global English language change and slang

Bond, Basildon Bond

© CorbisI was enjoying the links in Jonathan Cole’s recent blog post this morning, when I came across a fabulous (or ‘badass’ as it was described) word, palaeotypographist. This word means ‘one who studies early writing’.  From here, my thoughts wandered to outmoded forms of writing, such as the personal, handwritten letter.

Oh the perfect pleasure of the fresh Duke-sized sheet of watermarked paper, onto which the fountain pen’s ink silkily slides! For the writer there is the gorgeous discipline of crystallizing each thought, each item of news, each expression of love, the planning and picturing of each sentence before committing it to the pale blue page, the careful avoidance of misspelling and errors of syntax.  After the writing, the satisfaction of folding the many written sheets into a matching blue envelope.  The joy of writing a letter almost surpasses that of receiving one.

Many moons have shone their silvery light since I last received a personal letter and I get maybe one or two postcards a year at most. The decline of this sensual and romantic way of communicating has got me down of late (getting old, I expect) and when chatting to some friends over lunch today, I launched into an impassioned invective, outraged that people put Osmiroid to Basildon Bond so seldom these days and that we must somehow stimulate a resurgence, so that others may hear the satisfying plop of a fat, handwritten letter upon the hall mat and may enjoy with anticipation the piecing together of the unique scrawl on the front with the post mark and perhaps even the faint whiff of scent.

‘Ugh! They take so long to do though, I never write anything in long hand anymore’, was one friend’s retort.

I conceded that, mostly, it is quicker and easier to type on a keyboard, particularly for those of us who can do so by touch.  I then rejoindered that it was exactly because they take so long to write that personal letters are in themselves an expression of regard and respect, whatever their content might be.  This point met with the comment that the carbon footprint of a traditional letter may not show much regard and respect to the environment.

Another friend explained that a prolific use of shorthand was the only way she was able to make notes in meetings these days.

‘That’s it!’ I concluded, ‘We need to get everyone writing to each other again in shorthand, so that it is quick and easy!’

‘Er…’ pointed out my friend ‘that’s called texting…’


Perhaps the cause of the personal, handwritten letter is a failing one. What shall we call those few who still indulge in writing them … paleoscriptologists?  Answers on a (handwritten) post card, please!

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Beth Penfold

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