Methinks he doth protest too much

Have a look at these lines.

‘An S A now I mean 2 write
2 U sweet K T J ...’

Now guess when they were written.

Go on, guess. Don’t cheat.  

Nope, not even close. They’re from a poem called ‘An Essay to Miss Catherine Jay’. And it was published in 1875. OMG! And this anonymous author wasn’t the only one to experiment with sound/letter substitutes. Queen Victoria and Lewis Carroll did it, too. People have been messing about with language for years.

I thought about this yesterday when I read that Maid in Manhattan* star Ralph Fiennes is grumbling about the English language going to hell in a handcart.

Apparently it’s all because of that new-fangled Twitter thing. We live in ‘a world of truncated sentences [and] soundbites’, he said (ironically, in a soundbite). And, he reckons, the youth of today are too busy tweeting about last night’s X-Factor, or what they had for breakfast, to appreciate Shakespeare.

It reminds me of all that hand-wringing about how kids these days can only write in text-speak (or txtspk). And yet study after study has shown that the more children text, the better their literacy scores are. New technology is giving them more and more opportunities to read and write, so they’re getting better at it.

Isn’t it the same with social networking sites, blogs and chatrooms? It makes writers of all of us. Some are better at it than others. But every day, millions of us are reading and writing and swapping ideas and voicing opinions through these channels.

Even better, to make yourself heard on Twitter you have to be concise, insightful, amusing. People who turn tweeting into an art form have thousands of followers, and for good reason. ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’, after all.

Fiennes disagrees: ‘Our expressiveness and our ease with some words is being diluted so that the sentence with more than one clause is a problem for us, and the word of more than two syllables is a problem for us.’ Ralph Fiennes doesn’t use Twitter. Maybe he should give it a go.

*Yes, I know he’s been in some good films as well.

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