Bad grammar, bad spelling: Is language as we know it, changing?

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[tweetmeme] On Saturday night I was having a few drinks in a lovely Soho pub where I noticed this graffiti gold dust on the back of a toilet door. This attention to detail on something so trivial and the irony of the first comment pleased me greatly. But it also got me thinking about an issue I have with language today.

Last week I sent out a tweet stating how I struggle with text speak. You can see the tweet here. Ok so perhaps the sentiment is slightly stronger than ‘struggle with’, but you get the point. When I receive texts, tweets, emails, messages littered with the likes of ‘wiv, u, grt, dat etc’  it’s like scraping nails on a blackboard for me. I similarly struggle when I hear the youth of today (yuf?) talking to each other. Much of the time I have no idea what they’re saying. And yes, this does make me feel old. I accept this is slightly irrational and a purely subjective view, but we all have our idiosyncrasies.

But, is it right to feel like this? I know lots of people share this view, but are we getting it wrong? Us social media people talk about how the landscape is changing. Mobile, online and offline are all converging and, in my opinion, are all part of one big world, as opposed to the online and offline worlds often discussed – but that’s for another post. If the landscape has changed, then to converse easily in 140 characters, short texts, instant messages surely the language needs to change to make it easier? Similarly, as this is one big world, this way of using language will naturally cross over into face to face conversations. Does it necessarily mean bad grammar or bad spelling or are we behind the times?

Do we need to adopt this language to connect with younger people and be part of this new world? Is using the Queens English incompatible with the ways in which we converse today? Or are we in danger of losing good grammar? What do you think?

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  1. Steve Ward says:

    There’s no good excuse for it Gemma – it’s pure laziness in a fast paced world.
    Do we need to adapt to a changing landscape – sure we do, but wholly change? No chance.

    Our era have a responsibility to adapt, but also a responsibility to educate and lead. Text speak is useful in texts, but even in shortened formats such as Twitter, the 140 character limit is a test of our ability to make communications concise and focussed, using `the Queen’s English`.
    Encouraging GenY’s and beyong to text speak in all forms of communication is doing them no good whatsoever – the merest slip into it, in a CV, an application, or a presentation – can have a detremental effect on their career potential.



  2. Steve Ward says:

    P.S. The `Innit` was of course, a joke. The `beyong` however was a spelling mistake in a post about bad grammar.


  3. Gemma Went says:

    Thanks for bringing the recruitment perspective into this Steve. That’s a very valid point and you’re right. If I see any sign of it in a cv or application email, I will automatically add it to the ‘no’ pile. I do fear that we can’t stop it though as adoption amongst the youth seems to be high from what I’ve seen.

  4. Gemma Went says:

    Ah .. I didn’t notice ‘beyong’ .. double wammy.

  5. Language will change and evolve, otherwise we’d all still be calling each other thee and thou, and ‘social media’, tweeting and even graffiti would never have entered our language.

    In the context of 140/160 characters people will use whatever abbreviations suit to get their message across and be understood. If the information’s important or valuable, the sender’s achieved their goal., I believe we have to accept this as ‘collateral damage’ – and it can be fun, inventive and often very clever and being able to understand and accept it is part of modern ‘media literacy’ .

    (For example, have you noticed that there’s a lot less txtspk on the more limited 140 Twitter characters than in text messages in general? Different medium, different culture.)

    In the context of the email, however, where space isn’t limited, it says something about the sender – that the person either can’t be bothered to invest any effort in communicating properly (or is dangling off a phone line, frustrated and trying to type quickly), can’t spell, or only wants to be associated with a particular group who all talk in a specific way and won’t make concessions to talk to the recipient in the way they want to be talked to. (Or were just trying, unsuccessfully, to be funny?)

    It should only rankle if the sender was someone who should know better and be making an effort out of common courtesy. (I have a drawer full of corrected communications from the school that I’ve been angry enough to correct, but never brave enough to send back.)

    Learning the lingo? Don’t do it. You’re you, you speak the way you do and anything else will come across as unnatural at best, patronising or risible at it’s worst. Using different language doesn’t make you part of a group or give you greater access to it.

