Thursday, 21 May 2009

Let's talk about text

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about textonyms. I never expected it to be as popular as it turned out, but I've since learned how a little bit of hype can behave like a gyre (4973). It happened so quickly - one day I posted the blog, the next I was being goaded to incede ("advance majestically") (462333) upon the BBC studios to be interviewed for Radio 4's cultural magazine programme Front Row. I felt quite terrified as I versified (837743433) about textonyms, and although it's always easy to judge one's own performance with harshness, hearing myself on the airwaves ultimately brought a sense of happiness (427746377). You can still listen to the end result at the BBC site (I appear about 23 minutes in to the programme, but the whole show is worth a listen!).

Before my five minutes of fame, I had to make sure I had enough ammo to cause a boom (2444). Thankfully, my friends and family were there to provide some tales of predictive text gone wrong. Even my "nun" diligently compiled a list of possible textonyms that she'd encountered during the course of a day's texting, my favourite of which was the bizarre mapping from "cards of hope" to "acres of gore". To aid me on my quest, I also made some improvements to the program I'd written initially to research the phenomenon. This has been packaged into a little "textonym solver" which is available on our website. It's still in no way a complete resource, so I apologize if it seems to be both effective and defective (333328483) at the same time. Be sure to let us know if you find any interesting new examples!

In the world of technology, innovation inevitably leads to obsolescence - just look at how the internet threatens to make paper rarer (72737). Mark Lawson, the presenter of Front Row, agreed that the popularity of smart phones with touch screens and small keyboards would likely relegate "textonyms" and indeed predictive text to the annals of time. Our grandchildren will laugh as we try to explain why we used to have to type words using numbers. The fact that you can now get The Chambers Dictionary on your iPhone is certainly proof that mobiles are getting smarter, but I fear the loss of predictive text may well make them seem less wise. Gone is the relationship advice – knowing that we can be damaged by those we once fancied (3262433). Gone are the lessons for our children about the effects of disobedience – a prank is always closely followed by a spank (77265). We might miss it more than we expect.

David Wark

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