Social media forums change etiquette, language

BY GRACE MEREDITH ‘16
Staff Writer

From as early on as I can remember, my family was a veritable charm school. My grandfather would repeat, like a mantra, about elbows on tables, constant grammatical corrections, and which side of the street a gentleman should be walking on (it’s the one closest to the cars, by the way, so the man could absorb the mud splashed from passing carriages).

My grandmother taught me the most delicate way a lady should hold her teacup and cross her legs and how to make proper introductions between two strangers. My mother was so fanatical about table manners that, through my years at summer camp and even, accidentally, at D-hall, I put my paper napkins on my lap (even though that’s considered rude — cloth on laps, never paper).

Grammar and vocabulary were the highest pinnacle of sophistication and still are for a lot of my family. Although I never approve of people judging others if the speaker doesn’t know any better, I can’t help but admit I enjoy talking to people with impeccable grammar and a wide vocabulary. However, I have lately caught myself doing ridiculous things, like shortening words to “cray” and even saying “lol” — with only partial irony.

In a world where traditional notions of chivalry, etiquette, and even grammar are quickly disappearing, what can be blamed? The answer: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

But does it really matter? When Facebook was first emerging, you used to be embarrassed to admit to “stalking” someone or clicking through hundreds of pictures in “Summer” albums. I remember in eighth grade someone was talking about a crush and said, with embarrassment, that she had been clicking through crushes’ pictures and noticed something or other. The group of friends teased her for being creepy. Now, we casually say “looking through profile pictures” or even “stalking” and nobody bats an eye. In fact, it can now be considered the dating etiquette of the 21st century to friend someone you are interested in.

The rules we grew up with on how to communicate with each other have also changed. Judith Martin once said “Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace.” However, there is constant social media reprimands like, “Dude, you liked your own comment?!” or, “You hashtagged a status? Embarrassing!” I have had more than one conversation with people about whether it’s appropriate to like your own picture or status. A huge amount of drama can occur around a relationship status. I asked my friend recently if she was official with her steady hookup.

When she said yes, I automatically asked “Facebook official?” as though that really matters. Has Facebook become so ingrained in our social relationships that an online relationship status can validate how serious someone’s love life is?

The very fact that the word “friend” is now a verb in less than a decade of Facebook’s birth shows how the world is changing. The very fact that my well-educated friends and I are constantly shortening words also shows how questionable these changes can be.

My mother was appalled when she heard me say “obvi” instead of “obviously,” and, when she pointed it out, I was quite embarrassed. But then I thought back to my linguistics class last semester. Yes, these changes may seem frightening to older generations, but these changes are just how language naturally evolves. The language spoken generations ago, and even the language we hear in movies from the ’40s, seems different — crustier, stiffer, even funny at times. And yet their parents were probably worried about those crazy kids and their crazy ways, too. There will always be something to facilitate language change, whether it’s a war, new immigrant populations, or a great societal change. Maybe our Facebook is the 15th century’s printing press.

Anyway, some of these things are comical. Like when I freaked out because a certain someone liked my profile picture or how de-friending someone on Facebook is the ultimate insult. But they do reflect a generation where the traditional “rules” are in a constant flux and “text-speak” is creeping its way into our daily conversation. My advice? Ride the tide, because change is inevitable, no matter in how unconventional a way it might happen.

Questions? Email Grace at gmeredith@fandm.edu.

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