How Much Should We Worry About Today’s “Word Crimes”?

In 1984, the Clapping Cobra was nine years old. While today the CC is often forgetful—misplacing his keys, wallet, pen, etc.—his memory when it comes to his childhood is unassailable. One day, home sick from school, the CC vividly remembers when he first saw “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Eat It” on MTV. First, he was mesmerized. Then he was overcome by a bout of the belly laughs.

This memory was brought roaring back last week when fellow AIGA board member Justin Moore posted Weird Al’s latest video “Word Crimes” to his Facebook wall. To a copywriter, this latest video was comic gold, and also a clever way to show the degradation of traditional grammar rules in a society seized by brevity due to the advent of cell phones, tablets and social media, and the texting, tweeting and posting that comes with them.

We’ll save Weird Al’s always-impeccable timing, as well as his slick marketing campaign of releasing eight videos in eight days for another day (but congrats to him on Mandatory Fun being his first album to hit #1 on the Billboard chart). “Word Crimes” actually raises important questions about modern communications: Where’s the line where the LOLs and L8Rs and ROTLFLMAOs end? How does the use of smartphones and social media (and Autocorrect) affect spelling prowess? Will millennials, and the generation that follows them, even be able to communicate with a language that the Clapping Cobra, when he’s in his rocking chair on the porch in his retirement home, even understands?

While the CC is often accused of being a copywriting curmudgeon, he does not buy into the doomsday predictions. While social media and text streams will always remain the Wild West of grammar and spelling, only the individual can decide where that line is. As an example, an email to a friend or a professional takes entirely different tacts. While the CC has his battle lines—he is known for being a hyphen-tyrant, and feuds with many designers over Oxford comma inclusion (and always loses)—language is malleable, evolving and voguish (dammit). The Clapping Cobra will split an infinitive in a heartbeat if he thinks it gets a point across more effectively.

Moreover, following strict grammar rules shouldn’t be a mandate in marketing and advertising. These young’uns using their 21st century code? They’re a key demographic for many businesses. If you can’t speak their language? Well, there’s your own personal doomsday right there. And with print and TV ads taking on a more digital look to connect with this group, that code’s not going away any time soon. In fact, it will probably get even more hashtag-heavy.

This is not an argument for traditional grammar dissolution. Kiddos should still be diagramming sentences and completing their vocabulary drills in school. But let’s also not jump to crazy conclusions. English teachers have long been decrying the deterioration of our language. They were doing that far before the Information Age started. Today’s word crimes? You don’t necessarily have to LOL about them, but you certainly don’t need to lose any sleep over them, either.

Thumbnail photo credit: Kristine Slipson, via Creative Commons

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