Destroying the English language? Don't make me LOL

LOL. Is there anything better than grown-ups mangling youth-speak? Politicians wearing baseball caps come close, I suppose, but that's a rarer pleasure in these days of spin and image advisers. Anyway, Radio 4 attempted the voice of yoot this week when Evan Davis signed off a report with LOL, adding donnishly: "That means lots of laughs." Oh Evan! So close, and yet so far. At least it made plenty of listeners laugh out loud.

This column is a bit of a fan of the abbreviation (see title) so I was delighted to learn, in a follow-up item on the Today programme, that the first recorded instance of OMG was in a letter in 1917. Furthermore, the Oxford English Dictionary website reveals that FYI first emerged in memos in the 1940s while LOL appeared in the 1960s meaning Little Old Lady. It seems we've been on the lookout for linguistic shortcuts for quite some time.

Ralph Fiennes still doesn't approve, however. The actor, whose latest film is a 21st-century, cut-down version of Coriolanus, has blasted Twitter, and modern life in general, for eroding the language of the Bard. "We're living in a time when our ears are attuned to a flattened and truncated sense of our English language," he said.

That may be so. But everyday speech and literary language are two very different animals, which is why we don't all speak like a Martin Amis novel. Thank goodness. Shakespeare, who coined vast swathes of the words and phrases we use today, would surely agree that language is a living, ever-evolving thing. Whether he was a low-born buffoon or an Earl in disguise, he would have relished these expressive little sets of initials. I can see him now, sitting in on rehearsals at the Globe, scrawling LMAO in the margin next to Puck's speeches, perhaps even a tentative WTF? next to the gravediggers' scene.



If you want to get ahead, grab a shuttlecock. The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, has posted a strange little video on his blog in which he rhapsodises about badminton. Not only does the sport "develop your body, hand-eye coordination, accuracy and reactions", it's also a must for would-be leaders, apparently.

"Those who play badminton well, make decisions quickly," claims Medvedev, adding in the classic Russian vote-clincher that Yury Gagarin loved the sport. The video then cuts to a match between Medvedev and Vladimir Putin (taking time out from judo, extreme fishing and tiger wrestling), soundtracked by soupy Top Gun-era electronica.

What does it all mean? Is this Aertex bromance for real? Barack Obama and Joe Biden are known to play the odd game of squash, so it could be a bit of superpower oneupmanship. Or perhaps it's a subtle commentary on the ongoing power struggles in the Kremlin. In Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, a squash match between the novel's surgeon hero and his anaesthetist colleague becomes a primal scrap for macho supremacy. Sadly the video cuts out before the end of the Putin/ Medvedev knockabout – but I'd put a million roubles on who emerged victorious.



I went to a screening of the new Wuthering Heights film (above) this week. Andrea Arnold, director of inner-city dramas Red Road and Fish Tank, brings piles of grittiness to the Gothic romance: it wuthers for Great Britain.

She also brings a rather contemporary voice to what is an otherwise historically faithful adaptation. There are a number of choice swear words whichI'm sure would have set Emily Bronte's quill all a-quiver, but they didn't grate so much as Isabella's greeting of the grown-up Heathcliff, upon his return to the moors.

"Heathcliff?" she purrs, all seductive and upwards-inflected. "It's been a while ..." I'm surprised she didn't whip out her iPhone and ask for his digits too. Still, it's something to carp on about until the second series of The Hour starts.

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