If you can’t pick out what’s wrong with that headline, the rest of this column is not for you.
I recently read a book loaned to me by my coworker Jon titled “Eats, Shoots & Leaves — The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.” (Note the dash is not in the title of the book; I added it to separate the book’s title from its subtitle).
For anybody who gives even a smidgen of a rip about the English language, it’s a great book.
It offers lessons about grammar, but it also addresses what I view to be an interesting and expanding problem with written language today: It’s quickly devolving as technology evolves.
The main culprit, in my estimation, is the text message.
Instead of writing “I’ll see you at 8 p.m.,” people text [email protected]
Say you saw a very memorable film and wanted to let a friend know how fantastic it was.
Here is, apparently, how you’d do that via text message: 2G2B4G. No, that mess of numbers and letters is not the name of some lesser-known robot in Star Wars; it stands for “too good to be forgotten.”
Here’s how you’d express a fit of gut-busting laughter: LOL, short for “lots of laughs” or “laughing out loud.” Over time, that acronym has evolved to mean “I really don’t care what you’re texting me about, so I’ll just reply with this generic response.”
Text messaging and other forms of electronic communication have made people so lazy about punctuation.
On the text message screen on my iPhone, there’s not a single punctuation key on the main page. I have to click on the “123” button, which brings me to a screen with numbers and punctuation marks.
Some people likely don’t even know this screen exists. Or — and this is scary — they don’t care about this screen or punctuation in general.
They figure they can get their point across in as few characters as possible, so why spend all that extra effort trying to figure out where the commas, semicolons and apostrophes go.
The problem with that type of thinking is that you’re losing so much syntax; the messages get muddled.
Here’s a classic example: Time to eat children.
Grammatically, there’s nothing wrong with that sentence. If you want to eat children, that sentence reflects your desire.
But you were sending a text to your kids to tell them there’s a steaming brick of meatloaf on the table ready to be devoured, you’d probably want to implement the use of a comma and write “Time to eat, children.”
It’s a small change, but an important one. Without that little comma, word might spread around town that you’re a cannibal.
You’d have to tell the police they’ve got it all wrong when you’re hauled away in a SWAT van, restrained by a straightjacket and one of those facemasks that has the little bars across the teeth to prevent the insane from biting people, a la “Silence of the Lambs.”
That might be quite the uncomfortable situation to be in, but there is a positive to being physically restrained: it prevents a person from making grammatical errors in texts.