No country for old English

No country for old English

Tiny gizmos fitting snugly into our palms have not just spread their tentacles of communication across the globe, they have also stripped English language to a bare minimum, mocks Rachna Chhabria.

If you come across an ancient lady, sitting in a corner and weeping uncontrollably, try to be kind to her. Once upon a time, you had a relationship with her. Probably, a grudging one. She is good old English, unable to come to terms with the indignities heaped upon her. Just when she was patting herself on her back after the brave battle with two marauders - Hinglish (hybrid of Hindi and English) and Slangish (generous use of slang words) - came another cunning foe. Tired and worn out, she could barely take a few deep breaths, as the cell phones invaded her kingdom, flooding it with its techno-age lingo. 

Tiny gizmos fitting snugly into our palms have not just spread their tentacles of communication across the globe, they have also stripped the words to a bare minimum of alphabets. Social media has emphasised the importance of 140 bytes and less. To fit entire messages into the tiny screens of our slick handsets, we play musical chairs with alphabets, steadily eliminating most of them. Never mind the fact that most people are unable to make head or tail of our correspondence and think that they have, perhaps, come across some alien secret messages. The tsunami of gadgets and gizmos has swept the communication stratosphere, causing a bloodbath from the haughty nose of the Queen’s English. 

Language is now in its street smart, alley-cat persona. Agile. Snappy. Instant messaging has molested the written language. Words are playing striptease by shedding their vowels. This is one floor show no one seems to have problems with. The techno-age lingo has adopted the buzz of bees in its pronunciation, replacing ‘S’ with ‘Z’. Written communication starts with “hey” (a sound more like a catcall than a form of greeting) and ends with “cheers” (a word more suited to the happy hours of the local pub). In a hurry to win the all-thumbs awards, words have been shortened cruelly. 

People suffering from the ‘lazy finger syndrome’ have cut down each word to its shortest abbreviation. The number 2 has knocked both, two and to, off their lofty perch. Cool has a new spelling - kewl. Fine has a snazzy abbreviation: F9 (which sounds like a new radio station). The loving boyfriend has become bf; good-looking girls are called babes (don’t even confuse it with cuddly baby girls) and chicks (not to be confused with a young chicken); boys call each other dude, buddy and bro. Not to be outdone, even girls address each other as dude! Husband has become hubs and wife is now wifey. Okay is okie dokie (which sounds more like a donkey’s mating call).

This lingo has come as a blessing,  for people with weak spellings, the ones who never moved beyond the D grade in spelling tests in school. Their prayers have, finally, been answered. Sometimes, these people, in a burst of creativity, spell the same words in three different ways. Multiple choice spellings! 

Commas and full stops have been long buried. No one is listening to the painful sounds of their muffled screams, as we are all busy swaying to the beats of the trendy exclamation marks and question marks. These two punctuations are a sign that one is in tune with the current lingo. Never mind the fact that it makes you come across as constantly puzzled and surprised.

In the new-age of communication, making faces has found a new acceptance. An entire range of emoticons, from smiling faces, tongue sticking out, sulky faces, grimaces to frowning ones and winks, are littering the communication stratosphere. Every emotion known to mankind finds an emoticon clone. 

A tech-savvy and gizmo-loving young girl tells me that she judges people by the number of smiley faces in their messages. If a person’s message contains no such emoticons, then the person is considered robotic and emotionless. Honestly, I had no idea that smiley faces were a barometer of my emotional wealth. It’s a good thing then that I like to use a few smilies. But what about people whose communication is littered with smiley faces? Are they considered over-emotional and over-enthusiastic?While on the topic, how  can our Hindi movies be left behind?

The song lyrics take their inspiration from the gadgets and gizmos of today. From Anu Malik’s cheesy “What is your mobile number / what is your style number,” to Remo Fernandes’ breezy, “Love on SMS,” and Kareena Kapoor Khan’s once-BBM-status “Pata le missed call se,” the lyrics have literally reached the streets. Wikipedia and google also find a mention in the “Lungi dance” number from the movie Chennai Express. The lyricists sure are keeping pace with the current trends! 

Not just the written language, but verbal communication, too, has undergone a sea change. The good old form of greeting “How are you?” has been rudely kicked out. It has been replaced with “Howz you?”, or worse “Wassup?”. The humble ‘yes’ and ‘no’, have snazzy new avatars: ya/yup and nope. I wouldn’t be surprised if some smart inventor creates symbols to do away with the words for affirmation and negation altogether. Why waste time typing two alphabets when a symbol serves the purpose, right?

Truth be told, many of these new-fangled abbreviations like YOLO and 4YEO sound like the names of deodorants, atleast to me. When I first heard these two abbreviations, I had to google them, only to realise that these were popular short forms for ‘You only live once’ and ‘For your eyes only’. 

English teachers and language experts all over the world may be frothing and fuming, but, people who start their correspondences with ‘Dear Sir’ and end with ‘Regards,’ are making other people ROFL (rolling on floor with laughter).

I wonder what would have been Shakespeare’s reaction to this language of the techno age. Perhaps, he would have frowned, as he wrote “2 b or nt 2 b (To be or not to be),” or, better still, “hll hth no fry lke nglsh scrnd” (hell hath no fury like English scorned). The line would, of course, have to be accompanied by a winky emoticon.

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