Did Shakespeare know how to ping? (Editor’s notes)

Technology speeding evolution of language

I will ping you later. Just don’t forget to poke me. If you speak BlackBerry and Facebook, respectively, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you don’t, well, you might be wondering about my sanity. But don’t fret. I’m mostly okay — it’s the language floating around us that’s getting a little bizarre.

In the early Internet days, cute little acronyms popped up. People typed LOL if they thought something was funny. This made sense. Actually “laughing out loud” in your rec room doesn’t translate over a keyboard, so a quick acronym to let folks know you thought something was funny, or you’re kidding, was practical if not a little cute. If it was really funny, you ended up “rolling on the floor laughing” — ROTFL.

HR folks understand this concept. Heck, the profession’s name itself is an acronym. And it thrives on them. EAP, DC, DB, CHRP, CPP, HRPAO, T&D, OD… everybody in the HR department knows exactly what those letters stand for. Take 15 seconds and think about acronyms related to the HR world and you’ll come up with plenty more.

But HR is far from the only profession guilty of acronym abuse. Every organization, in every sector, is flooded with them. You likely have no idea what a PDM, PPM or SMG is — but if you worked at Thomson Carswell, publishers of Canadian HR Reporter, those would roll off the tongue. (For those acronym geeks out there who won’t be able to sleep, I’ll let you off the hook. I’m talking about product development managers, product process managers and strategic market groups.) At some organizations, a full day of orientation could be spent going over the different acronyms and their meanings.

Acronyms aren’t the only things invading and twisting the language. Buzzwords, and their longer kin “buzzphrases,” are seeping into everyday conversations. Before I entered the working world, I thought a parking lot was a place to park cars. Turns out it’s actually a spot to put ideas that aren’t the main focus of a meeting, but deserve discussion later. It can even be a verb — as in, “My idea was parking lotted.”

Bandwidth, I assumed incorrectly, was a way to measure data transfer. Turns out it’s actually how much capacity an individual worker, or a department, has to tackle a project.

The English language has always evolved. But the pace seems to be picking up. We can still understand Shakespeare’s prose five centuries after he wrote it, even if the language sounds a bit colourful and eccentric to our evolved ears.

I’m not sure the same thing will be said about our current language five centuries from now, or even 50 years from now. Have you looked at what teens are texting (and that’s another word — “texting” — that just ain’t right) each other? I haven’t got a clue what they’re saying, and I’m less than two decades removed from high school.

At the current pace, by the time I hit retirement — somewhere around 2038 — I’ll need a cipher to understand what anyone under the age of 60 is talking about. But in the meantime, I’ll keep on pinging and poking all the people I know in an effort to keep up.

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