Love him or loathe him, Joey Barton says some extraordinary things. Aside from the bizarre twitter tirade last week against the “97 per cent” of the population whom he defines as “stupider” than him, he lampoons those who “decide their to lazy [sic] to work”. And, two days before that, was involved in an online slanging match with former Liverpool, and Germany midfielder, Didi Hamann, which saw tweets torpedoing between accounts like 140 character hand-grenades.
How did people react to Barton’s Hamann-haranguing and Darwinian-diatribe? Remember, this is social media we’re talking about, and clearly constrained by the twitter word limit, a significant proportion of those who deigned to reply wrote something along the lines of: “*you’re… Barton can’t even spell! #SendHimToBadGrammarmoBay” and then sunk back smugly into their seats, holstering their lightly smoking smartphones, rather pleased to have shot down yet another twitter user.
Now at Oxford, everyone loves a nice juicy bit of grammatical one-upmanship (see illicit margin note conversations from any critical book ever used for revision: “Say what you like about Bergson’s philosophy, but this translator just split the infinitive, and so I refuse to read anymore”). However, and – brace yourselves – here comes the important bit, this criticism is completely unfounded. Let’s take another word that Barton spelled correctly, ‘stupid’. He uses it to mean moronic, foolish, and idiotic. Yet, at its root, stupid doesn’t mean any of these; in fact, and perhaps ironically, he can’t even spell that right! Bemoan his shoddy knowledge of Proto-Indo-European if you must, but “stupe” actually means “hit” and, later in its linguistic life, “struck senseless” (which in the context of the tweet taken from above would probably have had a similar effect, if achieved through a different method.)
So rage against the pillaging of the English lexicon but be aware that you too are a misplaced-apostrophe wielding word-Viking. Languages change, and rules are gently ignored. Texting, tweeting, typing, all result in a convenient departure from orthography. But not for the worse. David Crystal defends the art of txt spk, in Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. No-one has a problem understanding the title, and, those who write using text language are not illiterate, rather they are concise. Crystal points to a competition run by T-mobile in 2007 for world poetry day to find the country’s ‘Txt Laureate’. The winner wrote normally. The runner up wrote this:
O hart tht sorz
My luv adorz
He mAks me liv
He mAks me giv
Myslf 2 him
As my luv porz
She is still poetic and understandable; in fact, the sequence of letters used to convey the meaning of these lines is hardly as important as the meaning itself, and though Eileen Evans, 68, the unlikely author of this poem, might not win more awards, her verse is important for what it represents.
Joey Barton’s tweets, whilst they may not always be as agreeable as, oh, I don’t know, @Jack_W_Flowers1’s, they are certainly not to be criticised for apparent misspellings. As far as I’m concerned, replacing ‘you’re’, with ‘your’ saves two important characters, and given Darwin’s inclusion in all of this, shows natural (or indeed, unnatural) selection on a linguistic level.