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Writing Rote on Game and Player

Writing Rote

Michael Ubaldi  //  August 27, 2009

On slang.


ecause I don't fuss much over cars or clothes or dinner or women, I claim one subject in which I may be downright captious — language.

Two transgressions of modern communication stand out, the first via my occupation and the other avocation: 1) corporate press releases, wherein white-collar executives and plain-spoken celebrities are uniformly and sterilely "pleased" or "excited" about some venture or another all the damned time; and 2) homogenized slang. The former torques the economic wheel, paying our several wages, so I will set it aside. And besides, the latter concerns me as much as it annoys.

Can stock phrases from a particular crowd substitute original or compelling thought?I avoid the parlance of my own hobby, gaming; and its relation, internet use. There is "pwn," "gg," "qq," "teh," "ftw," and that awful, awful cognitive surrender, "fail." A vocabulary derived from mistakes? Or illiteracy? "Please," reduced to the pidgin "plz," continues to devolve, and now brusque World of Warcraft players request in-game goods with "plx." Vocabulary in some circles is very narrow, yet interlocutors think themselves very clever. How does repeating a phrase illustrate that? I would ask how someone advances a conversation with cant, but acknowledge the flourishing political class. Assessing value in sameness mystifies me.

One youth rebellion after another, informal language has been elevated to revolutionary status, affronting reasonable diction and, as it happens, belying history. Yes, it serves a purpose and we all use it. But can it, especially the stock phrases from a particular crowd, substitute original or compelling thought? Searching for information on slang led me to a telling article, published in The New York Times, from an author by the name of Crommett Clark. "A study of slang and of expressions in daily use seldom fails to develop something entertaining," begins Clark, and his style is so familiar that nobody would guess, unless they checked the print date, that Clark so began 107 years ago.

A few of the phrases Crommett Clark deems "misapplied" in 1902 were settled in propriety decades ago: "funny" for "strange," "audience" for "spectator," "anxious" for "desirous." Words "trek" and "hike" Clark calls "recent examples" of foreign loan words. But otherwise Clark reads no differently than a columnist over the age of 50 today. Other surveyed phrases are rustic, and as parochial as they are recognizable even now: "right smart" or "gone goose."

Only a few bits of ephemera become collectibles.The words attracting my attention are those surviving today only in the hands of archivists. "Forty-rod," "old haymaker," "spondulix" and "doesn't amount to Hannah Cook" — who can define them? What are they worth, then? Well, since each meaning was understood by people at a point in history, should these and others we have yet to excavate be exhibited alongside other artifacts from the age?

No, not beyond an interest in obscure miscellanies. Only a few bits of ephemera become collectibles. The lexicon should be allowed its own natural selection — at the same time some tricks with English endure, writers and speakers unrestricted by subculture make novel use out of new words all the time. Contrariwise, peers waste opportunities for wit and flair when they, ironically, submit to social convention.

Withheld from my list of gaming slang are those words aging badly. "Woot" is quaint; the family of "omg" dispossessed; and the practice of adding exclamation points, then the number "1," seems too gauche for parody. Yet four or five years ago all three contributed to monotonous discourse everywhere.

Choices for synonyms baffled Clark but for their "flagrancy and commonness." I would rather return to old work, and find something unvarnished or miraculous, than be unable to distinguish my writing from someone else's. Hairstyles and outfits, maybe, but nostalgia over the trite things we said? Mere fashion could be the end of us.

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