    I found these posters at a very positive youth sports centre that I happened through – I think it says exactly what kids think of us if we try and join in:

    Through what your email sender has said and the way they’ve said it, you’ve made a judgement about them – and if it’s not the judgement they wanted you to make, they’ve proved a point: made themselves look stupid by trying to be something they’re not.

  6. Gabrielle Laine-Peters says:

    No Gemma not just you, it drives me nuts also!
    Right place, right time springs to mind though. If I’m on a train that has been delayed and I may drop the signal at any moment then “cu there” may make it through rather than “See you there,train delayed” those few seconds in sending can make a difference. On occasion I do use the ‘shorten’ button on TweetDeck but not often. Adapt is the key word, being flexible on/ with different platforms.
    I don’t think this kind of language laziness is is acceptable in a CV, an application, a presentation or even email.
    So I guess all in all I’m with you on this subject and feeling like a grumpy old woman!!

  7. In my work I try very hard to be precise and to use our language in the accepted manner. However, it would seem inevitable that it will evolve, just as it always has done. In time, our written and spoken English may sound as old fashioned and impenetrable as Chaucer’s Old English does now.

  8. Gemma Went says:

    Great response Claire, and yes I do agree. I do wonder how this outlook will change though, as the youth of today that are using this language become the adults that are parents, bosses etc.

    Love that poster!

  9. Gemma Went says:

    Then us grumpy old women should stick together πŸ™‚

  10. Gemma Went says:

    Thanks Glenn, there does seem to be an inevitability about it as the users of this language become adults and adoption of it increases.

  11. Charlie says:

    The spelling of ‘detrimental’ was also a rather ironic slip, but these things happen and I’m sure the Queen won’t mind.

  12. A whole generation of budding Lynne Trusses

  13. Steve Ward says:


    I’ll get my grammatical coat…

  14. Michal says:

    There’s so much that can be said on the subject.

    We all make mistakes all the time. I do. We all shorten stuff. I do. But when I look at some CVs from people applying for writing positions, I despair. Why? It’s the lack of distinction between informal and formal language and that really annoys me.

    While it’s OK to use singular verb with plural nouns in informal conversations, in formal situations I find it unacceptable. “There’s a lot of people here” irritates me as much as “I wish there was less people here”. Both possibly fine during a pub conversation, but unacceptable in, say, a formal letter.

    If I am to judge your ability to write and express your thoughts clearly, I need to be reassured you know the difference between “its” and “it’s”, between “there”, “their” and “they’re”.

    Text-speak probably has something to do with it. But I would blame it on laziness.

    And when you are (trying to become) a wordsmith, that’s simply unforgivable.

  15. Steve Ward says:

    …and grumpy old men. πŸ™‚

  16. Gemma Went says:

    Absolutely. The beauty of the written word is also hugely important. Words that flow together to form a story are a wonderful thing and doing that well is a talent. I do wonder if texting has helped to make people lazy?

  17. Alan Howarth says:

    Hmmm, it makes YOU feel old? I’m old enough to remember getting angry at ‘nite’, I still do. However, as writing is one of the strands in my portfolio career I’ve found that the less people are able to wrt prply th mor wrk cms my wy . . . which is nice!

  18. Peter Kay says:

    Gemma, surely it’s all just a matter of perspective. There are the grammatical rules upon which our language is solidly based and they have there prescribed uses, but so do the variations you mention.

    I wouldn’t suggest that a solicitor or doctor would write a formal letter using text speak but there will be times when they use language specific to their professions that excludes those outside. This is just a product of the sphere in which they exist and has little relevance outside. It helps them to get the message across in the most efficient way to people that understand it.

    As you well know there is enough going on out there for you to connect whatever means you use as there will always be someone trying to connect in the same way.When in Rome do as the Romans do.

    It seems that what is getting your goat is that as methods of communication are cross pollinating we seem to be moving toward the lowest common denominator. Perhaps this is the case but language and communication is constantly evolving.

    Ultimately it is just a means to an end and what the end is determine the means πŸ™‚

  19. Gemma Went says:

    My eyes, my eyes!

  20. Gemma Went says:

    Thanks Peter. And yes, it does seem to be becoming the lowest common denominator. Which makes me wonder what we’ll be left with.

  21. It’s complex, isn’t it? Very subjective too – what some will tolerate others will not.

    Firstly, language change is inevitable – it’s slow and organic. No amount of Lynne Trusses will stop change happening. I hate to see the demise of the apostrophe but I believe that eventually it will go.

    As regards inappropriate use of language, I don’t think it’s down to laziness, although it’s tempting to be judgemental. People who haven’t yet learned to adapt their written style to different situations will get it wrong sometimes. I don’t think it’s helpful to refer to teenagers – there are plenty of 20-somethings who do this, and I’m sure plenty of teenagers who understand not to use txt spk in a CV in the same way that they know not to swear when talking to their grandparents.

    What I really wish is that people would read more, and more widely. If you’ve never read anything that’s well written, you can’t be expected to know how to write.

    PS I think you’ll find the reason there’s little TXT speak on Twitter is down to the demographic of the early adopters (who created the standard)

  22. notfrombolton says:

    Perhaps we will go full circle and end up where we started with grunts, snorts and winks.

    Look even I am doing it in my previous post, there and their always catch me out πŸ˜‰

    Does that make me a bad person or just grammatically challenged?

  23. Gemma Went says:

    Thanks Robin, and yes it is very complex and subjective. I wanted to be careful not to simply refer to teenagers as it does occur in 20 somethings (which is why I’ve used the word youth). Great point about reading widely, this is so so true.

  24. Gemma Went says:

    A bad person.

    Ok, it doesn’t make you either really.

  25. I think its all down to time. I have found myself lapsing into using text typing in emails. Not really proud of it- but it takes less time and as I email from my mobile now – its difficult to swap from text to emailing without changing your spelling. Grant

  26. Gemma Went says:

    This is what I think could be happening overall. Thanks

  27. Steve Ward says:

    Yes it’s not just a teenage trait – my reference was to `Gen Y` – which refers to pretty much the 30 and under age bracket now – however most irritatingly there are many in my age bracket and more who abbreviate unecessarily – for speed, when speed is not essential (i.e. emails, comments, articles)
    Reading would certainly help, although in effect – the `youth` read more today with the internet, than they ever did – however, I guess iot could be said that equally that’s where a deteriorating development of language/grammar trends is happening.

    Maybe the internet; our own daily workplace; is to blame?

  28. Totally agree wiv you Gemma πŸ™‚

    Find myself wanting to send back emails/texts/tweets with amends all over them. Maybe I’m a frustrated teacher.

    I’d say we’re in the minority by using correct punctuation whatever the media. Some may says it’s anal. Just don’t get me started on LOL, OMG, LMFAO, etc.

    We get a lot of job applications from graduates and there’s very few that are well written. The ones that are stand out a mile and instantly grab my attention. Regardless of the role (we are usually looking for good design or programming skills) I think it’s vitally important to be able to write well so that you can communicate your ideas to colleagues or clients.

    Lol (that’s actually my name, oh the irony…)

  29. Gemma Went says:

    Are we in the minority? Dear Lord.

    I’m loving the irony πŸ™‚

  30. Alconcalcia says:

    You only have to look through a few online job ads to see how poor some people’s command of the English language is. I genuinely saw an ad yesterday asking for “an effective telephone manor”. What sort of impression are these recruiters hoping to make with would be candidates looking for a new opening if they can’t write an ad that, God forbid, actually sells the job ? Never mind that bad grammar, poor punctuation and copy littered with typos puts off potential candidates, what does it say about the organisation advertising to the casual browser or maybe even a possible client?

  31. I am also a grumpy old woman on this subject.
    Use of appropriate language and style is one crime while use of incorrect and made-up words such as “refudicate” or their/there is much worse. The first may be a misjudgment while the second is a lack of knowledge which is harder to cure.

  32. Harsh! Maybe someone with a manor to make the calls from was genuinely what they wanted.

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