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The Gauntlet

You’ve got poor grammar

Internet-speak ruins language

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I cringe every time I hear the phrase "You've got mail." Not because I fear getting angry letters from readers or stupid virus-laden Flash forwards from people who think aol is the Internet, but because the expanded phrase "You have got mail" is broken.

People asking me to "instant messenge" them provoke a similar reaction. What exactly does "messenge" mean? Just because some market-droid made an actor say it on tv does not make it a word. Taking simple perversions like these for granted may be the first step on a slippery slope towards unintelligible communications.

I don't think contractions like "stfu" (shut the fuck up) and "rtfm" (read the fine manual) should be eliminated--they certainly are efficient in conveying specific meanings--but we should not accept such linguistic innovations lightly. As much as the Internet is a democratizing force, it is also one that can change a language very quickly.

The phenomena of using clipped English is rooted in earlier times when on-line connections were slow and every character typed was costly to deliver. When 1200-baud modems were in common use, having entire conversations using abbreviations could be justified by the savings in communications costs. However, saying "thx 4 joke roflmaopp jk" (thanks for the joke, rolling on floor laughing my ass off, pissing my pants, just kidding) using today's world of broadband connections is out of place outside pagers and text-messaging. Wordage involving weird punctuation isn't even faster to type.

On the English-speaking portion of the Internet at least, near-instant communication has somehow translated into near-instant communication of stuff people wouldn't bother communicating if you had to waste paper on it. If e-mail wasn't free how many people would pass along badly-written spam offering free stuff or chain letters that promise to deliver evil if you don't forward them to every one of your friends. Worse still, people sign such crap with "luv" to appear cool or save an entire character.

Many Internet message boards are prime breeding grounds for made-up words and poor grammar. Debaters take it upon themselves to make up obscure jargon, write poorly and proceed to frown upon anyone who criticizes them for not communicating the issues well. Resistant to change, or quality, they then try to make up for the lack of quality by writing more of the same crap.

It seems many Internet communicators are unaware that taking time to properly compose a message not only adds credibility to the writing but is courteous to the reader. E-mails and instant messages can quickly appear abusive when expected elements of language are randomly discarded.

The responsibility for the corruption of Internet English doesn't lie solely with those who have blindly accepted the new verbiage, but also with how we've chosen to satiate our desire for instant gratification. Word processors fix spelling as you type, spell-checkers have grown enormous in size to anticipate even the worst spelling of Mississippi, and even Google fixes poorly-spelled queries. The result is that in this point-and-click world, some people have forgotten how to communicate their desires and become frustrated when the interface that is the other person doesn't respond well to sloppy input.

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Comments

You have to accept that both spelling and grammar will change over time - it always has. Rather than bemoaning this, you could revel in a world that has new types of dialects shared by people in different parts of the globe.

In a world where millions of people watch TV and browse the internet, new words seem to appear faster than in the past. It is true that many people do not know all the new terms - we cannot expect them to know. When people use a lot of contractions, this is a dialect used in chat rooms and TXT messages. In the same way that english speakers find different dialects more difficult to understand, this new dialect can be difficult for newcomers.

>>but because the expanded phrase "You have got mail" is broken.
Actually, "got" can mean "received," and so the AOL catch-phrase is correct. I cringe when I hear it because the person who came up with it didn't know that. What we usually hear is, "She's got beautiful hair." In this case, "...has got" hurts the educated ear. What is worse is that many educated will defend the remark.

>>If e-mail wasn't free...
This should read:
If e-mail weren't free. "If" indicates the subjunctive mood in this case.