I’m no stickler for rules — at least, not most of them. I’ve always favored whimsy, irreverence, and originality over propriety, decorum, and tradition. I’m the mom who lets my kids run naked in the front yard, sneaks massive snack sacks into movie theaters under my shirt, and is proud to demonstrate my belching skills at the dinner table. As I type this, I’m staring at a recent moving-violation ticket for rolling through a stop sign (I’m sorry, but some rules just beg to be broken).
Why, then, do I find myself stiffly — stubbornly — adhering to fusty old spelling and grammar rules when I’m texting my tech-savvy 8th grader?
I can’t fire off a “Heads up: I’m running a few minutes late,” or bang out a “How did you do on today’s geometry test?” without spelling out every word in its inconvenient entirety, and punctuating each trivial missive impeccably. Regardless of the rush I’m in — or my hair-tearing frustration over the diabolically obscured tilde and discriminatory lack of an em dash on my phone’s treacherously tiny keypad — I’m incapable of embracing the medium’s abbreviated style and typing “c u @home in 10”.
Not to my son.
For one thing, I don’t want to be perceived as trying to co-opt “his” lingo. Every generation needs its own nearly inscrutable vernacular and parents who try to clamber aboard by lauding their kids’ new Vans as “sick kicks” or texting “ikr dont b a h8r g2g ttyl” only embarrass the rest of us. To me, Textese is like one of those damned pashminas that’s supposed to look effortlessly twisted and tossed about the neck and shoulders; I just don’t wear it well.
But the main reason for my reverent texting is plain fear. With the amount of time my kid spends communicating in abridged, thumb-pecked snippets, I’m afraid he might forget what true written English looks like.
As a writing instructor myself — who once had a student type “lol” in an essay for my class — I can’t run the risk that my son might one day offer up “2b r not 2b” on a literary response.
My inner rule-thwarter has to wonder: Why should it matter? Why cling to old-fashioned practices in a modern age? If technology is rapidly evolving for the better, why can’t we let language follow suit, slipping and sliding down the wide and inviting slope of casual convenience?
As a parent, I’m hoping to impart some life lessons to my son by modeling proper English in my texts. I want to squelch laziness and encourage attention to detail. I want to remind him that it’s important to adjust one’s communication style to one’s audience — just as he ought not try to fist-bump grandma or test out fart jokes on his junior-high principal.
If I’m being honest, though, I must admit that my persnickety texting is a passionate if pathetic attempt to push back against society’s increasing carelessness with the written word. On Facebook and Twitter, in emails and ads, no one seems to recall the distinction between there, their, and they’re. Why else would my son’s school have invited parents (I wish I were kidding) to Back to School Nite?
At the very event in question, I stealthily took a Sharpie to some anti-bullying posters in the halls that were sorely missing a semicolon; my child was mortified.
But don’t you see? I don’t have a choice! I may be the last holdout, the only person left unwilling to trade “Don’t be late for dinner” for “dont b L8 4dnr.” If I give up, who’ll teach the next generation how to spell and punctuate? What happens then?
I’ll tell you what: we r scrood
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Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge.