Conjoint Words In The Age Of Pixels

Zouch, February 6, 2012.

The BlackBerry Logo

CoverCake.
BlackBerry.
TweetDeck.
HootSuite.
MySpace.
GrubHub.

Were Rip van Winkle to rouse from his sleep on today’s date and encounter the above words, he may well have taken them to be the names of a brand of a lidded confection, a strange fruit, a hard toffee, a shrill whistle, a modish pub, and a funky greasy spoon, respectively.

In truth, they’re business concerns, alike in more ways than one, at least, on the surface. All of them are tech start-ups, which matured, came of age, or were founded in the first decade of the 2000s.

Linger on them mildly longer than is usual and you’d notice that their nomenclature is structurally similar as well.

Each of the above company names is forged by conjoining a pair of two independent nouns—not separated by a glyph. The better (or worse) half is indicated by writing its initial alphabet in capital letter.

Anyone familiar with the micro-blogging site, Twitter, will know of a more intense version of that—hashtags.

A hashtag is a word or a string of them, preceded by the pound sign that serves as a prelude to the idea contained in a tweet. Its purported function is to signify content, sort it, and organize it.

But do they really do that?

Lexical tassels that they are, some somnolent from a vowel outage; some panicky from a consonants diarrhea; some burdened with the wrong permutation of the uppercase and lowercase; they create a not too pleasant impression of an iguana with its tail, callously chopped off.

Crooked, dwarfish, truncated, cluttered, cacophonous, and disarrayed, are some adjectives that take over the mind when I see them.

If, for argument’s sake, we throw clarity out the airplane window, there’s the other, more important issue to consider—the cognitive challenge that they pose. Deciphering them is sometimes no easier than trying to solve an intractable puzzle.

If one were to look at the morphology of our social media writing system, we may see in it, a faint return to the classical written communication conventions.

Sometime around 200 A.D., the interpunct, a small, centered dot, used for inter-word separation in ancient Latin script, faded out of practice. The “scriptio continua” replaced that style, wherein all words ran together as one, without a break, without a space demarcating the boundaries of each.

Skimming such continual script was not merely difficult on the eye, but was also a drag on the brain. Nicholas Carr writes in his acclaimed book, “The Shallows,” that it imposed an “extra cognitive burden” on the reader.

With what outcome? The entire cortex of the ancients’ brains—the forward areas associated with problem-solving and decision making—must have been buzzing with neural activity.

By the 13th century, mercifully, that format became largely obsolete—maybe only to resurface in the age of pixels.

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