Close, But No Aghbq

Text-messaging is something fairly new to a lot of us, and I've got a feeling that in the future we'll look back at the procedure of tapping out brief little messages to one another for fifteen cents a pop while trying to merge onto a highway as being a little, well, silly.

On most phones, at least as of September 19, 2008, you still have to use the number pad to key in your entry. And what that means to the user experience is that you'll either be tapping the "7" key four times just to get an "S" or relying on your phone's "predictive text" feature.

Now, predictive text is pretty neat. It's a nice improvement on the multi-tap technique, and it includes a surprisingly comprehensive dictionary that knows, for instance, that when you type 4, then 6, then 6, then 3, you're probably trying to spell "home." So that's what it puts in.

The drawback to predictive text, in my practice, is the textonym. A given sequence of numbers can correspond to more than one word, which I discovered early on in the process of using the phone -- actually while trying to type the word "good." That would be 4663, which the phone interprets as... "home."

Not that there isn't a nice little implication there, if you're willing to read into it: home *is* good, after all. Everybody likes the idea of home. Similarly, a "book" is pretty "cool," "food" is best when it's "done" and a "map" can make you want to take a "nap." Maybe.

Occasionally, though, the textonyms make some startling parallels. According to my phone, there's no initial difference between Lope and "Lord," which caught me a little off guard not because I doubt my wife's divinity but because I can't imagine many folks sending text messages about deities. (RUNNING LATE TO CHURCH. SAY HI TO LORD FOR ME)

What's more, what person on earth would type 9253 to mean "wale"? I like corduroys as much as the next guy, and probably talk about them more often, but wouldn't it have been safer to assume I was looking for the word "wake"?

Sometimes they're just plain fun. In addition to at least twelve other words, 22737 can spell "cards" or "acres," which to me makes for a nice spectrum of land area measurement. I like picturing someone making real estate contracts via cell phone text message, and only later discovering that he'd actually purchased 35 playing cards' worth of pristine farmland. "Sweet! I can plant this parsnip!"

And I'm sure any bulls who make a habit of texting their bull friends enjoy the equivalence of "see" and "red" when they press 733. Then again, maybe it ticks them off.

My favorite might be the pairing of "box" and "any." As someone preparing for his fourth address in two years, I'm well-acquainted with the mystery of carton contents. You label the first few dozen, but after awhile you just stuff things into the nearest receptacle, tape the top shut and resign yourself to the fact that a brown cardboard cube could conceivably contain *anything,* from your cell phone charger to leftover spaghetti. Maybe both.

Until we all get better software or full QWERTY keyboards on all our phones (or "handheld communicators," or whatever we'll be calling them in the future), I say we just have fun with it. After all, I can either get irked that I have to scroll through a list of possible matches before my phone can confirm that I meant "smog" and not "pooh," or I can just enjoy it and consider it a vocabulary expansion.

I mean, why settle for "Woohoo" when you can exclaim "Zonino!"


Anonymous said...



-T- said...

Zonino Boomba!

Magnoliawhispers said...

I cant wabit uvntil thefy imnprovxe it

{ ry | no } said...

I'm ashamed to say that the reason I text is because I don't want to feel left behind by technology. I see 8 year olds producing text messages faster on that numeric keyboard than I could produce on any QWERTY keyboard, and that makes me insanely competitive. I must learn to text faster, and the only way to do it is 77228423.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have been perplexed by the predictive text issue on phones, and likely have been texting far longer than you :) Some phones have features for word selection that are more user friendly than others, and when I switched to this most recent phone, I found that there were times when I actually texted so fast I confused my phone and it would just freeze!!! How frustrating! Especially when you're having a tiff over texts! Anyhow, we shall see what the future brings - sooner than you think, you'll be texting your son/daughter to come home for dinner :)


Colin said...

Must go back and comment on my own blog, but I just noticed this:

My phone just conflated the word "Econ" for... wait for it...