Monthly Archives: October 2015

Alphabet Soup and Social Media

Have you ever thought that the world of social media has plunged us deep into a bowl of alphabet soup and left us to climb out as best we can?AlphabetSoup

I’m referring to acronyms, of course – those “words” that are created by taking the first letter of a longer phrase or title and stringing them together. We all use acronyms in our conversations – think NATO, for example (North American Treaty Organization). Sometimes, they are even so well integrated into our language that we forget that the term we’re using is actually an acronym; scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) is one that comes to mind.

The advent of social media and cellphone technology, however, has taken acronyms to whole new level. Given the character limits imposed by Twitter and the need for speed when texting — or Keyboard_Twitterthe reluctance to type more characters than is absolutely necessary – an entire new collection of acronyms has come into being. These acronyms are rarely spoken, because they are generally unpronounceable (LMAO, anyone?), and besides, they were designed for an online medium that is read, not verbalized.

If you are new to texting or to Twitter, you are suddenly assaulted by a barrage of terms that seems foreign and incomprehensible. When I first came across LOL (laugh out loud), I was puzzled. Lots of love? How did that relate to the sentence I had just read?

It’s all a matter of exposure, however. Everyone can play the game – they just need a teacher to guide them through kindergarten, as it were. These days, I can decipher online acronyms with the best of them. IMHO? In my humble opinion, of course. ICYMI? In case you missed it.

Today, when I come across an online acronym I can’t identify, I just say WTH* (What the heck – known in other circles as WTF) and google the translation. If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of online acronyms, it’s time to GWTP* (Get with the program) before you drown in your soup.

*My own creation

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Oy! Such words!

Periodically, I’m struck by how clearly the English language mirrors Canada today: full of influences from the myriad cultures who have adopted it as their new native tongue.

My most recent epiphany came during preparations for a family celebration, when someone suggested we clear a coffee table of all the tchotchkes – or knickknacks — that decorated its surface. Tchotchke is a Yiddish word, and I was reminded about how many words from this language, once widely spoken by European Jews, are currently part of the English lexicon.

Growing up outside New York City, where there is a large Jewish population, I heard Yiddish words thrown into conversation regularly, but I’ve discovered that it isn’t merely a regional or ethnic peculiarity. Many of these terms have become integrated into the English language over the years.

For instance, how often do you schlep (carry or drag) groceries home from the market? When you attend a work function or a cocktail party, it’s natural to schmooze (chat, talk, network) with your co-workers and other guests. Movies are routinely dismissed as schmaltzy (overly sentimental), and common expressions are often given a bit of attitude by adding the common Yiddish prefix, schm; think of fancy-schmancy, for example.

Through the decades, immigrants have added spice to our cultural traditions, and they have also made English more interesting. Adding and embracing new words to our language is what keeps it alive and vibrant.

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