Tammy Swift, Published January 18 2014
Swift: Texting leaves language lover feeling like a cheater
It’s the following text.
“The landlerd sez he woll be sending iver an insatiable expert.”
Translation: “The landlord says he will be sending over an insulation expert.”
It’s true. I am a terrible texter. Slow. Inaccurate. A frequent victim of Autocorrect. I believe the medical term is dystextia.
In fact, my original plan was to text this column to illustrate my ineptitude. But the results were so time-consuming, error-prone and embarrassing that I gave up and returned to my laptop.
Unlike the bright, young things of today, I was not born with a cell phone in my hand. I dialed a rotary phone. The only thing “mobile” about it was that it had a long cord, which allowed me to lock myself in the pantry so I could have a top-secret conversation with my girlfriends.
As a freshman in high school, I took typing class. Not “keyboarding.” Typing. We sat at manual typewriters (electric, if you got to class early enough) and typed out “Every good boy does fine,” over and over and over. “Don’t look at your hands,” Mrs. Boschee used to tell us. “If you look at your hands you’ll never type faster than 30 words per minute.”
We used carbon paper to type in triplicate and rubbed out errors with eraser pencils. (Kids: You’ll have to ask your parents about these antiques.) If a letter had more than three errors on it, it was deemed too sloppy to send.
I became an excellent typist. Today – freed from the bondage of manual typewriters and eraser pencils – I can type about 80 words per minute, with few mistakes.
Then along came texting. Suddenly, I felt like a brontosaurus loping along on the Autobahn. Now we were expected to hit impossibly tiny keys on an impossibly tiny device with our largest, clumsiest and least dexterous digits: our thumbs. I watched in envy as my niece hammered out texts at rapid-fire speed. How many joints did she have in her thumbs? How did she get them to bend that way? What on earth did “PAW” mean?
Finally, a couple of years ago, I got a smart phone. Texting got easier, but I still struggled. Today, I can see why texting has basically replaced speech: It’s the ultimate, passive-aggressive way to communicate. You can send a message without needing to make eye contact or see the disapproval on the other person’s face.
And you know what? I’m still pretty lousy at it. I’ve tried to dissect why it bothers me so.
In a nutshell, here’s what I’ve deduced.
It makes me feel like I’m cheating. When I find myself typing “R” vs. “are,” or “prolly” instead of “probably,” I always feel like a sell-out. It’s like my eighth-grade English teacher, Mr. Quintus, is behind me, shaking his head and scowling.
Yes, the answer would be to NOT use any texting abbreviations or shortcuts. But then the person on the other end would die of old age before I could eke out a reply. And so I find myself skimping on punctuation and allowing a letter to remain capitalized in the middle of a word. And deep inside, I feel like I’ve reverted to grunting, hopping around a campfire and wearing the pelt of a mastodon.
It makes me take shortcuts. As I am not a very efficient texter, I don’t explain myself as thoroughly as I should. I might just type that I don’t feel well and can’t make it, without bothering to text that I actually have respiratory flu and might be highly contagious. I believe this leads to even more misunderstandings or botched communication between friends and family.
It subjects me to the Evil of Autocorrect. Autocorrect – or “Otto Correct,” as I like to call him – is insidious. For one thing, he doesn’t allow me to mash up and play with words when I’m trying to be funny. No, I don’t want to make “judgeypants” into “judgment” or “craptacular” into “cranberries,” Otto. I’m trying to make my friends laugh.
Conversely, Otto causes so many embarrassing gaffes that there are special Facebook pages dedicated to the most hilarious corrections. The “insatiable” example above? Yeah, that really happened.
The transposed ‘I’ and ‘o’ again debacle. For some odd reason, I am forever transposing ‘I’s’ and ‘o’s’ when I text. O blame Ibamacare.
So the other day, I was bemoaning my ineptitude as a texter to a friend. I talked about the i/o problem, the frustration of Autocorrect and how it caused the deterioration of the English language.
She just looked at me and said: “Um, you know it’s a phone right? You could always CALL them.”
(Onsert crocket chorping here.)
Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org