[Originally Broadcast on
Public Radio]

LOL's, BRB's, and Addy's© DrWrite.Com 2005

Have you L-O-L'd lately? Told someone you'd B-R-B? Given out your addy? E-mail and internet chat rooms have given rise to a shorthand that's turned reading and writing into a job worthy of encryption artists and code breakers.

When the chat room and e-mail thing began, we thought it would force an improvement in the written language. Folks would have to write better; otherwise, how would they communicate? Right?


Instead of better writing what has emerged is something out of a blender. Instead of pure English, we have pureed English. In the age of electronic communication where every letter travels at the speed of light we have found ways to compress not just computer files and video, but the very content of our messages. Punctuation marks have turned into horizontal happy faces and capital letters are shouts and acronyms. The whole thing has Dr. Write R-O-T-F-L-M-A-O. And if you don't know what that means, you've missed the boat and there are no more slow ones to China.

So what should we make of it? Should we admit defeat? Give up without a fight? Or should we just roll with the flow? The late comedian and pianist, Victor Borge, offered a unique solution: give sounds to punctuation marks. [Clip from his routine]

A cute idea, but not very practical.

Here's the problem. When we write, we know how we want it to sound. But if we want our reader to hear it the way we meant it, we have to include directions. And that's what punctuation does. It tells the reader how it should sound.

Think of it like driving a car. If there weren't any traffic lights, road signs, or signals, we would all go crashing into each other. Without punctuation, words, phrases and sentences turn our writing into the equivalent of grid lock. On the highway of writing, a period is a Stop Sign, a comma means Yield, an exclamation mark is a horn blowing. [Honk!] Quotation marks mean that someone else is speaking: "Four score and seven years ago…"

It's all about communication; getting your ideas from here to there undamaged and exactly as you intended.

And if that's a problem for you, I'll send you a text message.