Work of Art - Good English gets a rest

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By Art Trujillo

A few columns ago, as I began systematically pulling out what little hair I have, I wrote about an on-going series of conversations taking place in my living room. We’d celebrated a Chinese gift-exchange and we were settling down to examine our presents.

What’s a Chinese gift exchange? Glad you asked: To us, it’s simply a process in which people draw numbers; the person with the lowest number selects the first wrapped gift, each person drawing according to the numbers. Those with the higher numbers, those who pick last, are allowed to trade their gift for any other gift drawn by a smaller number, and we place a limit on how many times a gift can change hands.

But sometimes we all get more involved in the logic or illogic of the process or the perceived unfairness than in the gifts themselves. And that’s what happened that Christmas, when almost a dozen first cousins, their spouses and children began the discussion.

But first, a disclosure. We’re talking about college-educated relatives here, almost all with a B.A. degree and change. Their years in higher education ought to have taught them the proper phrasing of the language, but when Cousin No. 1, the oldest, my son, converses with Cousin No. 6, my niece, the King’s English makes a rapid exit.

So instead of “I’m pleased with the gift I got,” we get “And I’m like all kinds of happy, because, like I can really use this, ya know.”

Well, that phenomenon seems to happen any time the cousins get together. An observer would surmise that he was listening to a group of adolescents whose favorite words are “like,” “ya know,” “I mean,” “stuff” and “I dunno,” rather than a 30-ish group of people who hold steady jobs.

Though I believe all of the cousins are well able to turn off the teen-speak switch and return to normal English, I have to admit that they’ve at least suffered some corruption in the way they express themselves. The fact that they’re intimately acquainted with all the uses of “like” makes quite a statement.

Where does all this linguistic debauchery come from? At the time, we had the TV on to one of the late-night talk shows, where some rock star was expounding on her philosophy of life. She, and millions of others like her, like have virtually eliminated “said” or “says” from the language. “Said” used to be a perfectly useful word which introduced a bit of quoted material, as in “He said, ‘I received a gift for Christmas.’”

In teen-speak, that statement would probably be rendered as, “He’s like, ‘I like got like a gift like for Christmas.’” See the difference?

People are hearing the pillaging of the Mother Tongue from those in the limelight, celebrities who by virtue of their status get plenty of airtime. ‘Tis a pity so much of their butchery of the language gets picked up and repeated.

• • •

Ya know why so many people die in auto accidents? Texting while driving. Notice how often a person asleep at a traffic light is glancing down at a cell phone, trying to compose a telegraphic sentence while appearing to be doing no such thing.

Almost daily, I’ll give a friendly honk to someone who’s in the midst of pecking out “LOL” for “laughing out loud.” But even sending that brief message is safer than a variation of that, “ROFLMAO,” which means “rolling on the floor, laughing my a-- off.” Rolling on the floor of the car? While driving? In traffic?

Trying to “dig” what these seasoned texters are trying to communicate, I looked up “InternetSlang.com” and found hundreds of renditions of two-to-four-letter combinations that mean something.

Here are some: SMH, YOLO, OOMF, HTTR and GUAP. Any ideas? The first is “shaking my head,” followed by “you only live once.” As for the other meanings, I suggest you ask a texter.

But even if SMH appears to be a compact way of expressing an action, perhaps of bewilderment or amazement, is it ever necessary to convey that idea while texting?
Ask a texter. They’re easy to find.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 234, art@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.