When I don my editor’s cap, I’m constantly tussling with my writers and assistant editors about the use of abbreviations. I maintain that it is perfectly fine to use ‘won’t’, ‘I’m’ and others of their ilk in magazines and websites. But I am not for using them in books, except when they are part of a dialogue and then only because it would sound distinctly odd for a character to say, “I do not” in casual conversation instead of “I don’t”.
Over the last few years, many of my colleagues in journalism and publishing have bemoaned the way interns and trainees seem incapable of using English that is not ‘sms’ language. And I have shaken my head and sighed and we have sipped our g and t’s or our coffees with perfect empathy.
I have had a revelation of sorts recently, and having done some rapid re-ordering of my opinions, I now wonder if we are in fact stumbling blocks in the path of progress.
Most people know that ‘goodbye’, evolved or grew shorter from ‘God be with you’. But did you know that for a fairly long time it was spelt as ‘Godbwye’. Bill Bryson, in his compelling book ‘Made in America’, points out many such examples of the evolution of language. I hail this as the precursor to the sms text that u n i use.
In India, we routinely follow what is termed as UK English. In my firm, while providing content to a client, one of the key questions is if they want it in UK or US English, the latter obviously for clients based in the US and Indian technology companies that target a global audience.
UK English has hiccupped its way along and it seems to me that we are holding on to the Empire’s coat tails with an iron grip. I think it’s time to relax it – the way to keep a language alive is to let it grow. If Americans could give us perfectly sensible words like ‘frostbite’ to replace ‘chilbains’, ‘bedspread’ instead of ‘counterpane’, there is a strong case to be made for simplifying language. To take this point further, language is all about communicating. So if the effort and the time to do so are minimized, it ought to be welcomed in an age when all of us seem to be gasping for time to breathe.
This does not mean bad grammar or spelling mistakes should be ignored but if a new generation develops a new lingo that will animate the language, I, for one am all for it.
Let’s take baby steps though. So if you are wondering about slipping in such references as ‘btw’ into your next PPT, a word of caution: I would still use the short lingo only in text messages or informal emails. I would use the language in the hitherto accepted way in formal communications and publications that we put out.