How does this affect us as writers? New abbreviations and fragmented sentences are all the rage and fast becoming the present norm. Are we jumping headfirst into the confusion, or are we torchbearers in times of change?
Some years ago, I researched expressions common during the flapper era—the 1920s—for a poem I was writing. Today, a reader would likely have little idea what those terms mean. How many of the following can you define (and these are just a few)?
• Bee’s knees (they don’t buzz)
• Big cheese (not to be confused with a Big Mac)
• Bluenose (not a precursor to frostbite)
• Carry a torch (nothing to do with the Olympics)
• Cat’s pajamas (not necessarily nightwear)
• Cheaters (you’ll be surprised when you see what these are)
• Dogs (neighbors won’t ever complain about their barking)
• Flat tire (won’t slow down your car)
• Giggle water (packs a punch)
• Hooch (sans Turner)
• Lounge lizards (not related to Gila monsters…or maybe they are)
• Pinch (pain of a different kind)
• Sheba (not royalty)
• Sheik (not to be confused with chic - think Valentino)
• Struggle buggy (not where you want your teenager)
• Torpedo (maybe on a ship, but maybe not)
• Whoopee (no, it isn’t a cushion)
These terms and many others from the past, all of which have come and gone, have been preserved so we can chuckle at what seems to us to be their silliness; but even when they abounded in everyday speech, they didn’t impose upon communication the threat of today's changes. Why? They were simply slang, terms created to fit the times. Today, our language is jeopardized at its roots because the changes extend beyond slang into spelling and structure. These are of serious concern.
Assuming that all readers will understand such variations in usage is to assume that all are right on task with the newest innovations in communication. Remember that readers come from all walks of life, different age groups and educational backgrounds, varied experiences, perhaps even different first languages.
Filling our writings with expressions and structures that will be understood by only a few—unless, of course, it’s technical or scientific material intended for a limited readership—may not catapult you into the twenty-first century with the latest and greatest ways to express yourself. In fact, it may have the opposite effect that won't help to market your books. This is not to suggest that appropriate terminology for a given profession in your works—medical, law enforcement, etc.—should not be used. Such expressions are germane to the story. I'm talking mostly about structure here.
Writing and grammar rules exist for a reason—what do you think that reason is? How do you feel about reading material that is hitched to the bandwagon of new trends in word usage and structure? What impact does it have on your reading pleasure when you encounter a lot of terms you don’t understand or sentence structures and punctuation that leave you wondering just what the author means?
Language evolves, no question about that. But it needs to be understandable. Works of the past are a treasure for future generations. Are you willing to be a torchbearer, a light in the dark tunnel of change, a protector of the integrity of our language?
Linda Lane and her team teach writers to write well. Like teaching a man to fish will feed him for a lifetime, teaching a writer to write well will serve him for his entire writing career. Cost effective, time effective, and reader-friendly works come from savvy writers who care about excellence; those are the writers we want to mentor. Visit her at www.denvereditor.com.