28 September 2014

I Learn Something New


by Louis Willis

In these postmodern times of information overload, I find it almost impossible to discover anything new under the sun because everything is moving so fast in cyberspace that I don’t have time to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. One part of my brain urges me to pause and read information on a webpage. Another part whispers, “Click that link and you just might discover exciting new information about a subject that interests you.” That is how I stopped and read about the new way young people are using the slash (/) in conversation and on the Internet.
The use of the slash dates back to ancient Rome. In the Middle Ages in Europe one / represented a comma, two // represented a dash, which evolved into the equals sign and was eventually simplified as a single dash (— ). In English prose, the slash is usually used as a conjunction. Of course, it is used in other ways too, such as in poems to show a line break. It also has many nonlinguistic uses.
As with many other punctuation marks in this cyberage, the slash is now used somewhat differently. I discovered the new use in the article, “The One Word In Everyone’s Texts/Conversations Right Now” by Sara Boboltz on the Huffington Post website. The slash, she says, is being used in texts, instant messages, emails, and face to face conversations. 
Boboltz links to the article “Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore” in The Chronicle of Higher Education of April 24, 2013, by Anne Curzan, professor of English at the University of Michigan. Professor Curzon requires the students in her history of English course to teach her two new slang words before class every day. In one class, a student mentioned “slash.” The slash is used as a conjunction, and slang doesn’t often create a conjunction. Instead of using the symbol /, the students used the word “slash” in their writings on Facebook, blogs, and Tweets as a conjunction. The students also used “slash” to mean “following up” and to indicate an after thought or topic shift.
It seems only the forward slash is currently used. I wonder how in the future the kids will use the backward slash. Maybe they’re already using it, and I just haven’t stumbled across an example. 
I imagine that at this very moment a graduate student is trying to earn his slash her degree studying the use of language on the Internet, and calling the study “netdialectology.” Maybe he slash she will come up with a name for this new way of speaking and writing that is evolving on the web. 
My candidates are netspeak, webspeak, cyberspeak, or nettalk, webtalk, cybertalk.
What are your thoughts on what we should call the language used on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites?

8 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

I like the history lesson. We used to call a back-slash a ‘virgule’, but I don’t know if that still applies. (Hmm… the dictionary seems to imply any slash.)

I’m not so sure ‘slash’ in spoken language is new. I’ve heard it in seminars and meanings, and I think I’ve probably used it in conversations, similar to wagging one’s first two fingers and saying, “So I told him, quote, back off.”

Louis, you and I touched upon verbal punctuation before.

Perhaps a term could be ‘texttalk’.

Leigh Lundin said...

Louis, while writing an article, I just make a typo that might quality as a name: I keyed 'networds' instead of 'networks'.

Anonymous said...

Interesting history and usage, Louis. It changes 'traditional' usage and formatting in verbal communication so might it flow also into stories?

I recently read several stories by Anthony Doerr where he (or perhaps the editor)chose not to use quotation marks around the dialogue. A bit disturbing at first, but then I relaxed and allowed my brain to absorb and continue on.

I like your new word, Leigh. This might very well be the term ascribed to our meshing of computer/Internet texting and oral linguistics. I'll note this down in case OED or Merriam-Webster inquires of the origin. :-)

Leigh Lundin said...

(chuckling) Thanks, Bradley.

Louis A. Willis said...

Leigh,
I agree with Bradley, "texttalk," which my spell checker tried to make two words, is pitch perfect.

I've been waiting for a chance to use the term "pitch perfect" just to see how it fits since a lot of book reviewers use it.

Dixon Hill said...

I like "textalk" all one word -- which would probably be reduced to "txtlk" these days. Or, maybe "cyberslang," which might be written via use of pseudo initials as "CS". OR, perhaps more cogently: C/S. lol

David Dean said...

I wonder if a hundred years from now English will have become as incomprehensible to me as Old English is now? Of course, I won't actually be here to find out. Interesting piece, Louis. Thanks.

nancy john said...

It was not uncommon to find such people running
schools in their mother tongue. As time went by and the country started
blending, such people had to bring in English for instruction in school

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