Text_4 She sat, eyes glazed, clutching her cell phone like it was a bar of gold, little thumbs "click-clack-clicking" away.  I asked her again some question about old, dead white guys, maybe the Bolsheviks.  I might as well have been in another room.  Her eyes never wavered from the tiny screen.

She was one of my students, and she was a text message zombie.

I’m turning 35 in a few short months, still young by many people’s standards.  I should be hip to the whole text message thing.  But whenever I think about this new form of communication, I start morphing into OLD MAN MACLEAN. 

Old Man MacLean gets riled up when someone’s car cuts off his driveway.  Old Man MacLean wants to call the cops on the shrieking college bimbos, keeping him up with their party.  Old Man MacLean hates the rudeness that cell phones have created.

And Old Man MacLean is scared of the impact of text messaging on reading and writing skills.

Apparently, I’m not alone.  According to a report from an Irish Examination Text_3_2 Commission, "Text messaging, with its use of phonetic spelling and little or no punctuation, seems to pose a threat to traditional conventions in writing."  The report goes on to site a frequency in punctuation and grammar errors among 15-year olds who participated in the study.  The same teens were also "unduly reliant on short sentences, simple tenses and a limited vocabulary" (Reuters 2007).

I’m no Luddite, throwing my body into the cogs of technology.  I realize new mediums often add to the existing language rather than destroying it.   In fact, without the personal computer, I wonder if I would’ve ever become a writer (and oh what a loss that would’ve been for the dozens of you that have read my work).  But time and time again, I’ve looked at my students’ schoolwork and found the letter "U" standing in for "YOU."  One student even drew an arrow pointing upwards instead of writing the word "Up" (It’s a friggin’ "U" and a "P."  Come on, how hard is that?).

Now, I’ve got some wonderful students.  They’re bright, intuitive, and (hopefully after our school is done with them) well read.  But I’m still worried.

Text_2_2 It takes effort to enjoy a book.  The better the book, the more that effort pays off.  Will a generation too busy to write the word "you" take time to read a novel just for fun?  Will well-crafted, descriptive language be replaced by long matrix strings of BFF’s, P911’s, and F2T’s?

Or am I just being OMM–Old Man MacLean?

So what do you think Murder fans?  Anyone out there share my concerns?  What impact will texting have on language and literature?   

16 thoughts on “TEXT MESS

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    It’s been many a year since I graded a paper, but I still shudder to think what abominations are springing from the texting revolution. I feel for you, OMM.

    On the other hand, the Internet is very text-based, and I mean, complete text-based. So while you have maybe a frightening number of kids abbreviating every other word on phones, there’s also a huge rise in journaling online.

    Maybe what’s happening, and this is kind of scary, is that a more literate elite is rising from the Internet while the writing skills of the masses are degrading.

  2. billie

    I am not a text message fan. I had a bunch of text messages charged to my cell phone bill recently and when I called in to get them removed, was told no initially b/c “if they are coming in to your phone you had to have allowed them.”

    At some point the poor woman with whom I was arguing said I must have called “some of those numbers you see on TV and accidentally gave permission to receive the text messages.”

    It was when I told her we don’t HAVE TV that she stopped, dead silent, and then agreed to remove the charges.

    Until that moment I don’t think she believed I had never sent or read a text message!

    The abbreviated spellings would drive me batty.

  3. B.E. Sanderson

    You’re being OMM, and thanks. Long ago, I used to frequent chat rooms, and the whole texting thing began back there. Heck it began with the true chatter-geeks working on the pre-internet (aka Bitnet). It got worse every year from 1989 to 2001 when I stopped chatting. It’s sad that your students (and probably thousands of other teachers’ students) are slipping to the point of putting texting abbreviations into their assignments, but whether it’s the fault of texting or something larger, I haven’t figured out yet.

  4. Mike MacLean


    Good point about the online journaling. And yes, the idea of a literary elite is scary. I wonder what’s next down the technology pipe. Could something more detrimental to traditional language replace text messaging?


    NO TV!!! I feel less like a Luddite now.

    By the way, how do you accidentally dial a phone number and give permission to receive texts?


    You mentioned the Bitnet geeks. It’s ironic. I bet very intelligent people created the more inventive abbreviations in the text language. Look what they wrought.

