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The Death of the English Language in 140 Characters or Less?

Published on September 8, 2016, at 10:58 a.m.
by Sonny Franks.

“In these days of texting and various social media apps, the well-constructed sentence is under mortal threat,” Prince Charles warned at a recent ceremony celebrating 500 years of Royal Mail.

Photo by Dan Marsh
Photo by Dan Marsh

While many other notable figures, including Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth, have made headlines by stepping up their social media presences, Prince Charles has shied away from, and even condemned, social media tools such as Twitter. As an avid letter writer and grammar enthusiast, he fears that abbreviated means of communication are diminishing the public’s grasp on the art of the written word.

The Prince of Wales is certainly not the first to point out the potential negative impact of Twitter on the grammatical abilities of its users. However, as a public relations practitioner, I cannot help but see some irony in his concerns. I would argue that the modern public relations practitioner has a better grasp of language than ever before, largely thanks to the ever-diversifying platforms through which we are expected to communicate. The communication channels that Prince Charles blames for dulling our literary abilities are giving rise to new creative expression and sharpened use of language amongst communicators. Out of necessity, we have learned to stretch our writing abilities farther than ever before to fit our ever-growing number of media platforms.

Photo by Shawn Campbell via
Photo by Shawn Campbell via

Strong writing is routinely named by PR pros as the most important skill for a practitioner to possess. But in the modern media landscape, writing can be a vague term. Public relations writing is no longer comprised solely of news releases and media alerts; it takes form in all lengths, tones and character counts. A public relations practitioner must have a strong foundation in the traditional rules of writing and Associated Press style in order to have the flexibility to adapt messaging to fit these newer media. After all, it takes a strong writer to convey a message traditionally communicated in a paragraph in less than 140 characters.

As writers today, we must wield that masterful use of parallel structure and appropriately placed commas for which Prince Charles yearns, while simultaneously demonstrating the flexibility to construct messaging that fits the constraints of a 140-character limit and optimizes the use of hashtags.

We are proof that — for public relations practitioners at least — new channels of communication are driving us to master the English language in more ways than ever before. We have been forced to adapt to the opportunities and challenges these new platforms present and have emerged as stronger writers for it.

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