Has the internet developed its ‘online version’ of artistic licence?

The poet enjoys a special linguistic licence which would be frowned upon were it to be used by authors of prose. This doesn’t mean that the poet can misspell or use bad grammar at whim, but that there are subtle rules which he is allowed do away with in order to help him achieve the rhyme and rhythm necessary for his work.

Can we say that there exists an online version of this special licence to be used by those who write online? To a certain extent yes, it exists for the main reason that it is being used by the majority right now. But is it being used correctly or is it waaaay tooo exager8d?!?  :p? That’s what I plan to analyse below, and the reason why I bolded my example.

To start with there’s a difference between writing online and writing online.

Let’s take the first scenario being a blog, article, opinion or review, where one’s using the internet medium as a replacement for physical printed papers.In this case the author is just that – an author. He’s using the internet instead of a magazine or newspaper.

On the other hand, there’s the second scenario which consists of chat-rooms, comments to blogs, reviews or news articles, forum posts and replies.

The difference between the former and the latter is that while the former is a replacement for physical printed matter the latter is trying to replace conversation. This written conversation is at a distinct disadvantage over the spoken one because the reader is only viewing written words.
In spoken conversation there is no ‘reader’. There is a person who is listening to the tone of your voice, and who is reading your body language. Even a phone conversation has more advantages over one conducted through written words on the internet since on a phone people can change the tone of their voice which would make a great difference in knowing for example whether one’s being serious or sarcastic, or just joking in a friendly way.

Even the internet media have realised this. Taking MSN as an example, they moved on from just people typing to each other, to people speaking to each other and later to video-calls where one can see the other person you’re talking to.

But back to online comments and forum posts. Were such a user to type a reply using correct English the online world would be a monotonous one, with people writing and misunderstanding each other 80% of the time.

All internet discussion fora (mostly called ‘forums’) have recognised and attempted to soften this invisible barrier through the introduction of what are called ‘smileys’ (or ‘smilies’).
These smileys attempt to show the body language the writer would have used had he been speaking and his body visible to the reader.
Caitlin is a young adult who enjoys travelling. She is so much into travelling that she’s a member of several online forums discussing travelling, where people share their experiences and pictures. She’s been writing on the same couple of forums for some months now and she’s known through her writings and through her username as “Little_Cait”, while she also knows other people who in turn reply to her posts in the same forums.
Following her recent trip to India, “Little-Cait” makes a post on one of these forums describing her experience, and also includes a couple of pictures showing her wearing traditional Indian costumes.
Someone replies, telling her “You look really great today.”

Taken at face value (remember it’s written hence there’s no tone of voice nor any visible body language) our Cait takes this as a compliment, that she looked good but mainstream. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

But let’s assume the reply was one of the following:

It’s precisely the same sentence, but what a difference the smiley face does!

Look at each reply. Not one of them is the same.

Other media like chatrooms and facebook are even more limited because there are little or no emoticons available to convey the message as it was meant to be conveyed.

And that’s where the ‘online artistic licence’ comes to play, not to destroy grammar and language but to act as a means to convey the gist of the message as it was intended to be.

Let’s assume our “Little_Cait” found a nudist beach and she chose to wear the traditional costume.

Here’s what an admirer of Caitlin would post:

I won’t go into details as to what Little_Cait’s grandpa might opine…

So far I covered body language but what happens where not only body language isn’t available but also there’s no other way to convey the accent or tone of the spoken comment?

Enter the facebook scenario.

Let’s go back to Caitlin’s photo.

She gets this comment:


Would it be the same as:

“goood” or “yummmy”?

or as “awwww I luv you darling”?

or as “you really look great my friend…”

Which brings us to the “……” which online signifies something similar as “to be continued but I want only the people who understand me to know what I’m saying”

Which ultimately brings us to facebook-speak. Unfortunately facebook is still quite limited where smileys are concerned. People reply to each other in the same way as they would in the real world while face to face but they realise that the larger part of the meaning would be lost due to the lack of tone of voice or body language. So they make up for it by trying to emulate voice into their typed words.

Let’s imagine someone replying on facebook (a.k.a. chatting with our Caitlin since she’s in real-time and can reply):

“You’re looking good” or

“You’re looking goooooood!!!!” or

” you look good…xxx” or

“LOL you look good”

“I luuuvvv yoo my sweetheart you look sooo greeeaaaaat!!!”

In the Maltese language these are even more exagerated.

“Inhoooobbboook qaaaaalbbbi!!!!!!”

“Sabiiiiieeha! xoxo!!”

We Maltese tend to exagerate the vowels to convey an even deeper message to answer that written word to try to emulate the written word when spoken and compare it to the impromptu spoken word.

But at the end of the day, what would seem to be the best in online communication?

Telling your better half “I love you”?

Or telling her “I  love you  moooore than anything else in the world and I soooooo want you to know it because I love you so much!!!!!”

What would you be telling your best friend:
“Come on” or “comeeee onnnnn?”

It might be read as stupid by the people who don’t understand  but it makes a lot of sense in internet chatting since it shows the general tone which at the end overrides grammar and ultimately gets the reader to “hear” the tone of such comment in the same way as were he to use emoticons or smileys.

Allow me to end this by typing “LOL” because by the time I finished this I ended up laughing out loud.

To conclude,  this is a country of just 400,000 adults short and we can’t have people who expect to be at some higher hierarchy and not use internet-speak so as  to appear belonging to some category above the others who shun the same idea. We can’t have people who get bullied out of commenting on news and blogs just because they either make what somebody else considers to be a  spelling mistake or because he included some extra question or exclamation mark. This just wouldn’t be democratic at all.


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