I was in seventh grade when I first encountered chatspeak. One day a friend asked me to explain what “lol” meant. I had no idea it was an anagram; I had to figure out the definition from context. I came up with “something someone says when you write something sarcastic,” which is probably way too revealing of Jessica-as-a-preteen. Another classmate said, in a you’re an idiot tone, “It means laugh out loud.”
Language takes some investment to figure out. Sometimes we’re wrong or off a bit, like in my “lol” situation, but considering the complexity of English and its trickiness, it’s more amazing to think about how often we’re right.
As writers and editors, we have to craft language carefully to get the reader as close as possible to our intended meaning. This can be really frustrating, like when you’re writing a description and you have to pause, hands on keyboard, to sort through your mental web of words to find the one that’s actually right and you just can’t get it, you know there’s a word and you can’t find it, and eventually you have to settle for the lightning bug instead of the lightning.
Or maybe you thought you crafted everything well and then you hand it over to a reader and they’re like, what were you smoking, and then you go off to revise if you get the chance. Sometimes we don’t even know if we’re successful or not—we send a bevy of words into the ether and cross our fingers that our meaning doesn’t get corrupted or misunderstood or discarded.
On the other hand, as a reader, sometimes a writer gets something so perfect that it strikes you to the heart. In that moment it’s like getting to share the space of someone else’s experience as a human being. And that moment of pure connection and empathy, that’s when language is at its highest use. That’s what we do this for.