R u talkn 2 me? It’s hard to tell what’s being communicated with the latest abbreviation fad in full flow. That topic’s tackled this week in a Washington Post article by Maura Judkis titled “Abbreves Becoming Ridic? Mos def.” “It’s not the shortening of words for brevity that has become so irksome,” Judkis writes. “It will always be more convenient to say ‘ETA’ rather than ‘estimated time of arrival’ … it’s the shortening of words for cuteness … that has grown so irritating.”
“The latest example,” she continues, “comes from fashion bloggers who have taken the perfectly good word ‘sunglasses’ and shortened it to ‘sunnies.’” Other abbreves striving for cuteness include “cray-cray” for crazy, and “preggers” for pregnant. In fact, those very examples were mentioned in “Johnson,” the Economist.com staff blog on the use and abuse of language. The Johnson writers propose that abbreves are popular because “they’re simply more fun to say than boring old English.” They noted that “many of these fanciful abbreves” end in the “voiced postalveolar fricatives” “zh,” as in “my plezh” instead of “pleasure,” and “dzh” in “ledge” and “tradge” the shorteners of “legend” and “tragic.”
Judkis goes on to condemn “celeb chef Rachel Ray” who “turned the word ‘sandwich’ into the oh-so-twee ‘sammie.’” Now we’re entering the realm of hypocorism, which includes babytalk. Wikipedia tells us that hypocorisms are “generated as reductions of a longer word to a single syllable, by adding –y or –ie to the end, such as movie,” instead of motion picture. It can also be a contraction of a given name, like Tony instead of Anthony, a given name with a diminutive suffix, like Nancy, or reduplication, as with Mimi.
When babytalk begins, however, your innocent hypocorism becomes “tweeish.” “Twee,” meaning “excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental,” was coined in the humor magazine Punch in 1905 and defined as “an infantile pronunciation of the word ‘sweet.’” Dorothy Parker utilized it eighty-four years ago for “New Yorker” readers in her “Constant Reader” column in describing the hypocoristic children’s poetry penned by Winnie-the-Pooh creator A.A. Milne’s. Parker didn’t stop at deploring Milne’s general tweeness. In “The House at Pooh Corner,” Milne had Pooh add the phrase “tiddely pom” to his Outdoor Song “to make it more hummy.” “And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings,” Parker wrote, “that marks the first place in ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”
Nevertheless, the Parker-on-Milne feud didn’t make the cut for the “30 Harshest Author-on-Author Insults in History” list I encountered on the Internet several months ago. Gustave Flaubert calling George Sand “a great cow full of ink,” was included, as was Gore Vidal terming Truman Capote “a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.” Other delights included Virginia Woolf describing Joyce’s “Ulysses” as “the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples,” and Mark Twain, no admirer of Jane Austen, declaring that “Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice” I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
After reading “Remembrance of Things Past,” Marcel Proust’s elaborate memoir of growing up in late 19th century France, Evelyn Waugh called it “Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.” Many critics disagree, especially those who have had memories revived by minor incidents. The adult Proust’s eating a particular cookie, a Madeleine, triggered expansive, crystalline recollections of his beloved aunt, who given him such cookies as a child.
A chance encounter in college with a Donald Duck comic book once brought back a day when I was about six and my father bought me that comic. The drug store we purchased it in, the buttery quality of the afternoon light slanting through the store’s display window, and a thousand other long-lost details surged back and still remain. Re-reading that comic made me appreciate it’s literary, artistic, and historical qualities. That led me to add comics to my libraries’ collections, and now comics and other graphic literature are among the library’s most popular resources.
Young readers especially enjoy comics, and reading graphic literature exercises the same major brain areas involved in reading text. In other words, “Mos peeps no rdnz srsly coo.”