Canberra this morning was a little smoky, with a chemical fire in the northern suburb of Mitchell. Emergency Services sent out emergency messages to a number of suburbs, urging people to stay indoors to avoid toxic smoke.

A couple of friends posted the emergency text message on their Facebook feed:

The ACT Fire Brigade responding to chemical insadent in Mitchell. Resadents of Franklin, Crace, Harrison, Watson, Downer, Kaleen, Lyneham, Hackett stay indoors.

The misspelled words (“insadent”, “resadents”) and telegraphic style caused many people (including the aforementioned friends) to question the origin of the message, concluding it to be an elaborate hoax.

We here at Fully(sic) tend to edge closer to the descriptive end of things – describing how people use language – rather than the prescriptive end – telling people how to use language – but in this case, it’s pushing things back prescriptive-ward. While we like to let language evolve on its own terms, pretty much all linguists will agree that people should stay within the bounds of what is, in a speaker’s mind, acceptable language. Furthermore, most will agree that there are many situations where following the conventions of written language is an important tool for communication. An official emergency text message is probably one of these situations.

The best description of this phenomenon I’ve heard comes from a source I’ve since forgotten. It suggests that using unconventional language and conventional language is like getting dressed in the morning. If you’re going to a job interview and an ambassadorial dinner, you’re not going to wear your tracky-dacks, t-shirt and ugg-boot combo.

Edit: ABC have uploaded a picture of the text in question:

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