  5. B.G. Ritts

    The point about chat rooms has already been made. But we have long had abbreviations and acronyms too. BFF is ‘Best Friend(s) Forever’ and BFH is ‘Big eFfing Hammer’ – the two aren’t very far apart to look at them. (When I grew up, ISALY’S meant ‘I Shall Always Love You, Sweetheart’ – Isaly’s was a dairy/deli chain back home.) Language changes: reading Beowulf, Shakespeare, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address shows us how organic it is.

    Normal ‘kidspeak’ from the Fifties or Sixties isn’t considered ‘cool’ today. I see this discussion, to a certain extent, to be “when I was your age.” What we have now, though, is instant communication with anyone anywhere – which probably means language will change even more rapidly. The worldwide ability to communicate will also give us, over time, a natural ‘Esperanto’ language that anyone anywhere may use.

    Of course, none of this makes language instruction easy for our educators.

  6. Kathleen

    OH my GOD YES! I’m 27 and allegedly on the leading edge of the texting generation and I HATE IT. Apart from the unutterable rudeness associated with cell phones and general (I won’t go there for pages and pages in comments), the whole idea of text messaging offends me. I am opposed to leaving out letters in words. I’m opposed to changing the spelling because it’s more phonetic and somehow easier (can someone explain to me why kewl is better than cool?). I learned in a long ago speech class that 95% of communication is non-verbal. Given our society’s reliance on non-verbal communication in email, blogs, etc., what exactly does texting leave us with? .5% because they take away letters, context, adjectives, and proper verbs? God help us all–we will turn into Idiocracy.

  7. Louise Ure

    Dear Curmudgeon,

    I’m so glad to know that there’s a 34-year old in this club.

    The reason for my own Old Lady Ure status is the advertising I see on TV. Everytime I tell my husband that some ad is stupid, irrelevant or inane, he reminds me that I’m not the target audience for most of these products.

    Dang. Thirty yers of advertising expertise down the drain.

  8. Fran

    I get BFF, but P911 and F2T? Damn. Now I have to go get my teenage stepson to interpret.

    Old. I knew I was old at over 50, but damn.

    As a former teacher, you have my absolute sympathy. I’d be docking each kid who used “text-speak” on a paper for each usage. Kids would end up with negative grades. But they’d all be able to spell curmudgeon perfectly! And that would be groovy! Even outtasight!

  9. Mike MacLean


    Seriously Dave, have you seen this with your kids?


    You make valid points, and believe it or not, I love that English is organic and evolving. Evolve too quickly, however, and you lose a connection with the past. Yes, the language of Beowulf, Shakespeare, and the Declaration of Independence seem far removed from the language of today. But while we may struggle a bit with the wording of the Declaration, it may seem totally foreign to the next generation.


    Good to know I’m not alone. But if you don’t know why kewl is cooler than cool, then man you just don’t get it.


    Curmudgeon? Really? When I think of a Curmudgeon, I instantly imagine Andy Rooney. Come to think of it, my eyebrows are getting bushier. (Have you seen that dude’s brows? Like a couple of hairy, grey tarantulas poised over his eyes. Scary.)

  10. JT Ellison

    What a great topic, Mike.

    I refuse to text. I refuse to have a camera in my phone. I’m even grumpy with e-books. There’s an inherent laziness to our society. I’m guilty of using email to send thank you notes, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

    And I’m lost in all these abbreviations. I had enough with acronyms when I lived in DC. Which I guess means if it’s good enough for the federal government, it’s okay for our youth. Tcha!

    Grump. Curmudgeon. I think I’ll sit on the porch with my shotgun. “You kids get outta my yard!”

  11. JT Ellison

    oh, and our local investigative journalist did a story this week on kids getting into accidents because they’re texting while driving. Some ridiculous number too, around 68% of all the kids driving in the mid-state area have texted while driving. God help us.

  12. Mike MacLean


    Don’t get me started on the whole driving/cell phone/texting thing. I’ll be out on the porch with you. We should get a lazy hound dog to hang with us.

  13. Dave White

    I have seen this with my students, but usually only in September and once I start getting down on them it doesn’t happen again.

    But then again my comments about their work reads “LOL, U rote ths l8 at nite? Luv it! J/K. Don’t use internet speak!”

    Well… no I don’t comment that way, but I should start.


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