Originally published in the February 2009 Morgan County Business Leader
I’ve noticed a bothersome shift toward lazy writing from the upcoming internet journalists and pop culture print columnists. Such writing embraces “trendy” slang of the sort acquired by young adults who’ve grown up flinging text and chatroom messages at each other. As these kids shift into the professional world, bits of lazy clutter are creeping into the prose of writers whose bylines indicate they received a paycheck for their efforts.
I don’t follow baseball. So a few years ago when Yahoo kept updating me about the latest on Madonna and “A-Rod,” I had to do a web-search to identify “A-Rod” as baseball star Anthony Rodriquez. Apparently none of the gossip columnists felt the need to include the simple courtesy parenthetical at the first mention of “A-Rod” in any of their updates–perhaps a consequence of their rush to get to the juicy tidbits.
More and more articles published from professional sources are allowing chatroom terminology into their prose. For now, it’s mostly gossip columns on the internet, but even sources such as CNN have let this tendency toward the trendy slip into their prose. These articles spout such hipster nonsense such as LOL, BTW, C U L8r, taking note of someone’s “bling”, describing how one company’s “peeps” are talking to another company’s “peeps, ” and that our site’s got the “low-down.”
Such lazy shortcuts are perfectly fine–on a middleschooer’s blog site! Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb. If you would sound foolish using these words in normal conversation, then you shouldn’t use these terms in your writing. When corporations start paying money for what amounts to content graffiti, they’re validating and reinforcing the bad habits of writers who can now point to evidence that what they do is “okay.”
Within the next few years, a local educator once told me, people will no longer be required to capitalize the letter “I” when used as a first-person word–making sentences like “i can’t believe you’re serious.” perfectly acceptable grammar.
Apparently, it’s so common in texting, blogging and chatting to bypass the shift, kids these days just don’t see the need to bother capitalizing the letter in their term papers or articles.
To which I say: So? The standards of craft–whether in writing or in any other field–exist to divide the professional from the amateur. So because the amateur no longer wants to bother to hit the shift key, now the pro is expected to change the acceptable standard to appease them? Do we let the medical students dictate to the surgeons what steps they’d like to skip?
I’m not against changes in writing standards when there’s a clear and legitimate benefit. I broke a twenty-plus year habit–typing two spaces after a period. Losing that extra space allows modern graphic layout programs to function far more efficiently than the old method. That’s a compelling reason to change the established standard.
But there’s no good reason for lazy writing. And as more and more examples are given a pass and make their way into professional cyberspace, amateurs will find more and more examples supporting their particular bad habit, and those who stand up for good writing will continue to lose ground.
Let’s first resolve to clean up our own lazy writing and stand up for the professional standards of writing, to make sure those standards continue for generations to come.