ADVERTISEMENT

With new technologies, communication loses some nuance

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • September 2, 2012 - 3:57 PM

"Heading home, pookie. See you soon!"

And with that message, I had crossed a line. My lifelong commitment to correct grammar -- and with it my relentless pursuit of precise communication -- had been compromised. I knew it would happen, but I thought it would take another year or two. I never thought it would happen so soon.

I had spelled pookie with a lower case p. I had used lower case rather than a capital letter for a proper noun as English grammar requires.

It was a conscious decision. It wasn't unintentional. Everyone makes mistakes, but I had deliberately if fleetingly decided not to bother changing the p to P. I knew it was wrong, but I had done it anyway. I had placed expediency above standards, convenience above pride.

I had begun my message innocently enough. I had tapped the mic icon on my handheld device, and I had dictated those fateful six words to my wife. My device had correctly placed the comma in the first sentence when I said "comma." It had correctly placed the exclamation mark at the end of the second sentence when I said "exclamation mark" even though I had hesitated to use an exclamation mark there as I mulled over the advice of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who said, "Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke," and as I considered Lynn Truss' observation in "Eats, Shoots & Leaves," "There is only one thing more mortifying than having an exclamation mark removed by an editor: an exclamation mark added in."

But I had chosen to use the exclamation mark anyway. My choice was merely a peccadillo, a momentary lapse in good taste, a minor departure from a normally disciplined and restrained style, but the lower case letter ... the lower case letter ... that was something else.

When I made my life-changing decision not to capitalize the p in pookie, I hadn't fully considered the consequences. In that fleeting moment I had thought, Why bother? She'll understand my message despite the error. She might not even notice. It's not worth the time and trouble to make the correction. Even now as I write this paragraph my face burns with shame, and as I reflect on the implications of my choice a chill runs down my spine.

Here's what I predict will happen next -- and soon -- in this order:

•Punctuation will begin to disappear. The first mark to go will be the comma. Rather than writing, "Heading home, pookie," I'll write "Heading home pookie."

•Abbreviated spellings will become common. I'll still spell rough with the ugh, but I'll drop the no-longer pronounced ugh from though and I'll write nite rather than night.

•I'll begin using symbols and single letters in place of words, as in r u ok.

And as these changes occur -- ineluctably and irreversibly -- something I have possessed nearly from birth will be fundamentally altered. The complexity, the nuance, the beauty and the mystery of language will be lost to me.

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.

© 2014 Star Tribune