The internet gets blamed for a lot of things these days. Misinformation, the decline and fall of western democracy, the corruption of youth and the revival of Rick Astley’s pop career.
Thanks to instant messaging, the internet is also blamed for the corruption of the English language: “lol”, “rofl”, “omg”, “m8”, “l33t” etc are readily used and understood by a certain breed of technorati, detested by others, and completely bewildering to the rest.
Like its cousin txt-speak, this abbreviated, acronymed and mysterious language is blamed for poor grammar, terrible spelling and functional illiteracy amongst the younger generation.
So it was rather pleasant to see the internet blamed for the complete opposite; the use of proper grammar, sentence construction and abandonment of slang and code words in favour of plainer speech.
Carol Midgley wrote for the Times two months ago that The internet is killing the art of tabloid speak.
Tabloid speak is the art of cramming as much information as possible into the minimum of headline space, relying in the process on words that are understood to bear entire conceptual phrases.
As Carol points out, the words used in these headlines are rarely, if ever, used in normal conversation.
They only exist because sub-editors, constrained by space and font size, cleverly invented them to summarise a complex story often in a single-column headline
The internet of course does not suffer from the physical constraints that print suffers from, allowing sub-editors to use full sentences as headlines, rather than pithy phrases.
Had the internet been as ubiquitous in 1989 as it is now, I wonder if we would have seen headlines such as “Czechoslovakian government resigns; Communist Party relinquishes power in the face of half-million protestors”, rather than, as The Sun put it, “Reds Czech Out”.
Admittedly, I think that a rather elegant headline, but these parsed and pithy headlines increase the risk of inaccuracy, or at the very least annoyance. I know several scientists, my wife included, who really detest being described as “boffins” by the tabloids, and who point out that “dinosaur scientist” uses more letters, more space and is less accurate, than “palaeontologist”
It seems the internet cannot win; it is criticised for reducing the English language to acronym and idiom, and criticised for replacing acronym and idiom with full speech.
Still, it gave us LOL cats, so it can’t be all bad…