Teen words, Shakespeare's grammar 

Rosie Right

As we think about changes in technology and what is does to our lifestyles, it's a good idea to look at what the new teen talk may be doing to written language. We may not be able to tell what is going to be the real change in how we communicate, but it is certainly clear that drastic changes are taking place. For example, in a Jan. 26 column in The New York Times, Matthew Purdy reported on the way teens communicate with each other on the Internet. A new language is commonplace in chat groups online. A friendly teen let Purdy observe her "talk" with her friends via America Online Instant Messenger.

Some of the shorthand phrases or chat terms used were:

cya — see you
cul8r — see you later
wsup — what's up

Purdy tells us that "punctuation, capitalization, grammar and spelling are foreign concepts ...."

Of course, teens have always had their special ways of communicating, ways which they often hope older people will have trouble deciphering.

We also know that much of what they invent spreads to the rest of us, but let's hope these online terms don't take root in written language elsewhere.

One of the drawbacks to being a copy editor and word freak is that you often find yourself obsessing over the form sentences take and not always the meaning. Rosie tried to read online the full text of George W. Bush's New York Times interview about John McCain. Instead of thinking about the politics of the statements, she found herself bemused by Bush's frequent use of there's with plural subjects.

He said, "There's some conservatives"; "there's Republican members of the union," and "there's conservative members of the union."

Aha! The grammar had to be wrong.

As usual, there are complications. Webster's Dictionary of English Usage tells us: "When there is a `dummy' or anticipatory subject, the number of the verb is determined by the number of the true subject following: ...."

But, after a discussion of compound subjects, Webster's says:

"Harder to explain, perhaps is a long-standing propensity for there is and there's in every case, even when the following subject is clearly plural and there are no complications to cloud our minds. [Otto] Jesperson finds the same construction in Danish, Russian, and Italian, and dates it back in English to the 15th century."

Shakespeare, himself, says, "Honey and milk and sugar: there is three. ("Love's Labour's Lost")

Rosie supposes that if Shakespeare can say that we must give GWB a little


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