Text, Tweet, & Telegram

03 Nov

I’ve recently been reading a biography of Rees Howells, a Welsh man who was a missionary in Africa as well as the founder of a ministry school in south Wales, active from the early- to mid-1900s.

The book records a few telegrams that Rees exchanged with Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

Reading some of these telegrams sparked a strange aura of familiarity. The style of language, the truncated phrases, the omitted  pronouns and prepositions…they sounded surprisingly like modern-day text messages and Twitter posts.

Granted, Rees never wrote to the Emperor with “LOL” or “PTL”, but his messages from over a hundred years ago could have easily included “@EmperorSelassie” or “From:” at the top and we would hardly know the difference.

There has been much ado about the impact on language of these new mediums of communication, how we are standardizing slang and brevity. I read in BBC news today that one of the top iPhone apps is a program that summarizes news articles, popular because “people are not scrolling through 1000-word articles–they want snack-sized information.”

The trend is economy, summary, omitting the unimportant…saving time, energy, and money. But it’s not a new trend–it was apparently important in the telegraph age as well.

Perhaps the constant factor is this: people want the “meat” of the information. We don’t want to pay for or expend energy on meaningless filler.

It’s too bad that campaigning politicians apparently don’t understand that.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Life


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One response to “Text, Tweet, & Telegram

  1. Vintage Telegram

    November 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    I love the way people really took care over their words in the telegram era – because every letter added to the cost. Perhaps politicians should be invoiced every time they make a long and waffling speech. 🙂


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