A WORD, PLEASE:

I fear change. I’m not proud of it, but it’s who I am.

Low-waisted jeans come into fashion and I worry I don’t have the abs to wear them with most tops. Low-waisted jeans go out of fashion and I worry I don’t have the waistline to go back to the midriff-cinching styles. A friend gets a new boyfriend and I worry she won’t have as much time for me. She dumps him and I worry she’ll get too clingy. Married friends announce they’re having kids and I worry whether the local landfill can handle more diapers. St. Patrick’s Day approaches and I worry I’ll unable to resist the lure of a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. St. Patrick’s Day passes and I curse myself for not drinking enough of them.

But, change-o-phobic as I am, I still don’t get why people are so panicked over the linguistic threat posed by text messaging.

Almost every time I do a public talk, someone asks whether I believe text messaging is damaging our nation’s language skills. They worry that “see you later” will be spelled “C U L8R.” Stuff like that.

When asked about this, I usually fudge my answer. “That’s a common concern . . . blah, blah . . . unnatural acceleration of natural evolution of the language . . . blah blah . . . yes, kids are rotten these days . . . blah blah.”

But what I’m really thinking is, “So? Is it really so likely that that ‘see’ could be replaced by ‘C’? If it did, is that really so much worse than what fast-food chains have done to the word ‘through’ or department stores using ‘everyday’ instead of ‘every day’?”

Apparently, however, the situation is worse than I thought. In a recent study by the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of teens reported that they “incorporate some informal styles from their text-based communications into their writing at school.” About 38% said they used text shortcuts such as “LOL” (for “laughing out loud”) in school assignments. About a quarter used emoticons — the typed versions of those smiley faces teachers wrote on their papers in elementary school — in schoolwork.

So, if the doomsayers are right, any day now we’ll be reverting to a system of squawks and grunts. But as we await the inevitable, I might as well pass along a tidbit about punctuation while there are still some people alive who care.

The tidbit came to my attention recently when someone asked me which way the punctuation mark should face in an abbreviated term such as “the ’60s.” Should the little crescent punctuation face the same way as the letter C or the other way?

I had never really thought about it. I just left it up to my word processor, which, I then noticed, opts for a punctuation mark that faces the same way as letter C in front of 60s.

With my brain on autopilot, I had never taken the time to realize the obvious: The question is not which way the punctuation mark should turn. The question is which punctuation mark is it? Omitted letters and numbers are denoted by an apostrophe. But the C-facing punctuation mark isn’t an apostrophe. It’s a single quotation mark. So, while the difference may seem minor or even invisible, it’s actually a question of wrong versus right. The apostrophe is the one that faces the opposite way of a letter C. The one that faces the other way is, when writing “the ’60s,” the wrong punctuation mark altogether.

So now that I see that my grown-up word processing program has been leading me astray for years, I think I’ll be even more inclined to go easy on the kids. The future belongs to them. So if they want to write “see” as C, it’s fine with me, as long as they don’t mess up my order for my Shamrock Shake.


 JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer and author of “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies” and “Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs — Even If You’re Right.” She may be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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