More than words

Back in 1991 Extreme made clear the importance of using ‘more than words’.

It was a magical, beautiful song, but also unwittingly prescient.

We now operate in a world of visual-verbal communication that is vastly different even to ten years ago. We now write so many texts, IMs, status updates, Tweets and emails that they are now our primary form of communication. Whether we write ‘to you’ or ‘2U’,’I’m happy’ or :-), there is a need to make the written word work harder so that it carries the delicate nuances we use to shape our spoken words.

As a fan of the evolution of the English language, I rather like neologisms such as ‘pwned’ and ‘teh’, but I realise they have to be pointed in the right direction and I’m aware that occasionally putting those words in the communications of someone who is pushing 40 has a kind of self-conscious irony (that might only be in my head). I sometimes add ‘z’ to ‘skill’ for that very reason, and whether I refer to the internet as ‘t’internet’ or the interwebs or whatever the ‘amusing’ nom du jour might be, it’s all gravy (there I go again).

So a word is not just a word. If I say chair there is little meaning beyond that thing we all sit on, but whether or not I sign off an email with ‘cheers’, ‘best’, ‘Bx’ or any one of several other options depends on who I’m talking to, how well I know them, how they sign off their emails and the mood I’m trying to convey. I usually go for ‘cheers’ because it’s noncommittally affable as well as versatile, but there are plenty of people who would think something was wrong with me if I didn’t add a little ‘x’ to the end.

Emoticons also fascinate me. I think they’ve changed from being irredeemably twee to being essential additions to many communications. Because we live in a world so steeped in irony it’s difficult not to have, say, a sarcasm font that allows us to make a joke a little clearer. For me this is where the 😉 (I always use the nose, BTW) comes in. I’m joking, but not 🙂 happy. Actually, I think that’s the only emoticon I use, but I use it daily.

Then we have grammar. I sense a new role for the much-maligned exclamation mark: like the emoticon it started off as a sledgehammer that ought to be used sparingly, but I now find myself adding it my emails to kind of suggest I’m in a good mood about what I’ve written. Consider how ‘thanks’ looks compared to ‘thanks!’. I feels the latter denotes a brighter, cheerier form of gratitude, while the former can seem grumpy or reluctant. Of course, both of these depend on the context, but it’s just another example of how we are (or at least I am) having to adapt written style to more accurately convey meaning or mood.

I think it’s a very interesting time for English: old prejudices must be reexamined and new ways forward explored. There is much trial and error to come, but I think that a written English that can work as hard a the spoken version is both welcome and overdue!!!!!!!!!!

UPDATE: I didn’t know WordPress would turn my emoticons into yellow faces. That was not, and never has been, my intention 🙁