How’s your txtng style?

Posted by on May 29, 2012

How does the language you use in text messages differ from your email style, and from your prose in more formal contexts? This is something to which I’ve been paying more attention since reading David Crystal’s book Txtng: The gr8 db8, which examines text language and refutes complaints that it’s an indication of illiteracy, laziness, or the fall of humanity.

I use abbreviations in text messages, lots of them time-related (hrs, eve, Tues, wkend or w/e), but I avoid many common ones (u, @) and don’t normally use number–letter mixtures (l8r, 2day, sum1). This aversion is aesthetic, though I don’t mind reading such terms in other people’s messages. Some abbreviations (e.g., FWIW) give me pause unless I’m sure the recipient is familiar with them; others (e.g., thx) I tend to use only if space restrictions demand.

A grammatical feature of most people’s text messages, in my experience, is that many sentences are elliptical. Instead of ‘I’m off for a cycle’, I would say ‘Off for a cycle’, ‘Off on bike’, or ‘Off cycling’. This style is common to many informal contexts, but in texting it may even be the norm. And when I do include I-forms, they’re typically lowercase: i’m, i’ll, i’d.

Though I don’t object to LOL and company, I prefer to type out my laughs as ha ha, hee hee, ho ho, heh, mwa ha ha haaaa, and so on. I don’t use ROFL either, but I was very interested to hear about the new meanings it has taken on. Something similar, though less radical, has happened with OMG: Kerry Maxwell shows how ‘its meaning and areas of use have . . . begun to extend beyond its initial function’.

In Ireland, a similar expression of surprise – Jesus Mary and Joseph – has led to the jocular acronym JMJ. These tweets illustrate its use in the wild. When I go to type JMJ in my phone, I’m offered LOL: such textonyms, which occur through predictive typing, are another curious development from the technology. Sharon has written about how we’ve learned to ‘auto-translate’ them. People sometimes even use the alternatives – nonsensical in another context – as a texting in-joke.

New modes and styles of expression are an important part of language change and growth – they have ‘spawned all sorts of clever, funny and inventive new uses of language’, as Michael put it. Texting, like slang, is an ‘active frontier’, and the innovation and flux it illustrates is a sign of linguistic health. So long as communication is effective, and young people learn (or are taught) when texting style is inappropriate, there is no call for alarm. Despite occasional panic, texting is not ruining language – it’s just another way for social creatures to be social.

What is your texting language like? I’d love to hear about the differences in your style. And if you text in another language, what customs and abbreviations do you use?

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Comments (18)
  • As a rather slow and incompetent texter, I often fall foul of predictive text (which I learned to use only after a tutorial from my daughter). The other day I informed my son that his father, who had just left on a trip abroad, had sinned*. ‘What, after only one day?’ was his retort.

    I’m also bemused by some other textonyms. I can see where ‘nun’ for ‘mum’ comes from (the dictionary must have originated in the US; altho kids here in Brum also write ‘mom’). But ‘lord’ for ‘lose’? Is someone trying to tell me something?

    * (of course I meant to text ‘phoned’. Presumably the term of choice is ‘called’).

    Posted by Liz on 29th May, 2012
  • My use of abbreviations comes down to not just space but the number of keystrokes. On my Droid, “L8r” is 5 keystrokes (l, change to number keyboard, 8, change back, r); “later” is also 5 keystrokes. As long as space isn’t an issue, why bother with abbreviations that take the same amount of keystrokes or more?

    Posted by Erin Brenner on 29th May, 2012
  • Liz: That’s a brilliant unintended meaning! Your son was quick on the draw, too. My current phone doesn’t learn from my choices: I’m forced to cycle through the same disfavoured options every time. There should be a better way.

    Erin: A very good point, and one Crystal addresses in his book. Keystroke counts and modes differ considerably from one phone type to the next.

    Posted by Stan on 29th May, 2012
  • I was very interested to read your opening paragraph, it makes your texting idiolect sound very much like mine. I tend to have a couple of registers for texting. Work texts are fully spelled, but without apostrophes or commas, and without articles when possible. Social texts, especially to <25-yr old friends, tend to be more txtspk. And texts to my desi friends are mildly Hinglish, using whichever language has the shorter words,e.g. kal for yesterday/tomorrow.

