Imlish, chatspeak, and the Principle of Least Personal Effort.


Back in the olden days, when we parked our cars, we actually had to turn the headlights off ourselves. If we wanted the windows open, we turned a crank. If we wanted to move the seat forward or backward, we pulled a lever or turned a release somewhere, and we shoved with our feet.

Now we leave the headlights on, burning gasoline to recharge the battery, because we’re too lazy to reach out and flip the switch. The car will turn them off, eventually, why should we? We burn gasoline to run the windows up and down and adjust the seat, because doing these things by hand might distract us from texting or shopping online for shoes.

I call it the Principle of Least Personal Effort, and it seems to have taken over a pretty broad swath of our society. Now, it’s destroying our language.

As much justification as there may or may not be for the abbreviated spellings and non-words of imlish and chatspeak, in the realms in which they were created, it is sheer laziness that is driving them out into the daylight of meatspace. It is laziness to put BTW in an email, and it may be career suicide to put it on your resume, and yet I have seen both.

My daughter, who graduated from high school in June of 2008 and as of this date (January, 2009) is a Petty Officer Third Class in the US Navy, worked with the high school’s teen court system for three years. She told me that it was very common to find IDK, LOL, BTW, and other non-words in the papers filled out and filed by the defendants in the cases.

I like to use the analogy of an athlete in training. If you are training to run the 300 meter hurdles, and you do so by hurdling white lines on the track, then the muscle memory you build will allow you to hurdle white lines on the ground and nothing more. If we, as writers, allow our skills to slip, anywhere, any time, then those skills will never be their best.

To find, on a “writer’s community” website (as I have) such things as “i luv 2 rite,,,ben ritnig since i wuz 4,” or “These are some stories I have wrote,” or “I do not know whom left this message 2 me, but . . .” is beyond perplexing. It is literally incomprehensible. I simply do not know what these people are thinking.

Root out imlish and chatspeak, wherever you find them outside of their unnatural habitat, and you will be doing your writing a tremendous favor.

Levi Montgomery 

By the way:
You can repair a leaking air mattress or pool toy with a dab of Gorilla Glue. Do this with the inflatable item at partial pressure, so it will hold its shape. For best results, try to wet the surface before applying the glue, although this can be difficult on some plastics. Put a piece of masking tape over the glue until it sets, to keep the escaping air from punching a hole in the wet glue.

One response to “Imlish, chatspeak, and the Principle of Least Personal Effort.

  1. Brilliant blog posting.