Murder and Matchmaking

Murder and Matchmaking
A novel mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Pride & Prejudice

Friday, March 12, 2010

The insidious evil of the spoken abbreviation

One of my current pet peeves that I’m studiously feeding in the hopes that it will become a large, cuddly addition to my ever-increasing menagerie of gripes, is that of the spoken abbreviation, particularly internet abbreviations. Now I don’t object to the existence of abbreviations. They have a function. If people are communicating online, obviously it is a useful tool to be able to save people the trouble of typing out entire words. As long the abbreviations used are ones that are generally understood and recognised, it’s simply a matter of convenience. Of course this differs vastly from texting in which some people assume it’s fine to randomly omit letters, or even more galling, replace them with digits, in a stream of indecipherable gibberish. It may very well save them time they would otherwise have had to spend typing actual words, but if having their text message understood by its recipient matters so little to the texter that they’re not willing to trouble themselves to be comprehensible, why are they bothering to send the text at all? Obviously, I’m making a large assumption here that the text recipient would be someone like me who struggles to make sense of an incoherent collection of consonants and numbers. This may not be the case. There are hordes of people fully capable of understanding text language, most of them younger than me. The problem is it creates an unnecessary exclusivity to communication. Two people who are supposed to be fluent in the same language shouldn’t have any difficulty in being understood by one another. I don’t like text language because I don’t use it, understand it, or have any inclination to make the effort to learn it. When the cellphone bleats at me, the last thing I want is to be made to feel like a cryptanalyst during World War II, forced to put in another late night at Bletchley Park, deciphering intercepted Nazi messages. Of course, this is an entirely different peeve from the one I wish to address today. Let me summarise by saying that while I find a system of abbreviation that I don’t understand immensely annoying, I do accept that there is a use for abbreviations if they are commonly accepted forms that will be recognised and understood by the intended audience of whatever is being written. However, the crucial point is that the utility of the abbreviation exists only in written communication. I cannot imagine any situation is which it is even remotely beneficial to say an abbreviation. The purpose of time-saving is surely irrelevant in verbal communication. Words, even long polysyllabic ones that people may not feel comfortable spelling, are, for the most part, fairly straightforward to say. To further add weight to my already sizeable peeve, there is the most irritating tendency amongst the sorts of people who say the abbreviated word, to draw out each letter for emphasis so that their droning ‘O…M….G’ takes three times longer for them to say than simply saying ‘Oh my god’ would have done. This is maddeningly illogical. The only conceivably valid purpose of abbreviations is to save time, not use up more of it. However, OMG is not my main complaint. There is one internet abbreviation that seems to have insidiously crept into people’s verbal vocabularies that alarms me far more than any other: LOL LOL. The three most potentially hazardous letters to have ever connived their way into people’s speech, masquerading as an acceptable verb when they are most definitely not. For the fortunate few who are not acquainted with the term ‘LOL’, it means ‘Laugh Out Loud’, the last two words apparently needed for clarity in case there are those among us who prefer to mime their laughter. Now on the internet, LOL has some conceivable function. You can express your mirth and amusement online to people who are not in the room with you and therefore would not be able to perceive that you were laughing, either ‘out loud’ or silently, if you did not tell them. This is fine with me. I take no issue with internet use of LOL or any of its derivations, although I must confess that when people claim ROTFLOL or whatever it is, I tend to feel suspicious. Rolling on the floor with laughter over a photo of a cat with a humorous caption? I doubt that very much. But what I cannot abide, and I would urge others to feel the same, is the use of the term LOL in conversation. If you are in the same location as another person, you can never have any cause to say ‘LOL’. There already exists a perfectly adequate manner to communicate your sense of humour and amusement in this situation - laughing. The notion that people would express their merriment in any form other than laughing abhors me. The idea of living in a world where people could let it be known that they ‘got the joke’ or found something humorous by saying ‘that’s funny’, or worse still, by using a trendy slang abbreviation, is too ghastly to contemplate. It may seem perverse to take the notion of expressing humour quite so seriously, but I do. Aside from the enjoyment that laughter brings into our lives, it also has a tremendously important social function in that the act of laughing is a highly effective social limiter. The fact is that all of us look and sound a bit ridiculous when we laugh. Nobody can look cool or suave when they’re laughing. It’s simply not possible. Some people have particularly annoying or unusual laughs, some may resemble inebriated donkeys having some sort of seizure anytime that they so much as giggle, but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that nobody, not even the coolest or most attractive person, can look good when they’re laughing. I think that’s a large part of why I find it almost impossible not to like someone as soon as I see them laughing. It tells you that whatever other qualities the person may or may not possess, they at least have a sense of humour and are not afraid to show it. Laughing is a declaration to the world that you are a person who values having fun over looking good. Laughter is one of the few social expressions that the cool people haven’t got hold of and shaken out all the fun yet. We must staunchly protect it from the jaws of the appearance-conscious who would actually quite like it if the world adopted a way expressing amusement without looking like an idiot. Can you really stomach the idea of a world with filled fashionably-clad people, smoking cigarettes and sneering the word ‘LOL’ anytime they saw or heard anything funny without so much as cracking a smile? A mirthless dystopia more ghastly than anything Orwell could have imagined might lie ahead of us if we allow the spoken LOL trend to continue. We must rise up against this malicious threat. We must go forth into the world and proudly cackle, guffaw and chortle as loudly as we wish and as frequently as possible. And should you ever feel the urge to utter those three letters L-O-L in conversation, stop to think about the greater good of future humanity, and do the decent thing and laugh. Out loud, preferably.


Matt said...

Last week, in an ordinary NZ classroom:

Teacher (me): Catch-22 is an awesome book. If you enjoyed Mash, you should give it a look.

Student: Mash is that show about surgeons in the war, eh? That's pretty funny.

Teacher: Catch-22 is better. It's one of the few books that' actually made me laugh out loud while reading it.

Student: Did you LOL (pronounced loll) mister?

Teacher: No, I read it about 15 years ago. Lolling hadn't been invented. I just laughed.

Matt said...

I hesitate to confess this, but there are a couple of abbreviations that I do use in conversation:

AWOL. SNAFU. On rare occasions, FUBAR'd.

Debbie Cowens said...

Clearly your time in 'Nam has left an indeliable mark on your abbreviation-based vocab.

Jim Ryan said...

This was a very good article - very thought provoking! I don't use "lol" in verbal communication, myself, because I find it easier to get my meaning across without it - I prefer to describe the way in which someone was laughing instead of saying that they "lolled." However, I must admit that I've never heard anyone use "lol" in PLACE of laughter - only when describing it. To be frank, I don't think we need to worry about laughter going away because it's involuntary. Sure, you can fake laughter - there's a long tradition of schills, claquers and other "studio audience member" types who get paid to laugh. But when the laughter is REAL then there's no conscious decision involved - just the laughter. And I've got to say that living in a society in which we all "decide" to laugh instead of reacting to things naturally is just as frightening a prospect to me as one in which we all say "lol" without betraying any emotion whatsoever.