Have you noticed that texting styles vary a lot between generations? [Insert eyeroll emoji.] Silly question. Of course you have. There are many cultural factors that contribute to style variation in texting, and age/generation is certainly one of them. When you notice it, is it amusing? Annoying? Endearing? In this August 2021 Baldo cartoon strip, the youthful main character reacts with horror to a text from his dad. Hector D. Cantú and Carlos Castellanos’ strip has appeared in numerous daily newspapers in the US for more than 20 years. Its humor is principally centered around family life, and like many other daily strips, the characters never age.
View it here.
EXPLORE, REFLECT, SPEAK UP.
1. What if this Baldo strip had its roles reversed, and it was the father who complained about the teenage son’s use (or non-use) of punctuation in his texts? Would the strip have been more funny? Less? The same? Why? (Where do you see yourself in this strip? More in the role of Baldo or in the role of the dad? How much does your identification influence your reading of the strip?) Explain your responses.
2. The humor in Cantú and Castellanos’ comic strip is grounded in the fact that text messages often don’t observe the same grammatical conventions that we expect in longer-form prose such as essays, novels, or news articles. Of course, comic strips often don’t use punctuation in the ways that we learn in English class, either. Since comic strips have to convey their message succinctly, in a small space, they may use punctuation as a creative element of their message. What punctuation (periods, commas, exclamation points, question marks, etc.) do you find in this strip? List them all. Are they used in school-sanctioned ways? How does each one contribute to the message of the strip? Should the cartoonists have punctuated the strip differently? Why or why not?
3. LET’S TALK. Baldo says emphatically that his father is “such a lunatic,” and Baldo’s friend, with hand on forehead, concurs that ending a text message with a period is “hella nuts.” Their reactions are played for humor, of course, but how exaggerated are they, really? How do you respond to texts that are written outside of the norms and conventions that you’re accustomed to? How strongly do you feel about texting “grammar”? What are the reasons behind your responses? Once you’ve reflected on your own attitudes and reactions, share your thoughts and feelings with a few classmates. In what ways are your responses similar? In what ways different? In what way might a classmate’s response have led you to rethink or reconsider your own?
4. AND NOW WRITE. Whether it’s conscious and deliberate or simply automatic and unconscious, you and the people you frequently text with probably share a style of texting that differs a lot from conventional prose writing. For example, you may employ non-standard spellings or abbreviations, creative capitalization or punctuation, emoji use that is not transparent or obvious, and much more. Imagine that you’d like to explain your conventions to people outside of your circle—perhaps people of a different generation or social group, or residents of another region or country. Write a brief guide to your texting conventions, and mention who your intended audience is. Make entries for periods, abbreviations such as OMG, LMAO, idk, and anything else that may be relevant. Use the texts that you’ve recently sent and received to give you ideas about what should be included.