text literacy
n. The ability to read and write competently.

Example Citation:
"As communication worldwide occurred increasingly through media other than text, educators and policymakers began, reluctantly but inexorably, to move beyond their historic obsession with text literacy and place a higher priority on developing students' media literacy."
—Scott C. Shuler, "Music and Education in the Twenty-First Century: A Retrospective," Arts Education Policy Review, January 1, 2001

Earliest Citation:
"Stephenson also said a shifting emphasis in literacy, particularly with children who have become more adept at sorting out visual ideas driven by computers, may eventually do more harm than good.

'I think visual literacy and media literacy is not without value,' he said. 'But I think plain old-fashioned text literacy and mathematical literacy are much more powerful and flexible ways to organize your mind.'"
—Evan Ramstad, "Pushing the Edge With 'Diamond Age' Nano-Machines," Associated Press, May 10, 1995

Traditionally, the word literacy has been defined as "the ability to read and write to a competent level." In other words, being literate has always meant being able to handle text with reasonable facility. But literacy has also had a second sense: "Being knowledgeable in a particular subject or area of activity." This more general sense has led to specific types of literacy: media literacy, computer literacy, mathematical literacy (also called numeracy), and many others. Over the past few years, these multiple literacies have created confusion around the single word literacy. Which literacy are we talking about? This confusion was, I believe, the reason why you now see the retronym text literacy being used more and more. (See the Word Spy entry for p-book for a brief discussion of retronyms.)

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