Abbrv. &tc & yrs. trly.
I'm listening to a delightful panel discussion on social media with Stephen Fry, Biz Stone and Reid Hoffman. Lots of interesting tidbits. I particularly like one of Stephen Fry's answers to the question of how we should respond when people say that social media are killing literacy.
The reason I particularly enjoyed this answer was that someone a few months ago on Twitter claimed that I seemed uncultured and imprecise because I use a lot of sms-y abbreviations, particularly in Norwegian. I think this is a great response to that accusation.We respond by saying where is your evidence that it is doing that? On what basis do you possibly make that claim? I repudiate it entirely. It's nonsense. It's like how people used to moan about text abbreviation – I say, well, read the letters of Lord Byron. In the days when the bandwidth of letterwriting was very narrow because paper was expensive and there was no penny post and you had to be a peer of the realm or a member of Parliament to frank a letter, it was incredibly expensive and people used to write "yr" for "your". If they were going to use the word "text", they would have put "txt". They had to cram it all on one paper. Exactly the same reason [as now, e.g. on Twitter]. And yet people who think they are on the side of culture say "oh, look at these ridiculous abbreviations." Well, abbreviations are part of what keeps language alive, and it's pedantry that is the real sign of someone who is not culturally alive, not literally aware.
Language needs to be alive, and that means presenting with the rhetorical virtue of kairos, which translates roughly into "timing" or "moment". Kairos simply means adapting your speech to fit the situation and the listener. You speak differently in conversation than when you are adressing a crowd. You use different words and gestures, different references according to which background you share. The God Kairos in Greek mythology was a minor, fleet-footed God who was shaven in the back of his head, but not in front. If you met him on the road, you should grasp him by the forelock. If he passed, he was gone forever.
But part of what I think of as kairos today is also about being aware of the media of your utterance. You use different ways of speaking on tv than you write on Twitter, obviously. And being aware of the possibilities of abbreviations and the condensation of language necessary there is just part of the literary form that the pedants usually take such delight in. (Fry rightly talks of the internet and Twitter as kinds of literary forms, which I whole-heartedly agree with).
Just for kicks, here's an epigram by a poet called Poseidippos carved on a statue of Kairos. This is my translation from a Norwegian translation I once did from an English translation:
The whole panel on social media is good. Watch it.Who are you?
Time, who conquers all.
Why do you stand on your toes?
I am ever running.
And why are there wings on your feet?
Because I fly like the wind.
And why do you hold a knife in your right hand?
Because I am sharper than the sharpest knife.
And why does your hair hang across your forehead?
For him who meets me to grasp me by the forelock.
And why is the back of your head bald?
Because when I on winged feet have passed, none shall grab me from behind.
Why did the artist create you?
For you, stranger. That I may be your lesson.