Thumbs—they’re good for more than just hitchhiking.
Teens these days do not use their thumbs for hitching rides on the side of the road. They use their thumbs to text rapid-fast messages to their friends on their cellphones. But, because keypads on cellphones are so tiny and typically thumbs are not, and each number key represents multiple letters, the tight maneuvering can lead to quite a few spelling mistakes.
Mistakes that can lead to hilarity—and to neologisms.
That’s right. The rapid-fast world of text-messaging has lead to the coining of new words. Well, new slang words.
For instance, did you know that pwn means own and that noobs means newbies?
But how can a spelling mistake become a word added to our common lexicon? It has to do with staying power. And these days a slang word is more likely than ever before to stick around. That’s because of where the slang is being used—in the cybersphere—it has more chances to reach across age groups, demographics, cultures, and societies. It can permeate. It can get picked up in the main stream and suddenly, what was once a spelling mistake can now be overheard in conversations on the street being held by parents, business professionals and even grandparents.
But do we have to worry about how slang and short forms is affecting teens’ language development? Not if they are able to use whole forms and demonstrate complete and competent language skills in they areas that need to, like in proper speech or on an essay.
This viewpoint on teens and text-messaging is a departure from our opinion of text messaging and language development in children who are in the lower-level grades and who are still are acquiring their language skills. (Read Texting versus Writing)
According to Katherine Barber of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the fact that teens are developing new slang words is a good thing. “If the kids are picking up new words and new meanings then that means that they’re playing with the language,” she says.
Spelling mistakes and the slang words that develop from rapid-fast thumb texting mean that kids are thinking about words, spelling and meaning, and that teens are playing an active role in language development.
Teens thinking about language and new words? They deserve two thumbs up.
Content for this Blog post from an article that originally appeared in the London Free Press Sunday Feb. 18, 2007 called Thumb Typists Reshape Language by Dean Bennett.
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