Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past decade, you’ve had to deal with text-speak and emoticons in one way or another. And if you’re in touch with modern technology, it’s most likely taken over your life. There are people who think these things have decreased our ability to communicate effectively, and while I do not completely agree, I have watched myself go from shunner to unwilling participant to enthusiastic user in a remarkably short period of time.
There was a time I didn’t know what ‘xoxo’ meant, refused to use ‘lol’ or its many variations (‘lmao’, ‘lmfao’, ‘rofl’) and hated seeing numbers incorporated into words, like ‘gr8’. I’m not saying I completely embrace all of it now – I still get twitchy when people use ‘2’ instead of ‘to’ or ‘too’, or misspell words even when it isn’t significantly shorter than the original word, like ‘luv’ or ‘dat’. Still, I’ve found myself more open to concepts like emoticons and shortforms than I ever thought I would, thanks to my generous use of the internet.
Emoticons, in particular, have had a huge effect on the way we communicate. Now, a text message to someone doesn’t seem complete without a smiley face. (My favourite smiley face is the one with all the teeth showing, because that’s the kind of cheeky smile I can imagine myself giving in real life.) I can’t tell people I’m getting a manicure without using the nail polish emoji (you know the one). A picture of a sushi meal on Facebook must be accompanied by the appropriate emoji. An all-girls group chat on Whatsapp needs either the little leotard girls or the dancing lady in the red dress emojis in the subject bar. (I had half a mind to type this post out on my iPad so I could use emojis, but then realised no one would read it on a computer would have any idea what I was talking about.)
I can be a crabby old lady and whine about how text speak and internet lingo are ruining the younger generation, but as someone who actually taught English to teenagers, I don’t think that’s true at all. It can be annoying when it’s incomprehensible and it can get on your nerves if you’re particularly nitpicky, but there’s nothing essentially wrong with it. In fact, it promotes conversation and communication in a way that hasn’t been possible before. Yes, vocabulary is still important, especially in formal contexts, but language is constantly evolving, and this is just one way in which it has.
I’m constantly running into expressions I don’t understand. Recently, I saw ‘smh’, ‘lbr’ and ‘bae’ online and had to Google what they meant. (I actually thought ‘bae’ was some weird shortform for ‘babe’.) I can feel myself getting older every time I come across an acronym I don’t get. But the world is moving on, and I’m not about to become archaic just because I can’t keep up with it.
Adapt, evolve, become.