Copy That: What Do U Mean?

Monday, November 5, 2018 - 8:05pm

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Illustration by Emily Koffsky

Had I owned a laptop in early high school, I probably would’ve had one of those text bubble “*you’re” stickers smugly displayed on it, announcing to the world how grammatically superior I was to those who dared to write “your welcome.” Luckily, I didn’t have a laptop, and luckily, my view of grammar has changed since then.

Grammar has always been something I thought was both fun and important, particularly as someone who considers themself detail-oriented. Having parents who routinely pointed out misplaced apostrophes or quotation marks on signs and menus, I became a grammar stickler myself and had proudly written my first email to Ford Motor Company criticizing their use of the phrase “less stops” [COPY: fewer] in one of their commercials by age 13. A source of pride for me became my knowledge of language and grammatical structure, from understanding the difference between a subject and a direct object to noticing dangling modifiers and misused commas.

However, I have also become a lover of shorthand texting. In my everyday communications, I often don’t have to worry about the difference between “your” and “you’re” because I have come to replace them both with “ur,” and I now find myself even avoiding grammatically correct structures to be more casual with my friends. It would seem that my love for “correct” grammar and disdain for those who didn’t use it would contradict my frequent use of shortened words and texting acronyms, which raises a question: How could I reconcile loving both?

The answer, I found, is that both styles are valuable because of their ability to accurately convey information, regardless of whether they’re recognized as “standard” or not. After taking a cultural linguistics class, I realized that language, and more specifically, grammar, exists to allow for effective communication between people, and really, its only failure is if it’s not understandable. As long as I write with a consistent style to someone, even if it’s not standard English, my grammar is doing its job. For instance, my friends are accustomed to my use of “lmao wtf” and “rn,” and therefore my shorthand style is perfectly acceptable for that context, as long as I don’t change the meaning of these acronyms without telling them.

At The Michigan Daily, we use our standardized stylebook for the same reason: We want our writing to be understood. Largely based on AP Style, The Daily Stylebook follows grammatical guidelines similar to the ones many other newspapers use, as this uniformity allows readers to understand us, while also making sure our paper looks precise and professional. While many probably think copy editors’ nitpicking and subtle changes are largely inconsequential, using the same style for every piece allows for clarity of our writers’ messages. For example, we use “the University,” with a capital U, to refer to the University of Michigan on second reference. If we were to edit an article that discussed “the struggles of a university student,” there would be an important difference if we capitalized the U, as it would change the meaning from “the struggles of a college student” to “the struggles of a University of Michigan student.” If we started capitalizing “university” arbitrarily, the intended meaning from our writer would be lost.

The importance of our style, I believe, is not that it is standard English, but that its uniformity conveys the correct meaning of our writers’ words. Realizing this is true with all styles of speaking and writing, whether lingo or standard English, has allowed me to still do what I love to do: pay attention to small details. Now, luckily, I do it to make sure I understand or convey the precise meaning of something, and not simply to show off my grammatical dominance via laptop sticker.