So you think you know about grammar?

Published 8:15 pm Thursday, April 20, 2017

My niece, Leslie, a computer programmer for Dell in Austin, Texas, recently tweeted that, unless I stopped putting periods and two spaces instead of one between sentences in my texting messages, she would have me euthanized.

My response? I told her that, like Donald Trump, she should be wary of using more than 200 of her 500-word vocabulary in tweeting and texting. LOL, a texting term that implies laughter but also empathy. It seems that I’m no longer her favorite uncle, an attributive adjective since it comes before a noun, but, instead, I’m just passé, a predictive adjective since it follows a linking verb. Sad.

Since Leslie’s a LEET, chat room slang for someone who’s “elite” in terms of using all sorts of Internet slang and abbreviated terms, she probably knows thousands of similar expressions but likely can’t spell much at all. Or write long sentences. Or use punctuation. Or do much analysis. Or conduct foreign policy. Her book review for Macbeth likely consisted of “OMG!!!Everyone dies!!!” I’d like to euthanize those who use exclamations like fence posts.   

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Like many LEETS, Leslie’s understanding of the parts of speech and sentence structure rivals that of Kanzi, the talking bonobo ape who had a better vocabulary of 450 words and also appeared on Oprah. If Kanzi didn’t have such fat fingers, he likely would have also texted and tweeted and had umpteen thousand followers. Like Rex Harrison, Leslie believes she’s a Dr. Doolittle, that she can communicate with her barking dogs and can teach lower order animals to text except me. Yet Leslie’s never appeared on Oprah, so, BHH, I don’t believe her. Bless Her Heart is an old folks expression she doesn’t know.

Nonetheless, I don’t think textese or Internet slang has ruined punctuation or a changing English language any more than Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Noah Webster, or Donald Trump. Semicolons, colons, hyphens, dashes, parentheses, the Oxford comma, and, hopefully soon, exclamation points have all but disappeared before texting became pervasive and popular. Really.

Moreover, I painfully recall Ms. Beulah Hamm, my English teacher in Texas who policed proper English, forcing me to parse sentences on a blackboard in front of a slack-jawed, spellbound, and terrified class of equals. As teenagers, we were all idiots. Did you notice the Oxford commas in the first, long sentence? Several of my classmates took to county music for therapy.

At recess, two of my older cousins jumped me because I knew the difference between interrogative and reciprocal pronouns.  When I guessed the distinction between a formulaic subjunctive and a ditransitive verb, I was invited to join the basketball team, not because of my shooting or leaping ability but inasmuch as I could tutor the team on long bus trips. It pays to know good English.   

Truth be told, a formulaic subjunctive, every generation seems to invent its own slang, only this time it conforms to a limited numbers of 140 characters and internet practices. Did you know that you can tweet up to 500 characters in Chinese or Japanese and say a lot more? In German? Not really. The words are too long and you can’t ever find a verb anyway.

Yet does it help to know all this? Remember that quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act I? “Give every man thy ear but few thy tweets.” No? Well, that’s a ditransitive verb that takes an indirect object at the same time, and, at some point, those who engage in internet slang and LEET abbreviations have to tell us why it’s helpful not to know good English. Now, don’t thank me and don’t TMB. YW 

Milton Ready, Tryon, N.C.