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We are all jejemons

I first heard the word “jejemon" last April when I sat as panelist in the IYAS Creative Writing Workshop of La Salle-Bacolod. An 18-year old writing fellow for fiction from Ateneo de Manila tried to explain the word to me. He said it came from “jejeje" which is a variation of “hehehe" used in text messages to indicate an embarrassed smile. Nothing wrong there, I thought. The Spanish “jejeje" is really pronounced as “hehehe." That is why we have words like “hepe" (chief of police) from the original “jefe" and “hamon" (ham) which is actually “jamon" in Spanish. The has this very negative meaning of jejemon: “1. Usually seen around social networking sites such as Friendster and Multiply, jejemons are individuals with low IQs who spread around their idiocy on the web by tYpFing Lyk diZS jejejeje, making all people viewing their profile raise their eyebrows out of annoyance. Normal people like you and me must take a Bachelor of Arts in Jejetyping in order to understand said individuals, as deciphering their text would cause a lot of frustration and hair pulling. CAUTION: THESE INDIVIDUALS ARE BREEDING! THEY CAN BE SEEN WRECKING GRAMMATICAL HAVOC ON FACEBOOK TOO!" What I don’t like about this definition is that it reeks of malice and bigotry against individuals who are different from others. There’s also a definition number 2, but I refuse to quote it because it is very racist and homophobic, practically labeling jejemons as idiots. My feeling is, if you need to get another bachelor’s degree and you are always frustrated when you read jejemon text, maybe it is the reader who is really the idiot here? For the sake of discussion (actually, it’s the academician in me) let us define some jejemon terminologies according to * A jejebuster is a grammar vigilante, typically Filipino, dedicating his Internet life towards the eradication of jejetyping and jejemon existence. * A jejemonster is a person who writes and types words in a different form or style. * Jejetyping is: 1. A form of typing used by jejemons to communicate with one another 2. One way of abusing your computer keyboard’s Caps Lock and Shift buttons 3. One way of butchering the Filipino language by typing in unnecessary letters in Filipino words and typing them in a way that only jejemons can. * Jejenese is the language used by the jejemons and jejemonster. * And a grammar Nazi is a person who uses proper grammar at all times, especially online in emails, chat rooms, instant messages and web board posts; in other words, a proponent of grammatical correctness and often, one who spells correctly as well. A grammar Nazi is a very close ally of the jejebuster. Poet Roberto T. Añonuevo, a Palanca Hall of Famer, has this alternative reading of the jejemon phenomenon: for him, jejemon is an anti-establishment movement. It was invented in order to subvert the power of authority. It developed into a sub-culture in order for a group of people to fight the dominant class by creating a new language which is really a code, he says. A subversive movement by whom? According to him, by spammers and hackers—all IT experts—who want to control the world. Jejetype is nothing but a set of codes understandable only to jejemons, just like Morse Code which can only be understood by radio operators. I cannot help but think of all those “IT experts" hired by politicians who lost in the last election in order to “probe and prove" that there was indeed election fraud in the first automated election of the country, much to the chagrin of the very handsome, despite being so harassed, Cesar Flores of Smartmatic. Maybe these IT experts are really top-rank jejemons out to play with the Comelec? In his blog www. Añonuevo has this analysis of the jejenese: “Ang mismong paraan ng pagsasakataga ng jejemon ay hindi basta paglalaro lamang ng salita. Ito ay mauugat sa Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) na pangunahing wika ng pagpo-programa sa Internet. Lumilikha ng sariling kodigo ang mga jejemon, at ang mga kodigong ito ay isang anyo ng paglilihim upang ikubli ang mga pakahulugan at paghihiwatigan nang hindi madaling maunawaan ng nakatataas o awtoridad, gaya ng magulang at guro. Sa madali’t salita, ang wikang jejemon ay hindi panlahat. Ito ay para sa isang uri ng subkultura na may angking konsepto at diskurso, at bagaman umiiral sa kasalukuyang realidad ay nakakayang tumawid sa mala-realidad na likha ng Internet at World Wide Web." Añonuevo is this year’s conference director of the Filipinas Institute of Translation’s “Word of the Year" forum on July 29 to 30 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. The word jejemon is nominated along with other words that became famous last year like “Ampatuan," “unli," “tarpo," “solb," “emo", “namumutbol," and of course, “Ondoy." Let us see if jejemon will be included in the next edition of the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, where