Lost (or Perhaps Stranded) in Translation


CalTV Entertainment

Samah Dada

As an 8th grader reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s piece “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” I couldn’t have fathomed that my language would similarly morph into one that is wholly, or at least partly, dependent on non-words.

Through an array of punctuation Foer expresses the nature of his relationships and the pain in his hardships, crafting these symbols together to depict the unspeakable. Maybe he’s the only one who can fully understand it, but we, nevertheless, are left to decipher.

I thought I would never have to encounter this type of writing again, though artistic and beautiful, it can undoubtedly be confusing with its true meaning hidden from all but Foer himself.

But, as I often am, was wrong. I now find myself completely submerged in a world of non-words, suffocated by what can only be described as a half-hearted attempt at communication. Though more decipherable than Foer’s language, what we use today can only indicate the demise of our own.

Facilitator One: Emojis

I have a confession – I am a chronic emoji user. I’ll be the first to admit my heavy emoji use is embarrassing, but as many Emojis Anonymous sessions that I’ve thought about attending, the reality is that I will never be able to stop using them. Why? Because we live in an age where we don’t use our words to express ourselves, but rather beat around the bush and *cue kiss face* *cue laughing* *cue crying*. As much as I hate to say it, I look at a text message and find it incomplete if I fail to supplement it with a fitting emoji.

In Steven Pinker’s book The Sense of Style, he poignantly observes that language “is not a protocol legislated by an authority but rather a wiki that pools the contributions of millions of writers and speakers, who ceaselessly bend the language to their needs.”

I agree with this, but do we really need to use emojis to express our thoughts? The real answer is no, but the modern answer is absolutely. I know you’re expecting me to bemoan this shift in the use of language, or rather this shift to the use of non-language, but I can hardly bring myself to cling to an optimistic view and say that it can be changed. We might just be in too deep. The time when a note or a phone call sufficed for conversation was probably too far back than we can even recall.


Facilitator Two: Snapchat

This, I will happily bemoan. I’m guilty yet again, but one thing I have recently refused to do is have a conversation with someone through Snapchat. Okay fine, you caught me, I’ll give one or two “snaps” back as a response, but I have since decided that if you want to have a full-blown conversation, how about we whip out the good ol’ text? Or better yet, a phone call? Ah yes, you’re right. That last one was a little extreme. What was I thinking?


Facilitator Three: Shorthand

My friends, and kind readers, this might have started it all but I hope that it won’t be the end of it all. It distresses me to say that we’ve come to a point where “LOL”s and “OMG”s have infiltrated our verbal language. Sometimes I catch myself saying it, cringe, then immediately hate myself.

We’re just proving them all right – we are gradually (or maybe not so gradually) morphing into what they all say we are: a lazy generation who cannot spare even the .024 seconds it would take to laugh, opting instead for an “Ell-Oh-Ell” or an “Oh Em Gee!” And let’s not forget the slew of:

“OMW”, “SMH”, “TTYL”, “BRB”, “ILY,” “TTYL” etc..


Foer was definitely onto something. But the difference between him and I, his non-word words and yours, his language and ours, is that he sought to explicitly depict something. It had meaning beyond simply the symbols. Ours has become a way of speaking, a permanent fixture in our textual language and our social lives. A way of catering to a highly distracted generation that prefers a surface text over a genuine conversation.

I foresee a time when it will become simply awkward to communicate in person or to talk on the phone. I don’t know, maybe it already has become that way. Maybe even, we’ll get to a point in time when words won’t be used at all and we’ll rely on expressive emoticons and these vague shorthands (please don’t give me the “omw” or worse, the “smh” because the first looks like you’ve misspelled something and I don’t even understand why the latter exists) to show we care, or to show that we don’t.

I often wonder what the next 5 years is going to look like. I have a feeling that there’s a high probability that we might be sending each other personalized BuzzFeed quizzes to ask where we should go for lunch on Tuesday, or sacrifice words not even for the sake of convenience, but as an adherence to modern conventions.

I have always been morally opposed to the idea of e-books or online readers (sorry Kindle) because I truly believe that words are the one thing worth remaining on physical paper. And if the process of turning digital and succumbing to the Web 2.0 culture means that even those digital words are lost to photos, emoticons, or truncated versions of the real thing, then how is it worth it? It simply perpetuates a lack of true expression and the relentless fall of interpersonal connections that we are experiencing now, and will continue to experience the more we fall prey to these social practices.

I don’t know if we can prevent it, but it might be worth a shot. The next time I want to talk to a friend, I’ll call them or maybe even go a whole day without tapping into that glorious library of happy, laughing, annoyed, or angry little faces. I’ll stop saying “LOL” and find a genuine, real word replacement. Because to all the people who say we are a generation lost in translation, I desperately want to say – I beg to differ.


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