From: Rohit Khare (email@example.com)
Date: Mon Mar 27 2000 - 14:29:09 PST
2moro & 2moro & 2moro
ONE of the sad consequences of the death of the telegram was the
disappearance of brevity as a communications skill. Because part of
the cost of sending a telegram was a charge per word, senders grew
ingenious at finding ways to write economically. Journalists, for
example, prefixed words with "un" to mean "not". Thus went a famous
exchange between a foreign editor and a lazy correspondent: "Why
unnews?" "Unnews good news." "Unnews unjob." Victorian generals who
captured Indian towns telegrammed the news in Latin puns:
Wrote Lord Ellen, so proud;
More briefly, Dalhousie
Wrote "Vovi-I've Oudh."
Now, brevity is reviving, in an unexpected quarter: the mobile
telephone. Most operators offer a short messaging system (SMS), which
allows people to send messages tapped out on the telephone keypad.
Because 160 characters take up as much room as a one-second voice
call, such messages are cheap. They also protect the garrulous but
impecunious from accidentally running up huge bills. And they
can-like e-mail-wait until it is convenient for the recipient to read
For all these reasons, SMS has turned out to be wildly popular,
especially with the young. Europeans send each other 1 billion
messages a month. In Finland, where almost every 12-to-18-year-old
has a mobile, Petri Vesikivi, head of business development for
messaging at Nokia Networks, part of the famous Finnish
mobile-telephone maker, says that teenagers are far and away the
largest group of users. The pattern is being repeated around the
world: as soon as more than one in five youngsters has a mobile
telephone, SMS use starts to bound up by 10% a month.
But typing messages on a miniature telephone keypad is hard, even for
nimble little fingers, and even with "predictive input", a sort of
software that allows the telephone to guess what you are writing and
try to finish the word for you. So, in every country, use of SMS
requires ingenious linguistic compression.
Not many countries need ingenuity as much as Japan: kanji characters
each need twice as much capacity as the roman alphabet. Luckily, the
argot of Japanese schoolgirls already compresses words: the bizarre
vocabulary of "kogaru" words ("ko" meaning "little one", and "garu"
being the Japanisation of "girl") involves dropping most of the
middle characters in compounds and then dovetailing the first and
last sounds together to form a whole new word. So in the case of
"Totemo kawaii desune" ("A very pretty [little girl], isn't she?"),
contraction and use of the blunter Chinese pronunciation instead of
the softer Japanese leads to "Cho kawa" ("extreme pre"). Such
elisions have the added advantage, where telephone messages are
concerned, of being incomprehensible to anybody over about 25.
For English-speaking users, the neatest contractions combine letters
and numerals. Indeed, Vodafone, the world's biggest mobile-telephone
company, offers a guide on its Internet site to such brevities as SPK
2 U L8R ("Speak to you later") and BCNU B4 2MORO ("Be seeing you
before tomorrow"). The whole panoply of punctuation doodles that
decorated e-mail in its early days, from :-) to :-( is also being
revived on keypads.
New uses for SMS are blossoming: in Finland, telephone companies make
a tidy business from using the service to send customers tunes to use
as ringing tones. The age of the clientele can be gauged from the
fact that the current top pop sold by Sonera, the country's main
telephone company, is South Park's "Uncle Fucker".
Short messages may not exactly be a new literary art form. One day
soon, it may be swept away as the Internet goes mobile. But, for
those who once assumed the young would never learn to write, it is a
modest reason for hope. And, for those who miss telegramese, it is
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