So. Words. They can be our greatest, and sometimes only means of communication, especially in this day and age of being constantly available via technology. How amazing is it to be able to communicate with someone halfway across the world instantaneously? Very, in my opinion. But, barring the occasional emoticon (which is an altogether different set of musings), the careful stringing together of words can make or break that transatlantic message.
As much of a boon things like email and online chatting and text messaging and Skype-ing and Facebook-ing are, I do wonder about their long-term linguistic impacts. Abbreviations like “omg” are creeping into spoken conversation, and I hear they’re even being allowed in some unofficial Scrabble games. The former is ridiculous, the latter, a travesty. Truly, nothing is sacred…even if I do have to admit that sometimes those “words” would make my Scrabble games infinitely easier.
But I digress.
I frequently find myself distracted in face-to-face communications, be it from imagining the act of typing the sentence I just spoke (a shameful but true confession), or simply from not being allowed the luxury of taking a few seconds to phrase and re-phrase what I want to say before hitting the Enter key or clicking “send.” Perhaps I’m alone in this crippling inability to think quickly, but I fear that the more time I spend having virtual conversations and the less spent engaging in actual verbal contact, the greater the chances that I will become a linguistic hermit. My repartée may be scathing and witty, but please don’t ask me to fabricate a good comeback when I’m sitting across from you. If you’re lucky, I’ll have a response that’s at least germane and slightly more substantial than “That’s pretty cool.” There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no “brb” excuse in a conversation with a friend.
This also leads me to wonder, though, whether verbal paralysis is an entirely new problem. Did 18th-century dandies who courted by letter disappoint when, confronted with their elusive beauty at long last, the best they could muster was, “M’lady, you’re looking well…”? Or were they just as effusive and glib in audible speech as they were in pen (quill?) and paper? I not-so-secretly hope that Beethoven was just really awkward around the opposite sex, and that’s why the Immortal Beloved letters came into being. (Never mind that he was also deaf by the time those were written, so wooing a woman by unintelligible shouting wouldn’t have been, shall we say, ideal.)
All this pontificating aside, I hold very firmly to the belief that there is something irrevocably respectable and artful to the clever turning of a phrase, whether written or spoken out loud. I long for the return of the well-crafted letter. I delight in the sounds of a beautiful language. To quote Tommy Smothers, “Words are my plaything.” For when friends cross in and out of physical proximity, sometimes a few words are the best gift you can give. Hope there’s a gift or two in here for you.