Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Nehil novus sub solis

I had to laugh at a recent article about the alleged 20th anniversary of the "text message."  Why? because it points out the trouble we English language speakers make for ourselves by having made English the product of journalistic shorthand babble and public ignorance.  Obviously what the eager to be hip, slightly older than young CNN journalist meant was an electronic message sent by mobile phone and not a written or typed or inscribed on a clay tablet message -- nor even a telegram or radiogram or Telex or teletype or Telefax or any of the relatively (in youth culture terms) ancient ways of  delivering text to a distant recipient. I mean really, we still have messages in text written in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Isn't there some sort of  axiom that would show that messages in text are text messages?  Sure as hell should be, even if it's not what the hipsters are saying this week.

The article includes the traditional chuckle about LOL and OMG, but has already forgotten the  little shorthands of the ASCII message age back in the 1990's:  and all the emoticons used to prevent hostile misunderstandings e-mail brought us. Forgotten by nearly all of us are the hundreds of devices of the telegraph age like QSL? or 73, meaning "did you understand" or "best regards" or even ARL46 -- Happy Birthday. Times change and most everything you think is brand new is older than that. An Egyptian scribe might add a symbol to the word "mut" so you'd know he was talking about a vulture and not your mother -- rather an important distinction.

Yes, technological confusion and ignorance of the history of technology is overwhelming amongst our born in the 1980's  "tech savvy" population, many of whom couldn't reproduce or accurately describe an early 19th century telegraph system,  but  that medieval scribes were "texting" and the Marquis du Sade was "Sexting" sould seem obvious to those not primed to think only in the ephemeral and vague terms of teen jargon:  people who think the world is very new -- people otherwise known as Americans.  

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