Back to Latin


I recently did business with someone on eBay, and in response to a query of mine I received this email reply:

hi peter,
it may b coz u put it thru ova tha w/e it may take 24hrs 2 process from the next working day. i definetely wil let uno wen it comes thru.
thx mel

I’m all for saving a little time when you’re in a hurry, but what’s going on here? When I sent this to a friend of mine who is equally annoyed with the demise of the English language in these times of email and SMS, and he had this to say:

Christ! Is there any genuine saving of time in the typing of this? There’s certainly a sensible diminution of comprehension in the reader!

My brain hurts… just look at this stuff:

‘ova’ hmmm, huge saving of ONE letter there

‘wil’ ditto

‘wen’ I’m seeing a pattern here

There’s not even any consistency, as we find ourselves lurching from “b coz u put it thru ova the w/e” to almost a phrase of complete words: “process from the next working day”. It’s like a beam of sunlight shining through dark and murky clouds.

As for ‘tha’: this person needs to be tied over a barrel and whipped with wet birch branches until they can show evidence of being able to spell. Mind you, with ‘eBay’ spelt that way, it’s no surprise these people are confused.

Bring back compulsory Latin I say.

” … whipped with wet birch branches …” Now that’s English!

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    May 25, 2005 @ 09:22:05

    It’s an interesting devolution of the language though, if you look at it clinically. The abbreviated txt style comes directly from the use of mobile phones, where the abbreviations make sense (for two reasons: it takes less time to enter the letters and costs less to send). It’s a form of data compression; you sacrifice quick comprehension for maximum content. The writer and the the reader must do more work in the encoding/decoding process in order to keep the information content as high as possible in the most minimal number of characters. It’s actually a real art to do it well. In well-constructed conventional writing, the writer encodes as much as possible for minimal decoding by the reader, but the understanding is that there is no cost in terms of time or money for the transmission process or the decoding process.
    The translation of that kind of writing into email or other forms of written communication is nonsensical. It is either habit or fashion for Mel (or conceivably, he/she is just an appalling speller and the snappy txt-speak is a good way of circumventing that…) Nevertheless, we have adopted many conventions in email as time-savers – don’t we all use OTOH, FAQ, LOL, RTFM and so forth. I was playing Scrabble recently and all players (except me) were willing to except FAQ as a word.
    What could I do?

  2. UniversalHead
    May 25, 2005 @ 10:42:48

    Easy. Upset the board, scattering pieces to left and right, and stalk off in a huff.
    I must admit I do use 🙂 and ;), and occasionally BTW, in emails. The first two because I have had so many people misinterpret my sense of humour without the slightly lopsided (and let’s face it, very charming) slight curl of the lip to clarify the comment, and the third because … oh well, it just saves time.
    Still, this bizarre SMS-speak took me twice as long to read (and hopefully, twice as long to write) as it should.

  3. Guy Jeffrey
    May 27, 2005 @ 10:32:39

    Pete that’s Priceless!
    I expect this phenomena is as much to do with the age differential between the writer and the reader. I can see myself turning into my father with my inner pedant coming out in reaction to this sort of brutalisation of English. Whipped with wet birch branches. Great stuff.

  4. UniversalHead
    May 27, 2005 @ 10:51:44

    Yes, it probably does smack of ‘Grumpy Old Men Syndrome’ (GOMS?), but then I have a vague recollection of this kind of this pissing me off even when I was younger. Perhaps then I was already afflicted with GYMS. (Ha!)
    But if we keep simplifying the language into SMS-speak, what will happen to wit and wordplay?
    And what will we do with all that saved time anyway? Surely one of the great misconceptions of these times is that we are surrounded by things that save us time, when in fact we all seem to be busier and more stressed than ever.

  5. sly dog
    May 27, 2005 @ 12:18:56

    As anaglyph rightly points out, text abbreviations make perfect sense in a mobile text message because of the cost element, but elsewhere? Imagine reading an entire novel written in this style – even a page of it would give you a headache.
    I gather a student recently wrote an exam paper like this and was failed, which is probably unfair as, to a reader versed in the style, it’s perfectly comprehensible. Nevertheless, it wasn’t what they were being taught I expect.
    Language is constantly evolving, and a good thing too, but if in future times this is how people end up writing it will be a great shame, because so much of the etymology will be lost that it will be impossible to identify and understand words from their component parts.
    For example, someone asked me the other day how you spelt ‘annihilate’. A fair question, and after spelling it, I added that the reason it’s spelt that way is because it’s based on the Latin word ‘nihil’ meaning ‘nothing’ (from which we also get ‘nihilist’ and I think ‘nil’) so annihilate genuinely means ‘reduce to nothing’, as opposed to ‘decimate’ which means to reduce by one-tenth (from the Roman practice of killing every tenth man to keep mutinous legionaries in line).
    Call me a pedant, but there’s so much MEANING to be found if you look for it. Once you reduce everything to a few keypad strokes, this is all gone.

  6. Annie
    Jun 02, 2005 @ 23:10:01

    I think ‘tha’ for ‘the’ is just a fun hip hop thing. Chill bro!
    I’m with the etymology enthusiast – philology rocks!