    Posted by Stuart on 29th May, 2012
  • Using Swype’s finger-always on the keyboard word crafting makes the use of most contractions unnecessary, although its predictive vocabulary is sometimes silly or illogical – like the sinning above.

    Alan Bachers

    Posted by Alan on 29th May, 2012
  • My texting style definitely depends on the ‘textee’ (is that a real word?) – one of my sons tends not to use abbreviations and I respond in kind, finding myself typing the full word. My daughter uses the number-letter ones you describe and sometimes I have to pause to work it out….My dilemma is the use of text style in emails on my ifon. This struck me recently when I found myself replying to an email in text-speak and then realised how this must read to someone opening it as an email. Personally, I would hate it and see it as lazy and disrespectful – as though I set standards for communicating by text that can’t be allowed to apply to email. Stan, communication has become increasingly more complicated – bring back the quill an ink I say!

    Posted by Helen on 30th May, 2012
  • Stuart: Very interesting. I rarely if ever type out yesterday in text messages, generally using y’day instead. (Kal sounds like a handy alternative.) I don’t tend to omit apostrophes; in fact I probably use them more often, to indicate missing letters.

    Alan: I see what you mean, though I’ve never used Swype.

    Helen: Textee is definitely a word, albeit non-standard for now; it’s far less fussy than message recipient! Text messages for work, like email more generally, occupy something of a grey area as regards style and etiquette, I think, and probably vary a lot from one person or context to the next.

    Posted by Stan on 30th May, 2012
  • I am German and I seldom send textmessages via phone, but prefer emails instead. I don’t like abbreviations and wouldn’t use them. But we do have them and I can’t get used to them. We often finish a text with: mit freundlichen Grüssen, which becomes MFG- I don’t feel, reading this, that someone is sending Grüsse ( greetings ) to me, but abbreviations. The same happens with : Liebe Grüsse : LG
    Just to give you a few examples in German.

    Posted by Rominski on 31st May, 2012
  • Rominski: Thank you for sharing these examples and your thoughts on them. I think it can be one of the effects of abbreviations, that it distances the word from its referent. So ‘LOL’ can signify slight amusement rather than actual, audible laughter. On the other hand, the convention in English for sending a kiss – not just in text messages but in emails, letters and so on – is ‘x’; I don’t know anyone who feels short-changed by them, but maybe someone does.

    Posted by Stan on 1st June, 2012
  • […] Enlace original en Macmillan Dictionary Blog […]

    Posted by How’s your txtng style? « The Pursuit of Translation on 5th June, 2012
  • […] How’s your txtng style? analyses how the language you use in text messages differs from your style in email and your prose elsewhere. I compare the grammar and style of my own text messages with what I know about others’, and I dismiss the suggestion that texting is somehow harmful to language: New modes and styles of expression are an important part of language change and growth – they have ‘spawned all sorts of clever, funny and inventive new uses of language’, as Michael put it. Texting, like slang, is an ‘active frontier’, and the innovation and flux it illustrates is a sign of linguistic health. So long as communication is effective, and young people learn (or are taught) when texting style is inappropriate, there is no call for alarm. Despite occasional panic, texting is not ruining language – it’s just another way for social creatures to be social. […]

    Posted by Comma clusters and texting style « Sentence first on 25th June, 2012
  • I wonder if Germans in general use more text abbreviations, as from what I’ve seen abbreviations are more common in more contexts in German than in English (usw, bzw, etc).

    Posted by sam on 25th June, 2012
  • I don’t know if there’s any comparative data on that, Sam, but I’d be curious about it too. This page of German text abbreviations (under “SMS-Abkürzungen”) might interest you.

    Posted by Stan on 26th June, 2012
  • Sorry, the hyperlink seems to have vanished. The URL is: http://www.absmsen.de/index.html

    Posted by Stan on 26th June, 2012
  • Sam, I think we generally use a lot of abbreviations in German and they are widely accepted. But as this thread is about text massages I was just focussing on the latest usages. The ones you gave as an example are even to be found in more formal texts and have been around for a long time..

    Posted by Rominski on 27th June, 2012
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