Thu. August 23
The Regrettable Rise of “OMG!”
Editor’s note: This piece is part of a symposium in which a variety of writers and thinkers weigh in on the topic of “Language in the Digital Age.” Look for further contributions on this topic (like this one and this one) throughout the week on Acculturated.
“And the word was made text, and then it was spoken.” John Donvan of ABC’s Nightline devoted a surprising segment to three little letters, “OMG.” His report asked parents, “Are Your Kids Sinners?” and offered “a modern guide to the third commandment.”
Electronic communication increasingly fosters informality. Otherwise serious business correspondence, sent over email, often begins with the salutation “All.” Modern-day letters home to parents begin, “Hey guys.”
OMG might be the ultimate electronic informality. Anyone with a cell phone or keyboard can invoke the Almighty in just three letters–a new trinity for the digital age, even if God is not your BFF.
Small wonder, given that the judiciary has systematically airbrushed the commandments from public places–other than, say, the frieze inside the United States Supreme Court, an institution never troubled by atheist pretensions, considering that it begins each of its sessions with an invocation of “God save this honorable Court.”
OMG is part of the lexicon of every American teen–and preteen, for that matter. Donvan made the point by interviewing a group of teenagers from the Washington Hebrew Congregation. They explained OMG’s connotations, uses, meanings–and lack thereof.
“I’m an avid OMG user in text,” one girl said. The initials signify incredulity, said another, as in: “Are you kidding me right now, are you serious?” Or hotness, as in: “Look at him!”
“It shows a lack of belief that God is present,” according to Bob Miller, an Old Testament expert at Catholic University who also spoke with Donvan.
One teen confirmed Miller’s point, explaining how OMG has become almost meaningless. “It’s kind of like LOL,” he said, “you’re not really laughing out loud, and most of the time you don’t think it’s funny.”
Divining the greater meaning of OMG’s proliferation does not require a religious perspective on the abbreviation that is “generally used in conversations to exclaim surprise or disgust,” according to urbandictionary.com.
An entry in the online slang dictionary derides OMG users for their laziness, explaining that the term is “most commonly used by teenage girls who find it depressingly hard to type out an entire word” and “reinforces assumptions that humans seem to be getting dumber from generation to generation.”
The online entries lack any compunction about OMG possibly violating any sort of moral injunction, divinely ordained or otherwise. That’s not surprising when you consider that the web site’s 648 separate entries for “God” are uniformly blasphemous.
The term “blasphemy” itself doesn’t fare much better in the online lexicon. Sample entry: “slang term for the word bulls—.”
OMG is ubiquitous. Listening to Usher’s hit single by that title, he pronounces “gosh” in a way that sounds almost like “God.” At least give him credit for a modicum of lyrical reverence.
As if teenage girls need to invest more reverence in their crushes: “OMG! Did u c the new justin bieber video?”
Words–“the most powerful drug used by mankind,” according to Kipling–can change minds and alter behavior.
OMG invokes Omnipotence in the realm of the trivial and the banal. The informality and brevity of electronic communication guarantees that even God himself is not immune from such casual disregard.
If OMG grates on you, it may not be just because teenage girls overuse it. Instead, the dissonance of rendering the Alpha and the Omega into three letters may give you pause.
“Something shifted with these kids,” Donvan concluded after his interview, wondering if the teens might think twice, or even once, before future uses of the initials.
Gayle Trotter is a writer, lawyer, and mother of six who lives in Washington, DC.
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