Ars Legendi: Too long; didn’t read

Alan Duff

Henceforth to be referred to as its commonly abbreviated form: tl;dr. The phrase is widespread throughout the Internet on almost any website’s comment section, message boards and anywhere else a person can type, including e-mails.

The phrase was originally used to criticize a poorly formatted, long-winded paragraph that went on endlessly. For the most part, the criticism would be aimed at a paragraph that should have been cut into seven pieces, or in some cases writing that resembles a single Joyce sentence.

However, within a short period of time, instead of becoming a phrase that forced a keyboardist to be thoughtful, tl;dr became a phrase associated with any longer piece of writing that someone just doesn’t want to read.

In response, many longer forms of writing now include a tl;dr phrase at the end with up to a few sentences summarizing the paragraphs for the benefit of those who can’t be bothered to read something that would take longer than a minute of their time. Any information not given in a bit-sized format it seems, is subject to the criticism.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the Internet, which spawned the Facebook news feed, captioned pictures and Twitter, created a phrase that criticizes any writing presented in a form longer than three paragraphs. When did we become so impatient?

For most of the Internet it seems that the phrase tl;dr is an exercise in sloth. Though I can’t object completely to any abbreviation that encourages brevity in writing, there is a finite amount of words an idea can be expressed in before it starts loosing its meaning and validity.

Reducing any idea to its simplest form isn’t always the best, but for the Internet it seems simple and short is preferable to quality.

What was once a tool to stop poor formatting is now an excuse to avoid reading. This is disheartening. These are people speaking the same language, in similar settings to one another, with the same topics in mind. There is no language barrier here. You shouldn’t need a Spark Notes summary for a few paragraphs in the contemporary version of the language you speak.

But there is hope yet for tl;dr! These four simple letters would be the greatest tool for any student if they were used as a valid response by the likes of writing tutors and professors in the academic world. If a student had paragraphs that needed to be broken apart, or went over the world limit, all a professor would need to do is write in red “tl;dr.”

It could even be used as a tool to remind students to use topic sentences that summarize, or it could be used as a simple summary tool. However, I would err on the side of caution for any student who thinks this is a tool that can cut both ways. I doubt any professor would accept the excuse of tl;dr as a valid reason for not doing a reading, even for the wordiest of writers.

The phrase tl;dr should encourage proper formatting instead of being used as a tool to avoid reading.