by my assertion that Swan is a moron.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Re: brevity

It's true that brevity is often a good thing, but brevity can also be the best-friend of ambiguity. When I'm fighting against people who try to make ambiguity a weapon in their propaganda war, it's better to take a sentence or two to nail things down a lot of the time, instead of leaving them the "rope" to use as a basis to mischaracterize me. That's one reason why I don't get intimidated when people harangue me to write less.

Also--

I'm not going to take the time to read every comment, but it looks to me like some people (like they often do) like Phalamir are post-hoc revising what they wrote to make it look like they wrote something completely different- doing a do-over, rather than clarifying. But if I had never responded to their comments in the first place, note that the impression they would have left would have been something completely different! I don't have to apologize for my good attempts to answer all the stuff you guys are writing. If I didn't write my comments, most of the comments here would be wisecracks or unhelpful. Makes you think all the real liberals are just too shy to post.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites wrote:

I stand by my assertion that Swan is a moron.

Thersites, you're an uber-moron, and I'm the opposite of a moron.

Your comments are a waste of time, and they prove that you're a moron.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

(shuffles quietly into the night, sniffling)

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

"I draw the line at seeing l33t and other cutesy digital hipster phrasing as a sign of linguistic creativity. It is more a self-styled dividing line between the hipper-than-thou and the rest of us who just. want. to. talk."

I'd actually agree with you about the origin and intent of many of the digital modes of English - though I would add that some parts, like the abbreviation and lack of consistant capitalization, probably have as much to do with speed of typing as intentional obsfucation (to be clear: I think they are easy to type _and_ obtuse).

But here's the rub: they are creeping into the common language as more and more people are exposed to them. And at that point, they are valid English. Not proper English or standard English, but they are part of the great, rollicking mess that is the English language.

In exam essays, my kids use "wrt", "lol", and even draw emoticons (honest to God: not smiley faces, but a colon and a close parentheses). I don't get that on writing assignments, but when they are writing a time-limited exam, I see no reason not to accept it, as I know exactly what they mean and it does allow them to provide me with more information per pen-stroke, and therefore unit of time. To be honest, I don't even correct that much on Writing Assignments: 1) don't have the time, 2) I ain't in the English department, and 3) fixing split infinitives is less important than focusing on the sentences that don't actually mean anything - I'd rather deal with emoticons and a kid whose sentence is clear (even if not grammatically correct), than obsessively fix double negatives and have no time to fix the grammatically pure but unintelligible ramblings of some kids with a thesaurus, a grammar book, and little else. Which I know, makes me a neo-con crusher of the down-trodden. But at least I can pwn n00bs in WoW at night, so I'm happy.

Posted by: Phalamir on May 13, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican war on English is patenly harmful

I think the real Republican war is against reality rather than against language, though language suffers so,e collateral damage as a result.

The "bitter" kerfluffle is illustrative on a couple of levels. First, I doubt much of anyone really misunderstood Obama; instead various of his adversaries decided to pick at a word to create an imaginary and incoherent controversy (i.e. foaming-at-the-mouth wingnut partisans proclaiming that being angry is a shameful thing, so Obama shouldn't have implied that anyone is angry).

Second, while as a PR maneuver, the catapulting of bittergate was well-executed and given plenty of airtime, it ended up having almost no effect.I take this as a sign that spreading teh stupid has diminishing returns if you try it at a time when people have real issues to grapple with.

Which suggests that making war on reality isn't that great a strategy, and that further, language withstands assault.

Anyway, if Obama hadn't used the word "bitter," they would have come up with some other BS attack on him. And that attack would have worked about equally poorly.

Posted by: jimBOB on May 13, 2008 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Stop sniffling thersites, being an uber anything can have perks. A few years back I was annointed uber-weenie, and I was given a custom cap that has a large hot dog (2 feet long) in a bun, with mustard wiggles down the middle. It's one of my favorite pieces of office decor, and sits next to the bobble lady.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I would have thought unter moron more appropriate.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites - it was Swan, remember? Pull your lower lip up, you'll trip over it!

I took offense at you calling me conservative, but you don't see me sniffling.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

So you didn't mind being called a troll?

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

Why not? My hair sticks out and I live under a bridge.

I can only post as a troll, I'm not allowed to express my opinions on a lot of subjects. I don't know anything, ya know.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Weenie: ... not allowed to express my opinions ... I don't know anything...

That's never stopped anyone else.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Why not? My hair sticks out and I live under a bridge.

Well, in that case, I take back my criticisms of 'weenie' and 'troll.'

Phalamir, I've no arguments with the reality that the kids will change the language. It's the way of the world -- at least, the English speaking one. In France, people on the street talk like humans while L'Academie suffers heart tremors.

But I'm not sure that the sheer weight of presence of l33t and aolisms is sufficient to permanently change English.

It was already well on its way to a looser, more informal and richer language -- a good thing, I add -- with the additions of the Beats and the Hippies before we all started communicating with emoticons.

Erk. Sweet Jesus, I hate those things. If the new language is so rich with creativity, why do we need symbols appended to the end of a sentence to let us know if we're happy or sad or LOL? Won't the sentence express that?

Posted by: Dave In Texas on May 13, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Dave in Texas,

:-o

Well, whadya expect from a troll.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

OT, but Weenie,
If you live under a bridge what do you need with hardwood flooring?

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't matter where you live, adding hardwood floors always brings up the value of your home.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

And here I thought the reason LOLspeak was funny is that cats can't talk and LOLspeak is trying to approximate what they would sound like if they could.

I hope she never tries to watch Bambi or she's going to be confused as hell by all of the talking animals.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on May 13, 2008 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Language *changes*, silly pedant. Get over it.Posted by: DHS

The abbreviations in text messages and the like don't represent new forms of language - they are expedient, somewhat childish, shortcuts for a really limited communication medium. They are tolerable there. However, when they start showing up in formal writing, they need to be expunged with extreme prejudice. If you think otherwise, you must be a proponent of Ebonics and other non-standard forms of speech and writing.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 13, 2008 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II @ 6:39, I was totally with you until your ebonics comment. You bought the MSM line on that. Ebonics is (was) a form of phonics, which is a teaching tool. At no time was the point for Black English Vernacular to be *taught*, it was to be dissected grammatically as a teaching tool to teach Standard American English.

Everything else you said was right on the money.

Posted by: shams on May 13, 2008 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

If you live under a bridge what do you need with hardwood flooring?

If she lived over a bridge your question might make sense . . .

Posted by: rea on May 14, 2008 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Re: LOL. Those of us of a certain age can never feel comfortable with this one. For us, it means either Little Old Lady or Lots Of Luck; never what youngsters think it to be.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on May 14, 2008 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK
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