Sunday, April 29, 2007

In the Parlance of Our Times

Moving to Detroit, I readjusted to Midwestern lingo, having lived in the Chicago area and in St. Paul, Minnesota, for some years as a kid. I was born in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, not far from the Delaware Water Gap, and lived much of my life in the Upper South. So that's one thing, distinguishing between soda, soda pop, pop, soft drinks and "a Coke" -- I will always prefer the Eastern soda. But the internet and various faster forms of communication, plus long-running cable TV programs like The Weather Channel, are morphing modern language faster than we can say Jackie Robinson or pitch the woo.

We can thank weather showmen (shamans?) for such odd twists of English as "tornadic activity," "tornadics," and "impacts." Me, I prefer "vampirics" and "vampiric energies." And "careless wreckless" as far as enemy drivers go. Spare us the "dewpoints," please.

One of the most jarring transformations since the year 2000 A.D. is the use of the word email (alternately e-mail, ca. 1982 origin), or rather, turning it into the wretched plural form emails. Let's back up a second. When we receive mail (or "snail mail," ca. 1983 origin), do we say "I got some new mails today"? No! Letters, maybe, bills, maybe, but always, in toto -- mail. Mail is the plural form of mail. So how did we start receiving emails all of a sudden? I know it's a lost cause. I tried "email messages" but no one was buying it. So emails it is. Though I kind of like the French alternative, courriers electroniques, just as I kind of like the European mobile phones over cellphones. And then there's "the post" and the Post Office, which is kind of weird in itself.

The word "you" may be next. Students at all levels are already spelling it with one letter -- u.

I'm not a purist -- George Washington and his class comrades spelled words any which way, with only sporadic rules for consistency. Then, in the 1800s, the factories popped up and roared into action, along with standardizing dictionaries, lexicons, and public schools running on factory time and railroad time clocks. And then, in the 1980s, the internet, the personal computer, and instant messaging. Which is where we are now -- the web log / blog and all that jazz. Imagine another five years of this. Changes R Us. It's inevitable.

Today's Rune: The Warrior.

Today's Birthdays: Duke Ellington, Hirohito, Ray Barretto, Tammi Terrell, John Waters, Jerry Seinfeld, Federico Castelluccio.



Lana said...

I worked hard as a child to master the English language, only to find (in adulthood,) that I seem to be one of very few who bothered. Communication is so crucial, but I'm finding (more & more,) that I can't understand people online anymore. Too many abbreviations, code words, misspellings & an almost total lack of punctuation! These days it seems I blink & say "huh?" a lot. :(
I hear you about switching lingo here & there, too. My New York accent turned into a Canadian accent, which is now turning into a melded Canadian-Southern accent that seems to confuse the hell out of people. I use the words "eh" & "y'all" in the same sentence these days & it disarms people completely.
(I too prefer "soda," but too long in Canada has me stuck on "pop," which, ironically, I'd sworn was a word I would NEVER use! Never say never...)

lulu said...

Using "U" instead of "you" on a paper earns you an automatic F in my classes. Ditto for missuse of "there", "their" and "they're". My students seem to feel that the word "there" is suitable for all occasions.

I say "soda" which is not that common here in Chicago, but people still understand me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Where I grew up, we called all soda's "coke." I'm with Lulu on holding the line on my students. And Lana is cute when she mixes her northern and southern lingos.

t said...

It bugs me that "grown ups" use these text-message-era abbreviations: u, 4, ur, etc. My boyfriend who's same age as my mother...I am yet to send a text message, I'm resisting, and even looking forward to dumping my cell phone.

Anonymous said...

I spell thru instead of through. Who needs those extra unpronounced letters. I still say crick for creek, that is a good Pennsylvania give away as to where I am from. And what is the origin of hana? Is it a corruption of hey now? Words are fascinating. Even cunnermans think so. Ha ha.

Johnny Yen said...

Even in text messages, I can't bring myself to skip punctuation, capitialization or use the "4" and "u." I guess I'm just a Luddite.

When I went to school in central Illinois (Eastern Illinois University), I had an experience where I was working in a dorm food service, and one of my jobs was to replace the tanks of soft drinks. I asked someone about "pop" and they had no idea what I was talking about, until someone said, "Oh, you mean 'soda." I'm from Chicago.

Good for you, Lulu. And I think that the "soda" is your Cincinatti roots showing, isn't it?

Sheila said...

I have always called it pop..... when I visited missouri and they called it soda I was thrown off a little bit. The only time I abbriviate (usually) is when sending text messages to my boyfriend... and that's just because I am at work and don't have time to write the full words. haha

Danny Tagalog said...

The texting case is one which has been debated much of late - is it increasing literacy, i.e. giving us a 'new' language or is it damaging overall writng. I must admit that I don't like using "U" at all, even in email messages.

You knoe what - I even dislike it when my software turns my favourites and colours into favorites and colors - but that's admittedly when I'm in my slightly pedantic Brit guise...

You'd love the bastadisation of English you occasionally see on signs and in Japanese "loan words".

JR's Thumbprints said...

I use "email" for plural. I checked my email. To me, this implies an electronic system where messages are stored. Kind of like going to the mail box and the wife asks, "Did we get any mail?" And I reply, "The mail is on the table." (Again, could be more than one envelope.) I'm not sure about "post" and post office. I think of The Post as being that popular bar downtown that I go to after a Red Wings game.

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks, y'all for the commentos! A topic for the ages. More on this in future, no doubt.

the walking man said...

Evolution or revolution? What is happening is that people are starting to write what they speak; which is phonetically instead of properly.

Is it a good thing, personally I think not because in order to get the written word's point across to a reader, especially in english, it has to be precise or a mis-communication could be the end result with the point of the text missed.

I rarely get anything but junks e-mail anyway so I just use my delete key a lot.

And just so the entire world gets on the same page it's pop.