No, English is Not Dying: An Open Letter

An open letter to Karen Ann Kennedy, who recently wrote about the Death of the English Language.

Dear Karen Ann,

English is not “dying.” It’s not even “getting sick.” It’s changing, sure. But change does not have to be “good” or “bad.” It can just be.

I think this is your argument for why English is dying is as follows:

  1. Texting and facebook singularly lead to abbreviations.
  2. Abbreviations (and modes of communication that lead to them) are bad because they make us stupid.
  3. Therefore, we should stop texting and using facebook so we stop using bad abbreviations.

Let’s explore these ideas.

1. Texting and Facebook do not singularly lead to abbreviations.

Yes, texting and facebook do lead to abbreviations. But, both alphabetisms and clippings (what you call “abbreviations”) have been around well before smartphones and facebook came onto the scene. Let’s look at alphabetisms, which are abbreviations that are read letter by letter, first. The alphabetism TV has been used since 1948. ETA since 1939. And even OMG was used in 1917.

Clipping, or reducing the parts of a word, has also been around longer than smartphones and facebook. Of course, you know this since people are always clipping your name. Other words that have been clipped are fridge (1926), gym (1871), and flu (1839).

2. Abbreviations (and modes of communication that lead to them) are not making us “stupid” or worse at English.

Abbreviations and clippings aren’t bad. They’re not good either. They’re just words. And kids who text are actually getting better at spelling. And texting does not harm kids’ grammar.

 3. Unplugging will not produce an abbreviation (or clipping) free atmosphere.

 I was not texting or Facebooking when I read your article. But I still thought to myself, “WTF? This is just so… WTF? Seriously? OMG.” And if you invite me over for coffee we can talk about how adorbs your kids and/or pets are and how cray-cray the Kardashians are. But face-to-face time with someone will not require me to avoid these “lazy” uses of language.

Just two more things before I sign off.

Giving someone a dictionary isn’t going to “fix” her language according to your standards. Similarly, sending you a linguistics textbook isn’t going to “fix” your language misconceptions. Plus, LOL and OMG are totes in the dictionary already.

And, re: dope. I’m not sure what’s wrong with it. Maybe you think it shouldn’t be a word in the first place since it’s only been around since 1807 (“gravy”). Or maybe you think that it shouldn’t have a different meaning (from gravy, drug, or thickheaded to good.). But, if you don’t like made-up words, please also refrain from using utilize, which has only been around since 1807, when its synonym use has been around since the 1300’s. And if it’s the shift in meaning that you hate, please only use nice to mean foolish, like it did in the 1300’s. And if these suggestions seem ridic… well, I guess we have to be OK with dope.

I think this is your real argument: if a 20-year-old girl uses a linguistic form, it’s bad. But if an older (generally male) person uses a linguistic form, it’s OK. Or at least not noticeable.




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