A few years ago, the Oakland School District became a national target of derision for attempting to use non-standard English-specifically, a vernacular known as Ebonics-in the teaching of formal English to its students. Ebonics is the name given to the functional language of an American subculture, one that is poor and of African descent. Despite the fact that this vernacular perfectly served the unique communicative needs of those who spoke it, to the outside ear it sounded like a foreign language and was judged inferior.
As pundits guffawed and Ebonics joke sheets flashed through the e-mail circuit, a few miles south of Oakland, in a nerdy, financially fertile place called Silicon Valley, another vernacular grew, constantly mutating to meet the unique communicative needs of another American subculture, the technology industry. This abbreviated, contorted bastardization of the English language was, to the untrained ear, a meaningless rhetorical miasma of acronyms and strange verbs spoken by people who wore pocket protectors and really thick glasses. But, "geek speak," as it came to be known, perfectly articulated their thoughts and therefore became the subculture's lingua techna, so to speak.
Brave New Words
Several years, a trillion dollars and zillions of acronyms later, geek speak is now the official language of the entire world. And far from being belittled as substandard, the lingo of the pocket protector set is now synonymous with wealth, power and intelligence. What is geek speak? It is a compact, highly efficient way of speaking in which technical, financial or even long words become acronyms. For instance, Sales & Field Force Automation becomes "SFFA," customer relationship management becomes "CRM," and so on.
That geek speak, unlike Ebonics, has all the cleverness and musicality of bathroom grout is irrelevant. That it is, by any definition, a substandard variation of English is beside the point. The bottom line is that geek speak, for all its condensed blandness, is the language of success. If you do not know what "HTML" means, or when to use "http," very soon you may have trouble making your car payment. Consequently, around the globe the masses are abandoning their native tongues in favor of this new way of speaking. Even the Queen of England, the traditional guardian of our ancient language, is now online. Presumably, HRH, ER of the UK-she herself a historically notorious abuser of acronyms-now trades in the linguistic chattel of our new global vernacular, no doubt making royal references to URLs and SCSI ports. One wonders if she signs her e-mails "TTFN" (ta ta for now).
Had rap music, rather than computer code, driven the Dow to unprecedented heights, perhaps board members of the Oakland School District would currently breathe the rarified air of the now-glamorous pocket protector set. But as we all know, that didn't happen, and technical acronyms rule the day. Now, each morning, we can all look forward to reading on our PDAs how the CEO of IBM feels about the ROI of an IPO by a CRM LLC.