Añonuevo is an associate editor. I think another theory (aside from being a jejemonster lover I am also a theory monster) that can explain the jejemon phenomenon is the chaos theory. It is a theory in the exact sciences like mathematics and physics that says there is an arrangement or pattern in chaos. Jejetype will look chaotic to the uninitiated or the grammar Nazis, but the fact that jejetypes can be read by jejemons is proof that there are hidden rules governing jejenese, making it intelligible to the jejemonsters. We are all jejemons. Yes, in one way or another. From the mildest to the worst manifestation. Even the great American poet Emily Dickinson was a jejemon. Let us take a look at this poem of hers. It does not have a title, a telling sign of a jejemon poet. This is my letter to the World That never wrote to Me— The simple News that Nature told— With tender Majesty Her Message is committed To Hands I cannot see— For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen— Judge tenderly—of Me Take note of the jejetype tendencies: the abuse of capitalization, the crazy use of dashes, the absence of commas and periods, and the erratic syntax. Is “judge tenderly of me" English? Will DepEd ban Dickinson’s poetry in our schools? What is stunning is that Dickinson lived between 1830 and 1886. We can really trace the history of jejenese two centuries back. Of course, just like the jejemons now, Dickinson in her time was marginalized. Publishers did not want to touch her manuscript. When she was alive, she only published eight poems in a local paper in Massachusetts. She was already dead when she became famous. So what is the implication of jejemon sub-culture to language teaching in our schools, colleges, and universities? Nothing, for the simple reason that the school system is above ground and jejemon is underground. A jejemonster, when answering a written test in the classroom, is aware that the teacher giving the test is a jejebuster and a grammar Nazi. Why risk getting a failing grade? A jejemonster will automatically shift to academic, meaning mainstream, type of language. When asked whether the jejebusting mission of DepEd has a basis or not, the poet, language and literature professor, and columnist Vim Nadera sent this text message, “Sa ganang akin wala. Pero natural ang pangamba. Lalo na sa mga puristang noon ay nawindang din sa paglaganap ng salitang kanto o di kaya’y swardspeak. Ngunit humupa rin ang agam-agam kinalaunan nang lumaganap at lumawig sa mga terminong tulad ng ‘istambay’ o ‘tsokaran.’ At ‘chukchakchenes’ o ‘okray.’ Ngayon ang itinuturing na banta sa seguridad ng wika ay jejemon. Subkultura pa lang ito. Walang iniwan sa ispeling nang bago pa ang texting na may HIR NA ME WER NA U o C U L8R atbp. Publiko ang bubuhay at papatay sa jejemon. Nakasalalay sa ating mga kamay (o daliri) ang kapangyarihan nitong tumagal. Epidemya rin itong parang antas ng bawat jejemon na may malala o grabe. Kung totoong sakit o sinat lang ito, tayong karaniwang tao ang magpapasya. Sa kaso ng jejemon tayo ang manggagamit. At tayo rin ang manggagamot." Whew! What a mouthful from the former director of the Likhaan Creative Writing Center of the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Speaking of jejemon poetry, I think it is Nadera who first attempted this in his book of poems 15 Lamang (read as “Labinglima Lamang") published by De La Salle University Press in 1994. In his poems Nadera uses a lot of font types and overuses capitalization, italics, and bold letters. The jejemon subculture has been there for some time, but perhaps, it was simply unnamed. It gained momentum with the coming of new technologies like pagers, cellular phones, and the Internet. Almost everyone has used these technologies and therefore, wittingly or unwittingly, was infected by the jejemon virus. It is only this year that the word “jejemon" was coined. This naming opened the gates for authorities to attack it. And attack they did. It is funny and irritating because the wise and learned officials of DepEd do not get it. No one can stop jejemon, for jejemon is an underground sub-culture. It is a subversive activity that is spontaneous, or even organized, in order to spite the establishment. Curtail it and it will go deeper into the underground, or in this case, virtual underground. Like germs or viruses, it will gloriously multiply on its own. C’mon jejebusters ang grammar Nazis! You have more worthwhile things to do like looking for permanent solutions to the perennial problems of classroom and textbook shortage, the absence of clean toilets, not to mention the overall decline in the quality of public education. Forget the jejemons n jhUSt dO ur jOb huweLL! – YA/HS, GMANews.TV The author has won several awards from Palanca and the Manila Critics Circle for his poetry, fiction, and essays. He is currently teaching Communication Arts & Writing in Filipino at the Miriam College in Quezon City.