I'm having a case of probable false memory... Has anyone else ever heard of a short story where the main character is a newscaster or perhaps he is just watching the news and he's very eloquent but then the rest of the world gets more and more dumb til they just communicate in grunts and growls, or perhaps even with images, and he misses important information because he never bothered to learn this primitive language... Any of this sound familiar? I've been searching my brain but it's possible I made the whole thing up, or perhaps I never read it and it was like a Twilight Zone episode or something. I can't remember if the world just became that way or if there was alien influence... I feel like the message he missed was about leaving Earth and he couldn't understand the news he was watching. Hoping this community can help a girl out. It's driving me nuts.

  • Any idea how old the story is? How long ago did you read it?
    – user14111
    Feb 10 '18 at 19:37
  • Some vague resemblance to the events in Nancy Kress' "Ej-Es", but none of the details match. Feb 10 '18 at 19:46
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    If you go to scifi.stackexchange.com/tags/story-identification/info, you'll get a list of questions that you can answer (editing those answers into your question) to prompt more details.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Feb 10 '18 at 19:58
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    Slightly reminiscent of R. A. Lafferty's story "A Special Condition in Summit City" but I don't think that's it.
    – user14111
    Feb 10 '18 at 22:36
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    This reminds me of "Shall We Have a Little Talk?" by Robert Sheckley. A man with a gift for acquiring languages almost instantly upon hearing them is sent by the Earth government to an alien planet to establish communications, but the local language changes on a daily basis, too fast for him to keep up.
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 11 '18 at 3:47

It's possible you may be thinking of a story from the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone. In "Wordplay" (written by Rockne O'Bannon and directed by Wes Craven), from the first season, a man finds that everyone else in the world is changing to using a different language. It starts gradually, with a few words changed, but by the end of the story the protagonist can't understand anything of what is said and written around him.

The whole story is available on YouTube here.


Could it possibly be Douglas Coupland's short story "Bartholomew Is Right There at the Dawn of Language"? The story is about a language prescriptivist. As the world moves more and more towards text messages, he becomes more frustrated because "someone has to maintain standards".

Then one day Karen walked past Bartholomew's office with her now teenage daughter. His door was open and he was able to hear the two women speak. They both sounded like the Tasmanian Devil character from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Then they turned around and spoke to Bartholomew: "Booga-booga-ooga-oog?"

One day, everyone is missing. It turns out that the rapture has occurred, and only the people who "became more authentic and more interested in using noises and sounds instead of words to communicate" were closer to God.

The story ends with Bartholomew watching a recorded message from the Channel Three News Team explaining this in 'the ancient way of speaking'.

The story is from "Generation A" from 2009, then republished in "Bit Rot" in 2016.

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