It probably took you a while to understand the title of this post–“Please Don’t Write Like This.” That is what you subject your friends to when you sacrifice proper English on the altar of lols, imhos, and smiley faces (some of us can’t tell the difference between a smiling and a crying one). That is what internet slang has done to communication.
Internet slang and abbreviations became popular in Nigeria in the early 2000’s when MTN, desperate to recoup its investment in Nigeria telecommunication industry, billed an extra 15 naira for every 161st character a subscriber sent in a text message. It became a good business decision for phone users to substitute “r” for “you”, “dt”for “that,” etc. With its launch in 2006, Twitter’s 140 character per tweet limit further embedded the culture of word economy in the millennials. With time, normalizing misspellings in the name of efficiency led to erosion in the quality of written English. Using XOXO, lol, W8, cul, etc became an indication that one is moving with the times. Sticking to proper English is deemed old-school.
While Internet slang saves time for the writer, they take two times as long for the reader to understand. Internet slang also gives room for misunderstanding. A young man once told a story of how shocked he was when he got a text from his mother that read, “Your Aunty, Jane, died this morning. lol”. What was funny about their beloved Aunty Jane dying? It was only afterwards that his mother explained that she used lol to mean “Lots of Love.”
While Generally I don’t “ryte lk dat”, I remember once sending my then fiance (now husband) a text that had him looking over the internet for the meaning of PCM etc,. Also, on a recent day, I sent a text to a friend and used “anr” in one of the sentences. My friend’s reply came: “what is “anr?”” Anr happens to be an abbreviation lawyers and law students are familiar with. It is often used in citing cases to indicate there is another party to a case besides the named party, e.g., Buhari v. Jonathan & Anr. Because of my background, I took it for granted that everybody knows what my three letter replacement for the seven letter word meant. But to my medical doctor friend, it was all Greek to her. On the converse, I too have been in situations where I have had to tell my much cooler younger brothers to explain abbreviations contained in texts they sent to me. Whatever time a writer meant to save by abbreviating is lost when he has to go back and forth with the recipient explaining what he actually meant.
Besides the risk of being misunderstood, one is taken less seriously when they use internet slang and emoticons in professional settings. Many businesses ban the use of internet slang at work places, and rightly so.
Inappropriate use of slang can also cost one opportunities. Chimamanda Adichie, Nigeria’s foremost author, once said she doesn’t take emails with slang and abbreviations seriously. It would also appear that using abbreviations unnecessarily on dating sites results in one losing out on the best prospects. In this post Glory Edozie writing about her experience on Tinder said she swipes a left whenever she sees “pointless abbreviations i.e, odawise, cuz, ryte or anything similar” on a guy’s profile. People set these rules to ensure an uneducated person doesn’t hide under the guise of internet slang to cover his lack of knowledge.
Here’s the rule of the thumb for using internet slang: only use it on social interactions. Stick to the ones that are commonly known, e.g, lol but not PCM (Please call me). Never use it at the work place especially when interacting with supervisors and clients. Don’t use it when you are asking for favors. Use it in text messages to family and friends only when you need to economize data. This is a simple guideline. These things do matter. Inserting an emoticon in a job application can delete your chance of getting a job.
CUL8R. ( Does it mean “See you later” or “Call you later.” You pick.)