The art of communication.
It’s a regular Tower of Babel even if we are speaking the same tongue.
Years ago Lincoln Rotary hosted Ben Erwin, an exchange student from Australia.
Ben related how his first host family picked him up at Sacramento Airport and on the way home stopped by a PayLess Drug Store.
Ben said as they pulled up he was in shock. His parents had warned him about drugs in the United States but he didn’t think it was so bad that there were large stores selling them. In Australia, drug stores were unheard of as they were called pharmacies. Ben for a few minutes until he walked inside thought his host family that included a Rotarian who was a Methodist minister were drug addicts.
A couple of months later Ben was in the Lincoln High gym during a basketball rally. My cousin’s wife Kris Wyatt — who was the activities director — happened to look up toward Ben as the varsity cheerleaders were yelling, “stuff it!”
Kris said it looked as though Ben was having a heart attack. He had a look of shock on his face, his mouth was wide open and he was beet red.
She found out later from an embarrassed 17-year-old Ben that “stuff it” was vulgar slang in Australia. In America it means scoring — a basket.
When Ben was staying with his second host family he made a request of his host mom.
Stunned at what he asked for Diane asked Ben to repeat it. He did. She excused herself and called her husband Richard who happened to be Lincoln’s city administrator at the time.
Diane related Ben’s request to her husband. After mulling it over, he suggested that Diane ask Ben what he wanted it for.
Here’s the ensuing conversation as Richard and Diane shared countless times:
Diane: “Ben, what do you want a rubber for?”
Ben: “I need it for my homework. I made a mistake.”
I spent quite a bit of time with Ben bicycling. Needless to say — especially for anyone who knows me — I was hard at times to understand at times because I have a tendency to talk fast. Compound that with different cultures using the same language but different dialects and words that — primarily thanks to slang — can mean entirely different things. It made for some interesting and perplexing conversations.
Even so it can be easier to understand than text shorthand and chat acronyms.
On Monday I had just parked on Yosemite Avenue near Manteca High to give my granddaughter Katelyn a lift when a text message popped up. There was a number I didn’t recognize and the letters OTW.
I couldn’t figure what OTW meant. So when Katelyn got in the car she said it means “on the way.”
Not realizing Katelyn had changed her number and the text was actually from her, I started racking my brain trying to recall if I had made an appointment with someone and forgot about it. I eliminated people my age or older thinking we’re lucky to know LOL means laugh out loud. Then I tried to zero in on anyone under 35 that it may have been. It wasn’t until a half hour later that Cynthia said it was probably Katelyn letting me know she was out of class and on her way.
But here’s the rub. Going to the modern-day replacement for dictionaries and encyclopedias — the Internet — I found several websites addressing text shorthand that listed OTW as standing for “off the wall” or “otherwise.” Another referred to it as “on the web”, another as “other than white”, and still another that insisted it was “on the weekend.”
One can only imagine how difficult it would be for an American teen to text their counterparts in Australia or Britain while using text shorthand.
Of course, the most dreaded text slang one teen or kid can send another is “pcrs” — parents can read slang.
The creation of new words or slang has always been the forte of the young. That said texting “yer k3wl” isn’t nearly as bizarre as 1920s hipsters saying “you’re the cat’s pajamas.”
The advent of texting has opened the floodgate to instantaneous slang and shorthand thanks to a shortage of “sagn” — spelling and grammar Nazis — on chat.
And if you really want to feel old, read research that shows young people believe it is a sign of adulthood — the equivalent of putting on a shirt and tie —when they send their first email.
One wonders what if they equate someone who types and mails a letter as prehistoric. As for those who pen letters and mail them, they must be one step from going the way of dodo birds.
That said, a lot is being lost in shortcuts for speed when it comes to communicating.
Rest assured someone penning a letter takes the time to convey exactly what they want to say instead of leaving it to the recipient to interpret.
As for slang, there is nothing inherently wrong with it but it isn’t an effective to convey feelings given that a text isn’t a face-to-face exchange.
If you thinking “goyhh” (get off your high horse) Wyatt, ask yourself how many times you’ve gotten angry at the perceived tone of a text or frustrated with those communicating you in text-ese that is about as close to the Queen’s English as Babylon 5 is to earth.
Take heart knowing that 40 years from now the masters of text chat will need to master a second version of English just to communicate with someone under 20.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.