Wednesday 13 January 2010

Lapidary and Telegraphic Texts

I was sending an encouraging text message today. I was going to write "Hope everything goes well." I never abbreviate. I typed hope, then my thumb hovered for a second over the 3def key, but everything is an awfully long word. In texting terms it's positively sequipedalian. Dammit, I thought, and typed all instead.

Texting is odd insofar as the slowness of typing provides not merely an incentive for orthographic economy but also the time in which to ponder it. A haiku (I despise haikus) gives the former but not the latter. Also haikus, unlike texts, are rarely written by people with anything to communicate except their own awfulness.

An inspirational haiku:

If you're too thick for
Iambic pentameters
Then don't write at all.

It is a maxim trite but tremendous that technology breeds style. The oral was replaced by the written which was replaced by the printed which was replaced by the telegraphed, which was replaced by the telephoned, which was replaced by the e-mail and the text.

The oral needed formulas to help the rhapsode's memory. The written produced the acrostic. The printed produced the cliché: a printers' term for a unchanged and reusable bit of type. Etc etc etc.

Once upon a time a frugal use of words was called a "telegraphic style" because a telegram's cost would increase for every word after the first ten. We texters share with them the omission of I, the and a and a ruthless attitude towards redundant phrasal verbs like "phone up". However, ten words for nothing is positively Edenic to the modern texter. Remember that I was just trying to cut down on letters.

For true companionship we must go back to the stonemason. Whilst carefully chiselling out each line of each letter economies of phraseology would be as tempting as siren with a feather bed. I would be preferred to M, and L to Q. A stonemason would have laughed at the my petty pruning of everything to all and pointed out that "prospers" would have been one key-stroke the fewer. And from such carvers, or lapidarii as they were called in Latin, we derive the phrase a lapidary style.

Unfortunately textual, as an adjective, is spoken for. So I don't know that my digital indolence will ever get the epithet that it deserves and requires



  1. Glad to hear that I am not the only one who never abbreviates while writing a text message.

    Love your blog by the way. Keep up the educational and entertaining work.