I have a complaint to make. I’m beginning to hate Emails.
In my view, Emails are becoming the largest single threat to our mother tongue - the English language.
That little "beeboo" alert sound telling me that I have new email on my computer now drives me crazy. Sometimes I want to punch the screen.
Virtually every Email I get these days is either unreadable or seemingly written by an "Anti-Semantic" (someone who hates "English.") All kinds of short phrases and symbols pop up on my screen like ancient hieroglyphics.
LOL, I say.
Most of my friends, colleagues and especially solicitors, can’t compose readable Emails. And it’s getting worse. They either don’t know how, or don’t care, or are embarked on some new crusade of keeping up with the "criminally inane."
Basic punctuation and grammar went out the window with the bath "and" the baby.My own family is among this group. Even my high school English teacher, who still drops me an Email now and then, comes up with the most hopelessly mutated English in her Emails to me. She would have kept me after class for three years if I had submitted such prose back when she was grading me. Heck, I’d still be in that class!
Why? How did this everyday mutilation of the English language come to be? Are we simply too lazy or is it that we just can’t be bothered. Why write then? More importantly, why even read this stuff?
The rise of Emails and the beginning of the end of the English language for letter-writing all started innocently enough in 1971, not with Al Gore as he would have us believe, but with the US Department of Defense. High end and sensitive computer systems and networks were well underway, resulting in the need for all these computers to talk to each other without compromising security. Thus, the embryonic ARPAnet - the forerunner to the now global Internet, was formed.
ARPAnet, short for the United States Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, was designed as a computer version of a nuclear bomb shelter, (popular back then). It was created to protect the flow of sensitive information between military installations. A military Email sent in the early 1970’s looked very similar to ones sent over the Internet today EXCEPT that they were top secret and presumably "coherent" and "readable" unlike the masticated "language" being spewed over cyberspace today.
Then, in the 1980’s, ARPAnet was converted and adopted by the newly computerized "business world" for the same reasons - security and network control protocols.
However, once Emails reached the free market place and free unlimited internet access, the rules of the linguistic game changed.
Today, everyone text’s and twitter’s to their heart’s content with complete disregard to what the system was originally designed to do from the very beginning - communicate coherently and clearly. Most of what we get today however, has "devolved" into pap and is virtually undecipherable as a formal language with governing linguistic rules. In fact, there are no rules.
Take a look at your latest Emails - "in" or "out" - doesn’t matter. Ask yourself this.
WHAT LANGUAGE IS IT IN?!
More and more we are becoming swamped in a tsunami of "texting" and "twittering" malaise which is constantly being thrown out into space and onto a satellite, then regurgitated back into our cell phones or PC’s on earth before being "trashed" forever in cyberspace oblivion. No record. No love letters wrapped in a red ribbon to be kept in a shoebox for the ages. What are lovers telling each other these days over the internet? "Text me sweet nothings for it makes my heart twitter." How sad and short sighted is that?
While growing up, we never opened our mailbox in front of our house only to have two or three hundred handwritten "letters" fall out onto the street, right? Now U.S. carrier mail of the common letter is almost extinct. When was the last time you wrote a full-blown handwritten letter to anyone or received one? When you did write one, how cautious were you about its legibility, grammar and syntax. A lot, I bet - just my point.
Yet, every day, we are avalanched - literally bombarded - with hundreds of electronic mail deliveries of "cyber-English." Then they are all routinely discarded.
Is there a literary "library" somewhere of old Emails that have been "trashed?" An elephant graveyard of "LOL’s?"
Not a chance. "Phit" - gone forever.
I hate to think of where we are going as a society if "convention" forces us to give up the "official written word" that our parents and their parents made such an important part of their everyday lives?
What I am saying is that not long ago, English ruled our correspondence. One language. One touchstone. One almost unattainable discipline. You had to "think" in order to procure something for posterity.
Today? The last vestiges of the purely written word can only be found in some newspapers, some magazines and most books - all of them desperately clinging to a thread of life for their survival.
So what will be the ultimate fate of the written English language as it is used to communicate? Here is my proposed solution to the problem.
The next time you write an Email to a friend or colleague, make it rock with proper spelling, punctuation and grammar. Why not? Shock the heck out of them. Make the syntax and sentence structure stand out and command their awe and respect. Insist they return the favor. See what happens. You will be surprised. It will be an Email they will not soon forget or at least not soon "delete." They may even laser-print it, tie a red ribbon around it and place it neatly in a shoebox.
Like Arlo Guthrie sang in "Alice’s Restaurant;" "You know, if one person, just one person, did it, they may think he’s really sick and they won’t listen to him. If two people do it, they’re a couple. If three people do it, they’re an organization, and if fifty people do it - they’re a "movement."
The "Bring Proper English Back To Email Movement."
Hmmmm. Worth a try anyway, I’d say.
LOL. : - ).
Columnist-At-Large Victor Pisano is a Ford Plantation resident.