Netspeak to 1984 in a thousand words or less
In case you couldn’t gather, I dislike netspeak.
I dislike it because it is a language spoken by young teens and/or idiots who express stupid, worthless thoughts in a fittingly stupid, worthless way. Whenever I see it, I either skim it (which takes all of a half second) or ignore it entirely.
While a person, myself included, can certainly use proper spelling and grammar to express a dumb or worthless thought, and I suppose someone could say something intelligent in netspeak, in practice netspeak is the smoke of stupidity’s fire. For all that, the practical effect of netspeak isn’t why I have so much antipathy for it. It would be mere annoyance without the principle of the matter, but those principles are important to me especially. I am an aspiring writer, therefore it is my God-given duty to have a stick up my arse about all things, but most certainly I must have a yardstick up my arse on the topic of writing and language.
The written word is a blessed thing, a holy thing, and to witness its near perpetual rape across the internet is almost more than I can bear. But barely do I do it because netspeak is a dangerous thing, not just a heretical thing.
When a man speaks, he can say whatever he likes and blaspheme nothing, except that which his words actually say. This is because the spoken word is used for direct communication. It expresses thoughts, often in situations that have immediate needs, and getting meaning across can be more important than thinking about the words used to do it. For this reason, the tongue is well known to get the body into trouble, but this is a necessary evil, another God-given element to our humanity. We can control our tongue, but it is very difficult, and once the words have left our mouth, we cannot bottle them back up again or revise and repeat ourselves as if we had said nothing else before. Luckily, it is the nature of spoken words to be caught on the wind and carried off into nothing, never to be seen again and rare to be remembered.
Not so with the written word.
Though the fingers be quick, they are not so loose as the tongue and even in an informal medium such as instant messenger where communication is direct and instant, or near to it, a backspace exists. An enter key or send button exists. This is a further check on thought, and a blessed gift that allows us to pause and rethink what it is we have just written. To improve what we have written. For instant messaging, netspeak is less severe a sin because it is real time communication with direct feedback. This doesn’t mean using netspeak is proper or unavoidable, but it is excusable. Barely. I reserve my full anger for those who use netspeak to violate the indirect, permanent word. This includes but it not limited to: emails, blogs, forums, and pretty much any online posting. Why? It is because these things never necessitate a hasty, thoughtless expression, always provide space for revisions, and can last for all to see.
The last is the most important of these. Words are dead things, worthless ash, when no one reads them, this is certainly true. But unlike the spoken word which blows away, the written word is a phoenix that will live as soon as a reader breathes life back into it again. It will be as it was before, and no better.
That is why when shaping the words, one should take the utmost care in making sure they are something worth saying, and said exactly as you wish them said.
Typographical errors will still worm their way in; this is unavoidable. But copy and paste into pretty much any modern word processor and you should catch most spelling errors. Read over something once or twice and you’ll get the most obvious grammatical errors. It is easy, and it is possible to make a change that has permanence without leaving a trace of the previous mistake. In a world where anyone can write anything and have it be seen, where there is the luxury of an automatic beta reader, how could anyone NOT write well?
But netspeak is intentional and of the people who use it, some or many can write better, they just don’t.
Where is the harm in using it to chat, especially since they aren’t using it for anything serious anyway? The harm is not that people talk to one another stupidly or say meaningless things. It is that netspeak is a language of nothing. Its purpose is the exact opposite of what written language is for. It is supposed to be quick words, quick meaning, abbreviated on both accounts. The vocabulary isn’t just smaller, the words are not just acronyms, they are overused to the point that they literally mean nothing, and therefore they are inherently unable to ever express anything of worth.
What does “lol” mean? It’s an acronym for “laugh out loud” but is that what it means? Far from it. Now it simply means “humorous” or “silly”. It appears subtle, but I swear to God it is not.
Telling someone what they said made you verbally laugh is wildly different from “laugh out loudâ€. In the same way “ROFL” once meant “rolling on floor laughing”, now it means “very funny”. It means doubleplusgood.
I don’t mean to bandy about Orwellian phrases and there is no Party stamping on he faces of these people, but they have achieved what the Party wished to achieve. A language totally devoid of words that could describe abstract thought or anything important. Does that mean we are headed for that type of world? Of course not. But netspeak is an added constraint to intelligent discourse, and that hardly needs another shackle put onto it. Maybe not reasonable enough to hate it, but reason enough.