A quick tutorial:
U is a letter in the alphabet. It comes after T and before V.
U is not a word. It does not stand for a person when referred to in the second person. The word that should be used there is YOU. Three letters – Y-O-U.
For most of you over 40 years of age this will probably seem like nonsense – “Why would somebody think the letter U is a word, Xavier? Such savages?” (Imagine this said by a matron with a British accent; this is what I pictured as I wrote it.) But for those of you of the texting generation (including my cousin Lauren whose thumbs belong in a kung fu movie they move so fast), U, er, I mean YOU know what I mean.
I used to think I didn’t have to talk about this as a teacher. It just seemed so obvious to me that when someone is writing in a professional environment, that person should write, well, professionally. Yet, I have been proven wrong. The fact of the matter is that many, many people do not know what it is to write professionally, and believe it or not, I get it. We spend so much time texting, emailing, and IMing that we forget what it is to write a formal sentence. Standard English is just not something we use that often.
The truth, though, is that in a professional environment – a business, a classroom, a blog even – standard English needs to be the standard. Why? Because it just does. . . No really, there are good reasons. One, when you can write to a standard, you show colleagues, clients, teachers, and supervisors that you can operate under certain parameters, a skill required in most professional settings. Secondly, standardized language helps us communicate more clearly; when we write within the expected confines, we can be fairly certain that our audience – regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, or background – will be able to understand us. Finally, using the professionally accepted forms of English shows us to be intelligent, articulate people; as unfair as it may be, if we don’t write formally in these settings, we are thought unprofessional at best and stupid at worst.
It’s not just texting lingo that sends out this impression of ignorance to our readers. We can portray ourselves as simple hicks by using “ain’t.” We can sound like uneducated thugs if we are writing “I is.” We can look like silly teeny boppers if we write “R U Coming?” None of these presumptions is fair, of course. These choices of words are matters of dialect, not intelligence. “Ain’t” is perfectly acceptable in some social circles, as is the use of “I is.” And honestly, if you text “Are you coming over tonight?” to your 21-year-old cousin Lauren, she will probably roll her eyes and reply, “Yes, ma’am. I am coming over to your abode this fine evening. Thank you so much for your kind invitation.” Standard English just isn’t the rule in many social settings.
But it is in businesses and classrooms. This may change (and I think it probably is changing), but for now, the rules of standard English apply, and if you use them, you’ll seem more professional, be more easily understood, and be perceived – fairly or unfairly – as intelligent.
So please, please, please use three letters to spell “see,” not one, and remember, while “ain’t” is in the dictionary, it should still not be in the email to your boss.