INSPECT A REBUS – Why Some Of The Annoying Habits Of Modern Teenagers Are Much, Much Older Than You Think

Like a lot of people of a certain age, I’m annoyed by text messaging. Not predicative text – or auto correct as the Americans call it – although that is annoying. I have go through both “rub” and “sub” before I get to “pub”, a word I use far more frequently than either of the previous options, oddly enough. I also use the word “shit” more often than the word “shiv”, never having been incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

No, it’s the “R U OK. C U L8R” stuff that pisses me off. What springs to mind when I encounter it is ignorance of both language and history. Traits displayed to a tiresome degree by the older people who endlessly complain about how irritating text speak is and how it shows a decline in standards of education. Shame on you Oldies for not knowing better. Shame on you for thinking you know far more than you actually do.

See, when these youngsters appear to be tippy tapping the best years of their lives away into the ether, they are actually engaging in one of the most ancient and respected forms of communication in existence. The Rebus.

A rebus is anything where letters, numbers or pictures are used to represent words. It’s from the Latin “ Non verbis sed rebus” which translates as “Not by words, but by things”. And you don’t get a much finer pedigree than that. Egyptian hieroglyphics are rebuses, but strangely there is usually nothing substandard about the education of the Egyptologists who decipher said ancient writings.

You Oldies scoff at the rudimentary form of telephone communication, but you tittered at O.O.A.Q.I.C.I.8.2.Q.B.4.I.P. when you read it in Nigel Rees’ Graffiti Files. Ah, but that was different, you say? Indeed it was. It was scrawled on the wall of a public toilet in Margate. Pardon me for seeming a bit thick when I fail to see how that makes it more cultured or clever.

You may even have let out a little dry chuckle when you found out the solution to this little riddle, probably set by that teacher who was always trying to be a bit wacky:

YY U R

YY U B

I C U R

YY 4 me

(Too wise you are, too wise you be, I see you are too wise for me)

How long did it take you to get that when you were ten? How long did it take you to get it now, in fact? The current crop of ten year olds would get that in a split second. You bemoan their flabby brains and their lack of imagination but does the following exchange ring any bells?

F.U.N.E.X.

S.V.F.X.

F.U.N.E.M.

S.V.F.M.

F.U.N.E.T.

S.V.F.T

O.K. M.N.X.N.T.

That of course was an excerpt from Swedish Made Simple. If you have any marbles left rattling around in the attic, it should be your second favourite Two Ronnies sketch after the virtually perfect Four Candles. It’s certainly mine, and like you I was tickled by its ingenuity. Here it is, in the unlikely event that you have reached middle age or beyond but have never seen it:

It’s clever and funny right? Sexist of course, but it was written in the 70s so what do you expect?But it’s just a lengthy prototype of the modern text message. Why is it witty when the Two Ronnies do it, but a sign the dumbing down of the world when your children and grandchildren do it?

Easy answer: jealousy and self preservation. These little bastards will be blazing their trails across the world when your star, and mine, has dwindled to a lukewarm ember. It’s a reaction far older than even the rebus to make the young think they are far less capable than they actually are and that your level of knowledge and wisdom is far higher than it actually is. That way it’s far less likely that they’ll turf you out to freeze to death on the tundra when someone with teeth has to chew your food for you. So to speak.

I‘m not saying that all teenagers are latent geniuses. Well, some of them are of course, but like groups of all ages, most of them aren’t. Most of them don’t know they are using rebuses, and wouldn’t care less even if they did. I didn’t until last week when I read it in an etymology article. But give them a little credit for rediscovering an ancient tradition. They certainly weren’t taught it by us. Though allowing them to use their form of this tradition to answer actual examination papers is a step too far in my opinion.

Teachers argue that we now have a generation who can instantly access works such as Ulysses and Finnegans Wake without the usual rigmarole associated with that process. But teachers are essentially lazy creatures, and this is just an excuse not to teach them grammar, punctuation or syntax.

Young people have so many things to contend with. Mood swings, fragmented body clocks, the urge to write self indulgent poetry. These are just a few of the much better reasons to have a go at them. So please, drop the text message grump because you’re just making yourself – and by association, me – look stupid. There will be no such thing as a pension by the time I get to retirement age, and I might need someone to chew my food for me. Let’s try not to piss the youngsters off unnecessarily.

© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013

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About thedailygrime

At that awkward age - too young to be a grumpy old man, but just acerbic and downtrodden enough to have an opinion. Read it here.

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