I sent a text message the other day and noticed an interesting phenomenon: the phone automatically replaced the word ill (the state of being sick) with I’ll (contraction for ‘I will’). There’s no misspelling in the word ill, yet the phone “corrected” it. Apparently, it assumed that I wanted a different word, and it went ahead and made the change.
Now, I suspect that I’ll is indeed far more commonly used than ill, and I can appreciate that the phone makers are just trying to make texting easy and convenient for us–after all, trying to insert an apostrophe while speeding down the highway at 73 miles per hour is pretty challenging. Why not let the phone do the work for you?
Of course, letting the phone think for you could lead to some creative hidden messaging, masking your true thoughts.
The promise I’ll be there soon!, could have been intended as a curse: ill be there soon!
Or, the threat I’ll never come again!, could have originally been a blessing: ill never come again!
All jesting aside, this phenomenon caused me to reflect: it’s interesting that we’ve replaced a negative word (ill) with a proactive, individualistic one (I’ll). Perhaps it’s an indication of can-do society: let’s not dwell on the distasteful aspects of life, talking of the victimization of sickness, but rather let’s talk about what we’re going to do about it! Could it instead be that we don’t want to dwell on the past or the present and its troubles, but rather turn our eyes ahead to an exciting future full of the promise of accomplishment?
Or maybe it’s representative of the fact that we spend far more time talking about our plans rather than examining our condition.
When I was younger, ill was actually turned into a synonym for cool, radical, or awesome, as in, “Did you see the trick that skateboarder just did? It was so ill!” Rather than avoid an uncomfortable adjective of condition, we just redefined it to make it more palatable.
I read recently that, in the last two decades, negative words like evil had drifted out of our public conversation…until September 11, 2001, when we finally had a flashpoint that brought the notion of evil and suffering back into our corporate awareness. For a while, there was acceptable occasion to use terms that highlighted the uncomfortable state of our lives and world. Evil existed. Illness was present in the minds of others.
I’m not sure that we ever got to the point of acknowledging the disease that exists within our own hearts.
But already, those threads of discussion seem to have ended. Someone may occasionally state that the economy is sick, in need of revival, resuscitation, or resurrection, but on the whole, we tend to focus on what we’re going to do, rather than describing with clarity the dire circumstances in which we live.
Is ill a typo? I imagine most public relations consultants would counsel that it is; you don’t gain votes by talking about how ill things are; you garner attention by declaring loudly what I’ll do about it. Few people will long tolerate doomsday prophets, naysayers, and those who look with pessimistic eye upon our society.
Surely, we have many helpful and delightful things for which to celebrate and be thankful. But we run into danger if we’re never willing to use the unpleasant descriptors to rightly identify our circumstances. Many of our fellow countrymen are still suffering as a result of the attacks of 10 years ago; let’s not skim over the realities of life simply because negative words like ill are such off-putting downers.
So, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll fight my phone’s autocorrection dictionary, and the next time I have to convince it that I-L-L is a word, I’ll make myself I’ll…or is that ill?