The Hazards Of Online-Speak & The Loss Of Grammar

I didn’t even realize this problem existed until recently. At the airport in Atlanta, I spoke with a college instructor who’s taught for forty years, and then I heard about it again at interviews for a job at a local university. Spelling and grammar are in serious danger. Ok, yes, this example is silly and funny and from 3rd grade, but I remember learning grammar and spelling in 1st grade. And something like carrots or horses, I probably knew by 3rd grade. Okay, perhaps it gave you a good laugh. I’m glad, but this post is serious. Unlike my norm, this post has nothing to do with science fiction. This is all fact. Are some kids spelling challenged more than others? Well, sure, okay, I can accept that, but these days there’s a far bigger culprit for spelling and grammar ills: ONLINE SPEAK.

Hw r u?

F & u?

Doing gr8. thx 4 asking

Look familiar?

Would you believe that kind of spelling shows up in college essays, on college exams and, even worse, in business applications and letters from college grads? Would you believe this trend has been happening for several years?

Having never received one of those missives, I had no idea. But I am told this is a HUGE problem these days. I guess I’m ignorant. I assumed people knew that such online shortcuts are acceptable in context of online features such as Twitter or even cell phone texting, but I also assumed they knew they had no place in serious correspondence. Apparently, I was wrong. And this is a real problem.

Imagine a society where people stop using grammar and spelling? What place is there for people who do? Will all the books currently in existence go out of print? Will people laugh at people who actually make an effort to communicate correctly? And what about translations? You can’t translate those shortcuts into foreign language easily.

The same conversation in Portuguese would have to look something like this:

Cmo ta?

Td bm. E vc?

Td bm tmbm. brgd

Translation is hard, trust me. And it’s hard already when proper grammar is involved. Dealing with that crap is extremely challenging. If I didn’t know what such short cuts looks like from having seen them, I probably couldn’t have done that.

I met a guy recently who told me he actually never studied much grammar and spelling in school. It was deemed less important than other things.

WHAT?!!!!!

Communication is not important? That’s woefully frightening. It could lead to the downfall of our civilization. No, I’m not being overly dramatic. What would happen if we can’t understand each other? More wars? Maybe. Lots of problems and frustration. It absolutely blows my mind that any school would consider grammar and spelling unimportant. They are so fundamental to every other subject.

It’s a scary thought, if you ask me. It’s something everyone should sit back, take a deep breath, and pray to whatever higher force you believe in that it won’t happen.; Because it’s absolutely going to devastate our competitive edge with the rest of the world and our ability to live in peace with ourselves, let alone anyone else. It’s absolutely one of the worst things we could have happen in our society–to lose communication skills. And if it’s progressed this far already, I can’t imagine where that will lead.

There are hazards to online and digital communication mediums I’d never imagined; pitfalls which never occurred to me. I sincerely hope we can find a way to reverse this one before it’s too late. Don’t you?

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. His second novel, The Returning, sequel to The Worker Prince, is forthcoming in Summer 2012.

3 5-star & 6 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh$14.99 tpbhttp://bit.ly/qIJCkS

5 thoughts on “The Hazards Of Online-Speak & The Loss Of Grammar

  1. I take this kind of thing with a grain of salt because it tends to be blown out of proportion by folks sensitive to it.

    The point that gets missed in all of this is that language evolves and that includes spelling and grammar. I used to get up in arms about people saying “That’s a whole nother problem” as if “nother” was a real word. I finally chilled. Maybe it is not a real word yet but it likely will be sometime in the future. Language and the mechanics of language change over time, and is often influenced by culture. Spelling has evolved even in the two hundred thirty-odd years that the United States has been around. American English has evolved from British English. Both have come a long way from Middle English.

    But I’ve come to realize that it is pointless to worry about it because the evolution is slow and takes time. It is between generations where it has the greatest impact, it seems. But I have no problem understanding the people that I communicate with, even if I might sometimes be annoyed with the communication itself.

    Understanding the rules of grammar is important but understanding that those rules evolve is equally important.

    1. Jamie, I’ve taken it with a grain of salt pretty much too but recently keep hearing from college instructors and others about it being more and more of a problem, which is why I wrote the post. I think it’s a sad statement on our times, really. I am not one who gets up in arms when people use that stuff online and such, but if it is carrying over improperly, it sure makes one think twice. And I think it’s worth pondering.

  2. That’s why I refuse to use such short cuts when I text or type. And today I read some online stuff from an elementary school principle that was full of typos and grammar mistakes. I thought to myself, “Surely this isn’t an elementary principle! Can’t be!” But I’m afraid it was. If the principle doesn’t treat it as important, how is she or he going to communicate that to the kids?

  3. The first time I saw this “online lingo” in Portuguese I was like “WTF?!” I had no clue what my brother was trying to say.
    I had to ask him to write it again in plain Portuguese, then he had to break down for me every abbreviation he used. There are variations to the ones you posted! =)

    That helped me to understand the mechanism behind it, its logic, when I started seeing more and more often this trend in English. And, being as bad a typist as I am, I started using it online as a way to speed up while chatting. But I try to avoid it in other media.

    I can see how easy it can be, for someone who does it very often online, to transfer the lingo into other media. Habits are hard to break, and it becomes so natural to you that you simply don’t realized you are not writing the words out, but you’re abbreviating them. You have to be very attentive to prevent yourself from doing it when you shouldn’t.

    But, just as important as spelling it right, it is using the right word in the right context. I had to read the comment above mine three times before I realized he was trying to say “principal” and not “principle.” Word usage is just as important, if not more.

    Unfortunately, our society has poor grammar and spelling but as long as we have to be globally competitive I don’t see people stopping using it. I believe global communication will help to prevent this.

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