Texts are great aren’t they? No, not any more according to the latest usage trends. The simple text message, like Facebook, is now something ‘older’ people do. According to those who know more about social media technology than you or me, there is a plethora of new messaging apps available for our phones and the text message is facing redundancy. The early adopters are teenagers; they quickly realise the potential and usefulness of these apps. The biggest attraction is the fact that, after a nominal purchase, communication is free. Text messaging still costs money, and what do teenagers have? No money but plenty of free internet.
It means that we fumble around with Facebook and muddle through a text message, while they Instagram their new runners and Snapchat their... well, whatever it is they Snapchat. (Are these even acceptable verbs?) Communication through photographs is where it’s at nowadays.
In online interaction, kids are often criticised for abandoning punctuation. But language is an evolving phenomenon and we need to accept that a text from a teenager looking for a lift home from training shouldn’t have to read like the BBC news autocue. We can’t even solely blame the younger generation for mangled text-speak and messaging mistakes. I’ve a humdinger of a tale which illustrates the need for a bit of text reviewing before sending.
We were having a couple and their kids over for an afternoon last weekend. People at a similar stage in life will know that this is the main form of social interaction – for anyone in the house. If you’re the visitor, the single-most important issue is who gets to have a glass or two and who’s going to drive. If you’re the host, the debate centres on who’s going to put the kids to bed and who gets to ‘enjoy’ the washing up.
Early in the day, I sent a text to the couple that read: ‘Don’t eat lots here’.
Between gathering up small boys’ underpants off the floor and vacuuming dog hairs from the couch, I didn’t have time to make an actual phone call. We were also trying to ‘rustle up’ a decent enough spread of food. In these situations it’s always important to have at least one homemade ‘dish’ to accompany the obligatory chicken nuggets and chips. You must also rack your brains to remember if, the last time this couple called, you served up your world-famous* potato gratin. God forbid they think you’re a one-dish wonder. (*not actually world-famous)
By now the flaw in my text message may have dawned on you. Sadly I was oblivious to my mistake, as I cleaned the gutters and checked on the lobster lasagne in the oven.
The couple arrived and after greetings were exchanged, and the children had that initial bizarre freak-out weirdness, we all gathered at the kitchen table. As the food was plated and served up, one of the visiting children exclaimed: ‘I’m not hungry Daddy’. Polite to a fault, the man said: ‘Now, now, just eat the food and don’t be ungrateful.’ She looked at him pleadingly and responded: ‘But Daddy, we just went to McDonalds; I’m not hungry!’
There was an awkward moment of silence. ‘That’s grand,’ I said, laughing nervously, ‘maybe she’ll have it later.’ Now it was the turn of the lady (because women are so much more refreshingly honest) to intervene. ‘But Joe you said in your text that we weren’t really going to eat?’
I was standing there, apron-clad, holding a spatula in one hand and a piping hot casserole dish in the other, with the table covered in bowls of fancy crisps (Lidl) and spicy cuts of meat and cheese (Aldi, pre-packed), feeling rather uncomfortable.
‘Did I? No, I don’t think so,’ I floundered.
‘You said not to eat lots here,’ said the man, ‘so we assumed it was one of those half-joke, half-serious things. It’s grand, we understand; we have kids too!’
The penny dropped then. The omission of a simple comma, or full stop even, turned the meaning of the message completely on its head.
‘I actually meant we have lots of food here, so don’t eat beforehand,’ I said, with the panicky laughter that you’d associate with one of Father Ted’s finer moments of confusion. ‘Isn’t that gas?’
Like most decent people, they laughed heartily and tucked in anyway, and we all agreed it was indeed very gas.
What I now realise is that I should have taken a leaf out of the teen handbook of phone usage, and just Instagrammed the table with all the food on it. A picture is worth a thousand words after all, and there’s no risk of fatal grammar.