April 2009
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A Million to Five…

A man walks into a crowded diner one morning and sits at the counter. After about a minute or two, someone shouts out “127”, and everyone in the diner bursts into laughter. A few minutes later, someone shouts out “46”, and again, everyone bursts into laughter. After the third time, the guy turns to the man next to him ans asks, “what’s going on?, why the numbers and why is everyone laughing?” The man said to him, “Ah…everyone here is pretty much a regular. We have been coming here every morning for years to just hang out, catch up on each others lives, and tell jokes.  In fact, he laughed, we have been telling the same jokes for so long, that we have just given them numbers.”

The guy thought this amusing, so he decided to try it out. He yelled out “54”…but nothing happened…so he yelled out “23” and again…silence. He turned to the man and asked “What’s going on? Why aren’t they laughing?”

The man said “Guess you just gotta know how to tell a joke”…

I have been thinking a lot about language lately.  Language is basically just a grouping of words and symbols with a universally accepted syntax and meaning. What I find fascinating is that we are assigning meaning and concepts to strings of characters that are getting smaller and smaller every day.  Before the advent of text messaging, who would have seen and understood what “LOL” and “OMG” meant? In the beginning it was Email…then Blogging…then Twitter introduced us to “Micro-blogging” and Slate jokes about “Nano-blogging” in their spoof of Twitter with service called Flutter.  Little by little language is being reduced so that the meaning of complex concepts can be conveyed in as few characters as possible.

The question is, are we loosing the richness of our language for the sake of expediency?   How it will effect the exchange of ideas and culture? When I write, I try to paint as vivid a picture with words as I can;  is this possible in 140 characters or less? In a way,  it kind of forces you to get creative with words and wordplay, but I wonder what the long term consequences will be.

Seriously… I can see a future where “pico-blogging” is all the rage…someone will enter a five character string of symbols and everyone on the planet will understand, and get the joke…if it was told right.


2 comments to A Million to Five…

  • Maybe. Before joining Twitter, I NEVER used abbreviations like 2 for “to” or 4 for “four.” Now I do, occasionally, if it means making the 140-character limit. But I still use commas, properly hyphenate, spell correctly, and use complete sentences, if at all possible. I used the word “coalesce” in a tweet today, for example.

    I don’t think microblogging and the preservation of language are mutually exclusive. It does take more effort though, to be sure!

  • Thanks for the comment, Laura.
    Yes. I agree it is more of an effort. One thing though…for you, words are your life. How many other people that you have tweeted make the effort to use correct grammar/spelling/punctuation? (Or for that matter correctly use coalesce in a sentence 🙂 ).
    I guess what I am asking is does Texting or Twittering make us lazy? I guess the same can be said of any type of slang.
    Thanks again for the comment.

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