Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Netspeak: OMG WTF

I debated posting this at all, but decided I'd give it a try and see how the response was. I present to you, the first half of my cause analysis essay for English:

“LOL! OMG ur so funny! ROFL! When am I gonna c u nxt? WTF? Its been like 4ever! I miss my BFF! :)” For those of you who are not fluent in Netspeak, the literal translation would be: “Laughing out loud! Oh my gosh, you are so funny! I’m rolling on the floor laughing. When am I going to see you next? What the fuc0k? It’s been like forever! I miss my best friend forever! (smiley face)”

Netspeak, a form of internet/text slang used to shorten keystrokes through the use of acronyms, keyboard symbols and by abbreviating words (Wikipidea), is fast becoming one of the foremost communication tools among youth. What started out as a casual internet conversation tool between web programmers has grown to encompass email, instant messaging (IM), text messaging and most recently social networking sites such as Twitter.

It makes sense that as technology and our means to communicate advances, so should our written communication language. Unfortunately, to a large segment of the population, this is not the view shared.

There are several reasons for disapproval. First, the continuous use of Netspeak has had a negative effect on the spelling and grammar in children born from 1990 onwards. One teacher who was responsible for grading essay’s for the state, recently came across a paper in which the student simply wrote “IDK”. The teacher stated that she wasn’t sure what to be more worried about, the fact that the student didn’t write an answer, or that she was too lazy to write out the three words, “I don’t know.” (Matthews). Another teacher stated that the most common form of Netspeak she was exposed to came in the form of using “u” for you, “r” for are and “l8tr” for later (Jones).

Many fear that today’s youth will be ill-equipped for college or to enter the workplace when they come of age. Using abbreviations, along with spell check accepting common forms of Netspeak, is downplaying the importance of learning to spell. That is, until you need to hand write a correspondence or someone looks over your notes.

The second largest cause for concern is the decrease in proper verbal communication skills. Many find it is much easier to converse through the various forms of written Netspeak. The pain of rejection is lessened exponentially when it is served in a written format, making a look of disappointment and trying to interpret body language a thing of the past. People are simply forgetting how to communicate face to face, and when they do, improper dialog is getting worked into the conversation. Go to a mall or a Jr. High School and you will hear countless examples of Netspeak being used in verbal format. This may not be a problem when speaking among friends, but in business situations it can make one appear to be unintelligent or juvenile.


* If you are interested in the second half of this essay, write me an email ( and I will send it to you. Otherwise, your comments and constructive criticism on the topic are always welcome.

Blogfully yours,



kel said...

That Jones sounds like a very smart teacher.

theoddduckling said...

About two weeks ago, one of my first graders said "IDK." when asked a math question. This was a seven year-old girl.

It took all I had not to smack my forehead.

Erin said...

Devil's advocate here - Language is a dynamic animal. Its function is to convey meaning; the signifiers, or words, are arbitrary. For me to write in Old English or Middle English would be pretty much valueless because no one would understand it. It may have aural value, but that's all.

The divide between LOLspeak and, say, MLA English is more fractious, but by why should MLA win? Should they still be considered the authority when LOLspeakers outnumber MLA writers 2 to 1? 10 to 1? 150,000 to one?

What is the most telling part about the IDK anecdote: That the student wrote it or that the teacher understood it? There may be agreement that IDK is informal, but lazy? What makes it lazy? It's shorter, but short doesn't equal lazy. "Buy" isn't a lazier word than "purchase."

LOLspeakers have a problem if they can't assess their audiences and shift to standard grammar/spelling when it's to their advantage — say, with people who are older or more conventional. Those people may judge LOLspeak as dumb, or they may not understand the words at all.

But us fogeys also could benefit from becoming bilingual. If there are a lot of people in the world for whom LOLspeak signals intimacy, rejecting it seems to be a waste of a connection. We may feel like posers writing in LOLspeak, but understanding it might be valuable from a business perspective and from a personal perspective. For instance, some people would see "IDK" as downright disrespectful and get mad, while the student may have just wanted to dispense with the question efficiently to get on with the test. I think there's ignorance on both sides of that rift.

I totally want to see the rest of your essay! I'm obviously a huge word nerd.

Garrett said...

Chiming in on Erin's side; There's a long, long David Foster Wallace essay (did he have any other kind?) that touches on this issue. One relevant portion:

"The point is that the little A+ SNOOTlet is actually in the same dialectal position as the class's 'slow' kid who can't learn to stop using ain't or bringed. One is punished in class, the other on the playground, but both are deficient in the same linguistic skill — viz., the ability to move between various dialects and levels of 'correctness,' the ability to communicate one way with peers and another way with teachers and another with family and another with Little League coaches and so on.
Most of these dialectal adjustments are made below the level of conscious awareness, and our ability to make them seems part psychological and part something else — perhaps something hardwired into the same motherboard as Universal Grammar — and in truth this ability is a far better indicator of a kid's 'Verbal I.Q.' than test scores or grades, since U.S. English classes do far more to retard dialectal talent than to cultivate it."

The full essay is at