Jonathan Swift on TXT MSG

Criticisms of the perceived evils of new media are anything but new. In the 3th-century BC Phaedrus, Plato wrote against writing. In A proposal for correcting, improving and ascertaining the English tongue (1712), Jonathan Swift condemned the practice of abbreviating words by dropping consonants, which he blamed on “illiterate Court-Fops, half-witted-Poets, and University-boys” (28):

This perpetual Disposition to shorten our Words, by retrenching the Vowels, is nothing else but a tendency to lapse into the Barbarity of those Northern Nations from whom we are descended, and whose Languages labour all under the same Defect. (26)

Does Swift’s positioning of the problem between modern civilization and primitive barbarity mean that racial and class prejudices underpin present-day complaints that the Internet is rotting kids’ brains? I’ll leave that proposal a modest one. At any rate, in the age of SMS, Swift must be TOIHG.

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