Striving For Excellence In A Land Of Lowercase

IMspeek really bugs me. Why does everyone seem to think that capitalization, punctuation and spelling don’t mean anything anymore? The rules and dots are there to bestow the language with order, reason and color.

Don’t believe me? Here. Let me translate some of an old classic into the modern vernacular of IMers for you, with very sincere apologies to Shakespeare.

alonso87: dude they all fell asleep
alonso87: im tired to
bro_sebastian: go to bed man
4n70n10: yeah man      bro an ill watch 4 u
alonso87: bye
alonso87: zzzzzzz
bro_sebastian: OMG dude thats so weird they all just like conked out
4n70n10: LOL its the climate
bro_sebastian: yah but im not tired
4n70n10: me either
4n70n10: totally weird they just all fell over at once

Ok, enough of that torture. (It’s from The Tempest, Act II, Scene I, by the way.) I think I can count on one finger the number of my friends who actually IM in fluent English. Hang on…I think I’m channeling the ancient spirit of superbob487… (above the whine of a certain William’s coffin, which is rotating at a very high rate of speed right now)…

superbob487: LOL dude its all about like just talking not some english paper

Yeah, it’s just talking, but what is talking about? Communicating, and you are communicating to me right now that you are too lazy to hit the shift key and put a little thought to what you’re saying to me.

Think of it this way. A telephone is one step removed from real life – you can’t see the other person’s body language. IMs are one step removed even from that – you can’t actually hear the other persons voice. (That’s two steps from real life.) This makes it difficult at times to convey meaning – more specifically, the meaning we want – in what we write.

Now, comparing a book (The Tempest – a play, actually, but who cares) to a real-time communication device (like IM) is rather a stretch. Obviously the two have little in common aside from the words and communication bit. That’s the important bit, however. Though a completely different method than books, IMs are still a medium for communication. More importantly, they are a form of interaction – like talking to someone. I don’t know about you, but when I talk I don’t do it in a flat monotone and I use various vocal inflections to convey my meaning.

Read that bit about our buddies on the island again, but try it out loud this time. (If you’re in a library, just make sure you whisper.) If you read it right, it probably sounded flat and incredibly boring. If it sounded normal, you read it wrong. Remember: no periods no commas no pauses no taking a breath!

In writing, punctuation controls the flow of the words. Pauses….. dramatic… or dreamy… pauses….. can be had with merely a half-dozen (or fewer) presses of the period key. Just around the next comma, there awaits great adventure! Excitement! And colons! Remember this, kids: “Lack of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling inhibits comprehension.” We’ll review that later; now on to Capitals and Spelling.

Capitals mark important things, like places, titles, and Stuff that you want to Highlight. Beginnings of sentences. And sure, you ALL know about YELLING, but judicious use of that shift key really adds a lot of depth and class to simple sentences. Especially beginnings of sentences. Just that one capital letter can make writing easier to understand – not capitalizing takes away the visual definition and is harder for your brain to parse.

And spelling – spelling is one of the more nebulous ones. Your brain is really very good at fixing things and making it make sense, but there is no point in making it work harder than need be. Using regular spellings is easier to read and, as an added bonus, gives the appearance of being somewhat intelligent and capable of understanding multi-syllable words.

This isn’t that hard, is it?

Now a brief spiel on acronyms. Acronyms to abbreviate common phrases are sort of like carrying a bunch of cardboard signs around my neck and holding up the one that says “LOL” whenever I hear something really funny. It might be faster than actually laughing, but it requires extra translation on the receiving end. Sure, I can translate it, but whenever I see “IMHO” my brain thinks it “Imho” and then has to go back and say “In my humble opinion”. Communication is about getting your thought to the other guy, right? Anything that needs translation on the other end isn’t communicating clearly.

Now one word on l33t 5p33k: Retarded. I refuse to go any further down that path. See also the last sentence of the previous paragraph.

Now that I have thoroughly lambasted all my friends (except one) and most of the rest of the universe under age 20 (except for probably a couple dozen), let me be the first to say that this whole post is rather…er, anal. You can sometimes leave off capitals without appearing totally dumb, and acronyms really do work if you’re in a big hurry.

My point remains, however: Unless your house is burning down, there’s no really good reason not to spend a couple extra seconds to type complete and properly formatted thoughts. Just remember this, kids: “Lack of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling inhibits comprehension.” (And if your house IS burning down, what the heck are you typing for? Get out and call 911, for the love of Pete.)