Text lingo is the bane of the existence of the English language. Throughout the world, people of all ages are using abbreviations instead of full words and emoticons instead of actually letting their writing convey the emotion. Will this trend spell the demise of English as we know it? Nobody knows, but future historians may very well blame the downfall of proper English on our generation. Or they may look at the 1890’s as the start of the fall.
Back in the 1890’s telegraph was still rocking the world. Everybody who could would send telegraphs around the world and they had become an important force in key world events. Author Tom Sandage compares the telegraph to the internet, and even argues that the telegraph was more important an invention than the internet (the idea being that the telegraph shifted the way we communicate with each other, the internet just shifted how often we do it. His book, The Victorian Internet spells this out in more detail.) But with any form of rapid communication comes the need for abbreviations and quick speaking. Feast your eyes on these beautiful messages quoted in an 1890’s magazine from two old timey telegraph operators:
Their morning greeting to a friend in a distant city is usually “g. m.,” and the farewell for the evening, “g. n.,” the letters of course standing for good morning and good night. The salutation may be accompanied by an inquiry by one as to the health of the other, which would be expressed thus: “Hw r u ts mng?” And the answer would be: “I’m pty wl; hw r u?” or “I’m nt flg vy wl; fraid I’ve gt t mlaria.”
Did you get it? How about this criptic communication?
“Wl hrs a fu; Gol hang ts everlastin grind. I wish I ws rich.” And the other man says: “No rest fo t wickd, min pen,” the last two words indicating that he wants the sender to wait a minute while he adjusts and tests his pen. Presently he clicks out “g a,” meaning “go ahead,” and the day’s work has begun.
WHAT? Can anybody understand that?
Thus next time you see a terribly worded and abbreviated message on Facebook, be sure to shake your fist at the dead specters of Victorian era telegraph operators, who had a jump on text lingo by 100 years.