OPINION11 February 2010

Shd w3 wori dat teknoloG mnz kdz d0n rit gud no mor4?

Well in short, no. In fact, on balance, it’s a really good thing. Of course there’s hand wringing from the usual quarters about the death of grammar, the loss of standards and the inevitable slide towards anarchy and the end of civilisation as we know it.  But this is the first generation ever that needs to be able to write in order to have a proper social life. And for disposable, conversational writing, speed is just way more important than accuracy, end of story.

A great by-product of this seeming ‘sloppiness’ is that it makes socialising via, Facebook, MSN, texting, etc, very democratic. It doesn’t matter if you can’t spell or if your grammar is rubbish, you can still take part. And that in itself is a great reason to celebrate it; the less literate aren’t being excluded by technology when they so easily could have been.

But when you look closer, it’s not just sloppiness. There’s a lot more that’s interesting going on. First of all, it’s no good being fast if you’re not ‘got’ – and there’s often a quite sophisticated understanding of what other people will get. Including a widespread (though probably subconscious) recognition that if the first and last letter of a word are correct, the eye quickly understands, even if the rest of the word is in the wrong order or has bits missing.  So wehn i wirte tihs snetnece yu cn stll esialy udenrtasnd waht’s on teh pgae. And the interesting thing about that is you actually have to be reasonably literate to make it work properly.

Then there are the learnt shortcuts and other bits of creativity, many of which are a joy. ‘m@r’ for matter and ‘l%k’ for look are two of my current favourites.  Of course, l%k doesn’t save you any keystrokes but it looks cool and that, too, is part of the point.

There are satiric misspellings, too, like the use of £ for L to indicate the perceived immoral or unethical accumulation of money. As in, just for example, Tony B£air.

And there are the words that always go wrong when you try to type them fast. ‘The’ comes out as ‘teh’ and ‘own’ as ‘pwn’. So, instead of struggling against the tide, people started deliberately writing them that way – which, you have to admit, is a neat solution. It’s a trend that really took off when the gaming community started using them in online games and they became part of Leet (short for elite speak).

Of course, it’s not all about clarity. Some of what is going on is a deliberate creation of language and spellings that are impenetrable to adults, other outsiders and profanity filters. So, nothing new there, then; just the usual teenage bonding. If you don’t understand it, you’re probably not meant to.

Will this all lead to broader and more permanent changes in the way we write though? I’d predict that it almost certainly will. So get used to it. Resistance is futile.  Anyway I bloody well hopw so, its a reel shag gtting it rite all the time.  And if you’re really having problems, there are a number of places you can get English translated into lingo or backagain.