Harken, ye anti-texting dogs


I Profe{|s|s}e to teach thee, that art vtterly ignorant, to reade perfe{ct}ly, to write truly, and with iudgement to vnder­ {|st}and the rea|son of our Engli{|sh} tongue with great expedition, ea|se , and plea­|sure.

from the English School Maister

Clearly Langvich, like Arithmeticke, doth naught chan-geth.

Language is your servant. Language is not your master.

Too many people seem to think language is in charge. English is the bastard child of any number of languages and times. What we have now is a confusing, ever shifting and evolving, mess.

One squiggly line means the number two and three other line arrangements represents the word for the number 2. We have three words pronounced too but meaning three different things. On the other hand, we have the word lead which is spelled the same but pronounced differently and with an entirely different meaning determined only by context. We just accept that.

Words also change in meaning and spelling over time, right? If enough people say a word means something for long enough, no matter the word’s original meaning, that becomes what the word means. It’s kind of like evolution mixed with democracy.

I’ve actually listened to teachers brag that they never abbreviate when texting and that they used full and complete punctuation. That pretty much says to me, “The arbitrary ‘rules’ of English are more important than its purpose. Changing styles for different purposes and media doesn’t make sense.” I can’t think of a worse lesson for a student or a worse mind set for a teacher.

I’m not saying students should be able to write papers in text speak. I just want people to put this into context. Srsly.

Comments on this post

  1. Terry said on December 3, 2009 at 10:30 am

    And to those types I quote e e cummings:

    since feeling is first
    who pays any attention
    to the syntax of things
    will never wholly kiss you

    • Tom said on December 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm

      It would have been fun to do that. I was tempted to quote Chaucer in Old English just to mess with them but I don’t think that it would have been appreciated. Truly, one of the more depressing conversations I’ve been a part of.

  2. Chris ONeal said on December 3, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    >I can’t think of a worse lesson for a student or a worse mind set for a teacher. <

    4 rl !!!

  3. Susan WB said on December 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    First thing I ever learned in linguistics: languages are living things. The only ones that don’t change are dead (that is, Latin, Ancient Greek) which no one speaks as a native language anymore.

    Do you know that the word “apron” used to be “napron” (related to “napkin”) but people got confused whether is was “a napron” or “an apron” and eventually it changed?

    Whenever I encounter someone who likes to pontificate a little too much about the “rules” of English I bring this up. Should we go back to saying “napron” instead since that’s “correct”? Don’t think so!

  4. Lee Trampleasure said on December 3, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    I’m not suggesting that if all you have is a ten key phone pad that you need to type out all your words, but I would suggest that if you want people to understand you, you should write in the language understood by the most people. Many people can’t read “IM speak.” I can usually figure it out, but it slows me down quite a bit. If you use too much IM speak, I’ll be less inclined to take the time to read it.

    IM speaking from a computer is never needed, since you have a complete keyboard.

    I tell my students that if you cuss all day with your friends, you WILL slip up at times in class or other places where it is inappropriate. Speak/write the way you want your grandmother to hear you, then you never need to worry that you will misspeak when you are talking to her.

    (Tire of people saying that language is fluid and using that as an excuse for instant message slang)

    • Tom said on December 3, 2009 at 8:59 pm


      Obviously, audience matters. I agree with you. I’d argue that most phone texting is done within fairly close circles of friends who are often of similar age and with similar expectations and knowledge regarding abbreviation conventions.

      It seems there is a need for abbreviated language with a full keyboard or not. People have been using it in IRC and IM long before it became an option on phones. There’s a reason for that and apparently a very widespread one. I’m betting speed is an issue. That’s what has changed after all. When language is written and basically synchronous people end up wanting and using different options.

      This isn’t the end of the world. We’ll see what sticks. People just need to stop pretending like this is eroding the foundation of our language and culture.

      I don’t need to excuse IM slang or texting abbreviations.

  5. Rusty said on January 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    To be honest, I don’t have a hot clue how to use text speak. When I take my time, I can usually figure out what the message is saying. Maybe I should get up to speed and learn a bit.

    I am always amazed that students can text thoughts back and forth to each other in this crazy text language. These messages convey meaning and provoke responses. It might be worth the time to have students complete a wriitng assignment in text speak. They might have an easier time expressing their thoughts and meaning through this method, rather than conventional English. Some students won’t, or can’t write more than three sentences in conventional writing. In text speak, they might create a better message and show more learning. Overboard? Who’s to say. At least I have never uttered (or written) the words, “I will see thee anon.”

  6. Rhonda said on January 6, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I understand both sides of this conversation and comment. To me texting seems to be generational. With each new invention, with each new generation, there is always a new language. I realize that many groups of people text, but I would say a larger percentage of these people are younger. Yes, this is a new language and anyone wanting to stay in tune with this type of communication must “learn” the language.
    However, I believe that keeping it as a new language is more logical than having replace an old language. As a teacher, I believe that common writing skills must be followed and just as slang is not acceptable in proper writing, neither should texting be allowed.
    I might have at one time considered texting to be a language of certain economic levels, but it seems that more and more people, no matter their status, uses cell communication. Maybe texting will be a language to reach across certain barriers.

  7. Rusty said on January 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    I discussed this issue of text speak vs conventional English with my students. They thought of texting and conventional English as two distinct types of communication. They also believed there was a time and place for each. Those in the know of text speak may have to be considered bilingual. It seems as if there are two different languages, not one replacing another.

  8. Rhonda said on January 10, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    I am quite impressed with your students understanding that there is a time and place for texting. I have seen students, at times, forgetting this and using abbreviations and even text language in class papers or regular assignments. Maybe one day this be more of a reality than we think. We no longer speak in Old English with “thees” and “thous” so whose to say that our current language won’t change in the next few decades to include more text speak.

  9. Rusty said on January 15, 2010 at 8:23 pm


    It may come in stages, but what you are saying would not surprise me at all (but I hope not). If this is the growing trend, I better get into this text speak language.

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    […] Tom Woodward, coming down on "the arbitrary rules of English": I’ve actually listened to teachers brag that they never abbreviate when texting and that they used full and complete punctuation. That pretty much says to me, “The arbitrary ‘rules’ of English are more important than its purpose. Changing styles for different purposes and media doesn’t make sense.” I can’t think of a worse lesson for a student or a worse mind set for a teacher. […]

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