a colm abowt fonetic ritin vs ilitrusy

Who amongst us can say, hand on their chest, that they haven’t looked at old documents from history and laughed at the way our simple ancestors couldn’t spell properly? We chuckle at their hopeless attempts, guffaw at the way they confuse F’s and S’s and positively dampen our cushions at their tendency to put E’s at the end of random words as if they were French or just retarded. But – oh! – we can laugh no more. In my quest to find another message board to take quotes from and mock them in a ‘they’ll never read it and even if they do they don’t know where I live’ kind of a way I stumbled across a BBC board (no less). It is in the teenage section and confirms that the race is doomed. Not doomed to destruction since these days they breed as soon as they’re old enough to go out on their own and good parents are ones that doesn’t let their thirteen year old son smoke in front of his kids. But doomed to drown in an illiterate tide. Here is just one "conversation" from this message board.

rite itz non uniform day this week at skool so can sum1 tell me which sounds best.... number 1: black blazer with white scarfy fing round ma neck,wiv jeans n cream boots. OR number2: blue jacket wiv jeans wiv creame boots. i cnt decide!lol fanx ppl x

Hmmm, methinks nummber 1..but is dat nt a bit dressy jus 4 skl!? soz im jus a realli casual person

well i no ev1 else has sed nu1 but id choose nu2 sos not being awkward but u asked i no it dnt help me choosen a differ 1 to da others though lol gud luk sure ull look fab wateva u wear make sure u tell us ur final dision

It makes you want to come over all Basil Fawlty to see this witless drivel. The language of text messaging has started a trend which has now escalated into phonetic writing. Should we be concerned about this? There is no reason for it – it is an internet message board so one must assume they are using keyboards to write. It is either absolute ignorance or a linguistic revolution.

Is it a bad thing we must ask ourselves? Just because we happen to write proper words in more or less accurate sentences doesn’t mean that is correct. One must never confuse what the majority do with what should be done. This move to phonetic spelling is at least breeding a nation which is communicating with each other. Personally I spell check most messages I post to boards. On the Mac is it much easier as Office has integrated a spellchecker into the Safari browser while on the PC it is a matter of copying and pasting but the end result is worth it. I have terrible spelling hang-ups owing to the fact that my hideously expensive education seemed to miss out things like reading and writing. It’s true. If I may be permitted to misquote Blackadder slightly, I am quite happy to speak English but have no idea how it works. Today’s young people don’t have these hang-ups. They see no shame in being as illiterate as possible because they feel the message is more important than the delivery. Reading this message board – and it is a struggle at times – I see that the teenagers writing on it are writing about real problems they have. Is the meaning of this message removed just because it is written in code?

hi! i sed ill keep u posted n ... its rly hard 2 stop s/h n its rly hard i tried ovaways cept cuttin n its much easier 2 jus cut n cut its more relivein if ne of u no wot is like...

i need ova ways of doin it! i stopped after 1 day! n den did it agen! n i did set goals like one of you lot sed n i it worked 4 1 day n its soo hard! help! plz!

It is at least a call for help which is more than I ever did.

But is this New English going to live or die? Will young people simply grow out of it as they get older or will they become bilingual? Will they write passable real English in their working lives and continue to communicate phonetically at night?

And more to the point, is phonetic English capable of creative text? It appears to have developed as a way of passing messages but could one convey an idea this way? Could you tell a story in this peculiar way?

Perhaps phonetic English is to proper English what the advent of photography was to art. A photo and a painting are two different ways of presenting what could be the same thing. One is instant and uncluttered, the other is subjective and creative.

Or perhaps it is exactly what it says on the tin – the logical conclusion of a generation which has been brought up by people who are too scared to tell them off. Once upon a time it was the pupils who were afraid of the teachers. I can remember quaking at the idea of Thursday geography with Mr Durnell. I clearly remember being deeply terrified of Mr Cross even though he was little more than a midget. As for Mr Henshall – imagine Geoffrey Palmer possessed by the devil and you have a fairly accurate picture. The point is that I was scared of them. These days a teacher is risking suspension if they dare to criticize little Zac for spelling every single word in his essay (handed in two weeks late and half the length it should be) wrongly. It started with team games being phased out because it was seen as wrong for some children not to win. Now it has become offensive to parents that their little shit be told off for anything. They have such fragile self esteem, these little angels, and any cross word might stunt their growth as young adults.


I don’t want to come over all Daily Mail here but you can blather all you want about not crushing little Zac’s right to express himself any way he wants to but at the end of the day it isn’t a world which gives a rat’s ass about little Zac. Just as all children – be they English, Indian or from an African republic which has had six different names since I last did geography – must learn proper English if they are at school in the UK. Preserving cultural identity is all fine and large but any benefit you are doing to the Indian community (or whoever) is vastly outweighed by the damage done to the child by denying him or her the very education they are at school to get in the first place.

So I’ve tried to look at this gibberish with a positive slant but I’m afraid I can’t. It is inexcusable and if I come across as an old git for saying so then so be it. It boils down to our children being ignorant, having no pride in how they are perceived or they are simply too lazy or have too short an attention span to write properly. There is a happy medium between illiteracy and the kind of spelling and grammar Nazis that make life hell. I’ve got no more right than anyone else to define that medium but I’m fairly sure that the above examples do not fall within any sane person’s definition.



22nd March 2004