Monday, June 24, 2013

BTW, Harriet, Fan Speak is Dead

My ninth grade English teacher had a poster like this hanging in the back of his room. It always bugged me. AFAIC? DAMHIKT? Nobody actually texts like that.
If I know my message will fit well under 140 characters, I'll use proper capitalization and punctuation. If I'm pressed for time or space, I'll sacrifice those but stick to correct spelling. The only time I use acronyms is in gmail chat. I know my friend's staring at the screen and they shouldn't have to wait forever for my reply. Even then they're simple ones-brb, btw, g2g. Blogger's spellcheck doesn't even underline those last two. They're widely accepted (unlike gmail, apparently).
There will always be idiots on the Internet, and you can't blame those all on youth. Ten year olds often spell better than their parents. They get weekly spelling tests. On paper. With pencils. Somehow they've got it drilled in their heads that spelling is important.
But the truth is, acronym texting could die off. Phones have qwerty keyboards now. It's not as inconvenient to type out a six letter word with three vowels.
Which is why those posters bug me. 
Today I learned that hand fans were used as a means of communication in the Victorian era. Fanning yourself slowly means you're married. Fanning quickly means you're engaged. Touching your fan to your right eye means, "When can I see you?"
I think it's fascinating. I'd buy a lace fan and learn it, but it would probably turn out like the time I taught myself Morse Code. Besides, it's not very subtle. Anybody in the ballroom could glance over and know Miss Harriet is engaged but Mr. Stratton still wants to meet her in secret. I thought, "If only those Victorian girls could text."
That's when I realized texting and fan language have something in common. They're both forms of communication closely tied to technology. Air conditioning killed fan language. Improved phones are making text speak obsolete.
The Victorians were serious about fan speak. They published etiquette books so Miss Harriet could study up on the proper way to flirt with Mr. Stratton. I wonder if any parents moaned about this. "What is this newfangled notion? Now Harriet can plan her scandalous affairs right under our noses. Next thing you know, they'll be giving women the right to vote so they don't have to listen to their fathers and fiances. I'd better get my lacy gloved hands on one of those fan language guides."
I bet people came up with their own specialized signals. Just like our texting posters, those books weren't entirely accurate. Give it another century. The only people who'll pay those posters any mind will be oddballs who think they're quaint and cryptic.
Technology moves fast. Enjoy it while it lasts.


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