A college professor started his class one day by handing back the assignment his students had turned in a couple of weeks prior, now complete with his corrections. After returning the essays to their respective writers, he then made his way to the front board and proceeded to address the entire class.
“I hoped I wouldn’t have to do this…” he said disappointedly, and he turned to the board to write a single word-letter pair on it:
The professor turned back to the class and explained that the correct way to write the word “you” in a paper is Y-O-U, never just the letter U, as he had noticed in some of the essays now sitting on his students’ desks decorated with red ink. He then took the time to write a few more sets of words on the board:
Once again, the professor explained to the class the proper use of the words he had just written. The students nodded along as though they knew all this already, but the red ink lining their essays told a different story. If they really knew how to use these words correctly, why would they write about how “you are appreciation for music”, or how “their is an exponentially growing number of bands today in comparison to the past decades”, as if the verb in that phrase belonged to somebody? His explanation finished, the professor returned to his desk to start the day’s lesson, clearly deeply saddened yet again by the increasing decay of the once beautiful structure of the English language.
I wish I could say I fabricated this entire story. I really do wish it were a product of my own imagination, to make up such a scene as college students tossing incorrect grammar around their essays as haphazardly as a child sprinkling sugar over their breakfast cereal. Unfortunately, I regret to say that this story really happened. Well, the basic event, anyway; I took the creative liberties of a writer who wasn’t actually there to fill in a few blanks. This story was recounted to me by my best friend, who had a (metaphorical) front row seat to the rebuking of his classmates for “butchering the English language”.
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised to hear about the homonym-related spelling mistakes. That’s a common problem that I’ve been seeing since I was in grade school, and though I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me, I can’t be too fanatic about fixing it either, so I won’t even focus on that. We all make mistakes; even I’ve caught a fair share of “your’s” in my writing that should have been “you’re” (I certainly wasn’t trying to state that the “welcome” belonged to the person with whom I was chatting). What did shock me was learning that the students in the above story had been trying to pass off the letter U as a word all by itself… in a college essay. I’ve known for a while that traditional grammar is on a decline, but I had no idea it had gotten this bad, at least not yet…
A Bad Influence?
Let me take this moment to say that I am not a so-called “grammar nazi”. I don’t prowl around message boards and comment threads pointing out the technical mistakes in people’s writing that don’t even detract from the content of their posts. I get that there’s a whole other written language for the Internet, the so-called “textese” consisting of abbreviated words and a bare minimum of capital letters that people are trained to understand through extensive use of chat programs and SMS, and that’s fine. The problem is when this language spills over into the “real world”. Abbreviations like “U”, “plz” and “thx” don’t belong outside of text messages and chat conversations, and they especially don’t belong in college assignments.
Now I beg your pardon while I get this one rant out of my system: U is not a word! Not counting official abbreviations, the only real single-letter words in English are A (article) and I (pronoun). When writing in the second person, the correct spelling is Y-O-U. “You should know that U is the 21st letter of the alphabet, and should be treated as such.” That’s the proper way to write. So please, leave your U’s and plzes and thxes online and in your cell phones where they belong, and make an effort to write correctly everywhere else. The English language thanks you.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, time to end on a lighter note…
Don’t Worry, Your Phone is Still Your Friend
Atrocious effects on formal writing aside, did you know that texting actually has its benefits too? I’m not talking about the obvious convenience of sending a message to friends in a second’s notice, but about the ways texting helps to exercise the mind. I know; I was surprised when I first heard this too. But that can’t be right… can it?
- Brevity = brilliance. Means of communication like SMS often come with a character limit, which means long messages need to be written as concisely as possible while still being comprehensible, and that usually takes some clever thinking.
- Breeding a new generation of writers. Texting gives young people more motivation to write; most teenagers today probably wouldn’t bother writing at all without the stimulation of conversation provided by email and texting.
- A different form of spelling practice. Most surprisingly, the practice of abbreviating common words has actually been shown to improve students’ literacy and spelling!
So clearly, chat speak is not as bad as it’s made out to be by many advocates for the English language today. Who knew?
Why am I mentioning this? Partly as a curiosity, but mostly so any major fans of texting reading this won’t think I’m an ignorant monster for bashing one of their favorite pastimes. I just want to clarify that I’m not attacking texting itself; I’m simply defending the practice of organizing different forms of spelling into their appropriate media. In short, U is an understandable and sometimes acceptable abbreviation, but it is not a word. Write wisely!
Oh, and one last thing: no matter how beneficial texting may be for your mind, never text and drive! Just thought I’d point out what should be common sense…
Thanks for reading! And remember: always treat language with respect. Happy writing!