Like most English buffs, we tend to take the ubiquity of text-message abbreviations like “UR” and “thx” as a sign of the encroaching language apocalypse. But perhaps we’re judging our peers too harshly. As an exhibition that will debut this winter at the British Library illustrates, our Victorian ancestors didn’t always speak — or write — the Queen’s English, either. In fact, some “linguistic games” entailed composing poetry that wouldn’t look out of place on a teenager’s Sidekick: : “He says he loves U 2 X S,/ U R virtuous and Y’s,/ In X L N C U X L/ All others in his i’s,” wrote one poet in 1867.
With that in mind, we had to wonder: How might one of the era’s enduring classics look in text-speak? So, with the help of this handy English-to-text translator, we bring you Robert Browning’s timeless “My Last Duchess,” updated for the iPhone generation.
My Lst Duchess
by Robert Browning
Dats my lst Duchess painted on d wall Lukin as f she wr aliv. I cll Dat pce a 1dr, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands Wrkd busily a dy, n der she stands. Will’t plz u sit n l%k @ her? I z “Fra Pandolf” by Dzine, 4 nvr read Strangers lk u dat pictured countenance, D depth n pa$N of its earnest glance Bt 2 mself dey turnd (since nun puts by D curtain Ive drawn 4 u, bt I) N seemd theyd ask me, f dey durst, Hw sucha glance came der; so nt d 1st RU 2 turn n ask sic. Sir, ’twas nt Her husband’s presence 1ly, cllD dat spot Of joy N2 d Duchess’s cheek: praps Fra Pandolf chanced 2 sA “Her mantle laps Ovr my lady’s rist 2 mch,” or Paint Must nvr h2 reproduce d faint 1/2 flush dat dies along her throat”: such stuf Wz courtesy, she thort, n cauZ nuf 4 callN ^ dat spot of u. She had A heart — how shll I sA? — too sn md glad, 2 esily impre$D; she lykD whate’er She lOkd on, n her l%ks went evrywhr. Sir, ’twas ll 1! My boon @ her brest, D droppin of d dAlite n d West, D bough of cherries sum officious f%l BroK n d orchard 4 her, d wyt mule She rode W rnd d terrace — all n ea W%d drw frm her alike d approving spEch, Or :”), @ lEst. She thanked men — good! bt thanked Somehow — I knw nt how — as f she ranked My gft of a nine-hundred-years-old nme W anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop 2 blAm dis sortA trifling? Evn had u skill N speech — (which Ive not) — to mke yr wl Quite clr 2 sucha 1, n sA, “Just dis Or dat n u disgusts me; hre u ms Or der Xceed d mark” — and f she let Herself B lessoned so, nor plainly set her wits 2 yrz, forsooth, n md xQs — E’en thN w%d B sum stooping; +I chooz Nvr 2 stoop. O sir, she smilD, no doubt Whene’er I passD her; bt hu passD w/o Mch d same :)? dis gru; I gave cmds; ThN ll *grins* stopD 2gtha. Der she stands As f aliv. Will’t plz u rise? We’ll mEt d co. below, thN. I Rpeat D Count yr master’s nown munificence S lots warrant dat no jst pretense Of myn dowry wl B disalowed ThO hs fair daughter’s slf, as I avowed @ sTRtN, S my obj. Nay, we’ll go 2gtha dwn, sir. Notis Neptune, thO, Taming a sea orse, thort a rarity, Wich claus of Innsbruck cast n bronze 4 me!