Is Internet English Debasing The Language? Not IMHO

Logo "LOL"WTF? Tell us yr thoughts in the comments. Steven Poole defends the corruption of the Queen’s English for the Guardian:

The internet might be a historic boon for kitten-fanciers and steaming-eared trolls, but it’s not all good news. Online writing, you see, is destroying the purity of English as we know it and threatening to dumb us all down into a herd of screen-jabbing illiterates. Or so runs one regular technophobic complaint, the latest version of which has been offered by Robert McCrum. He is worried about what he describes as “the abuse and impoverishment of English online (notably, in blogs and emails)” and what he perceives as “the overall crassness of English prose in the age of global communications”. The remedy, as so often for such linguo-pessimists, is George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language“, about whose loopy prescriptions I have previously recorded my own reservations.

But is it really true that English is being abused and impoverished in “blogs and emails”? I suppose it depends what kind of blogs one reads – the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog or Crooked Timber seem pretty well-written to me – and what kind of email correspondents one is blessed with (a lot of mine, I’m happy to say, are rather excellent stylists). As for the “overall crassness” of internet prose, there is an increasing amount of very fine essay-writing going on for online-only publications such asAeon magazine and Matter. McCrum laments “the violence the internet does to the English language”, though from my point of view, here in front of my laptop, the internet seems rather faithfully to transmit whatever I type to the eyes of waiting readers without doing violence to it at all. If there’s anything wrong with the result, it’s my fault, not the internet’s.

Of course there’s a lot of bad writing on the web, but there’s a lot of very good writing too. There’s just more writing at all levels of quality. McCrum offers no evidence that the bad is a greater proportion of the whole than it ever was. Arguably, thanks to internetworked electronic communications, people are writing more than ever before in history. This does not by itself seem adequate cause for dejection among the literati…

[continues in the Guardian]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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10 Comments on "Is Internet English Debasing The Language? Not IMHO"

  1. WTF, can’t people understand it saves time?

  2. RagBoneMan | May 28, 2013 at 6:15 pm |

    Before the internet, the majority of people wouldn’t have written anything more complicated than a shopping list once they had left school. Now everybody writes all the time. The English language isn’t deteriorating, you’re just being exposed to more bad grammar and spelling than you otherwise would have. This is only a topic of interest to grumpy old twats looking for excuses to feel superior to the younger generations.

    • Simon Valentine | May 28, 2013 at 7:12 pm |

      bamn whell sed

    • Noah_Nine | May 28, 2013 at 8:13 pm |

      first it was comic books and then it was hip hop and now this…. it’s always something…
      Bill Cosby is one of the most vocal opponents of hip hop, claiming that it is actively destroying the english language… i find this ironic considering some of the nonsensical gibberish that spills out of his mouth sometimes….

    • …and literary majors!

  3. Simon Valentine | May 28, 2013 at 7:11 pm |

    people have access to so much more ‘language relevant’ information now
    it’s really going to melt down, yes
    kinda of like that melting pot shenanigan
    you know
    so it’ll be an American languages?
    ya but srsly don’t stick to one program language is what they teach there
    and then oh no we’re lo0sing engrish zomg
    so bs
    same bs, really, nothing to see, nowhere to worry, Owl Bear

    “people are becoming intrigued and interesting in discovering and using language on their own without the astute guidance of a few over zealous shallow English? march out the ranks! line up the tin soldiers! there will be blood! stop the urban monkey warfare with our … *gushing sound of ask in throat*…”

  4. Noah_Nine | May 28, 2013 at 8:08 pm |

    Who is this alleged “literati” he speaks of? does that mean people who read books?

  5. internet, corrupt language much? Just sayin

  6. BuzzCoastin | May 28, 2013 at 9:29 pm |

    destroying the purity of English as we know it
    school did that a century ago

    Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd?
    No more but that I know the more one sickens, the worse at ease he is, and
    that he that wants money, means, and content is without three good friends;
    that the property of rain is to wet, and fire to burn;
    that good pasture makes fat sheep;
    and that a great cause of the night is lack of the sun;
    that he that hath learned no wit by nature nor art
    may complain of good breeding or comes of a very dull kindred.
    Act 3, Scene 2, As You Like It

  7. BuzzCoastin | May 28, 2013 at 9:32 pm |

    for a detailed scholarly appraisal of the state of the English language
    read Finnegans Wake
    it says it all quite clearly

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