Sunday, June 24, 2012

J2LYK There's a Texting/SMS Language Revolution

Back in 2009, a CD post featured Charles Platt, former senior writer for Wired Magazine, who got hired at an Arizona Wal-Mart and then blogged and wrote about his experience.  Today he sends along this provocative guest post for CD:

Phone messaging and Facebook are being blamed for degrading the English language, but in reality, language evolves to satisfy the needs of people who employ it, and the result is enrichment with new terms that serve a useful purpose. After online media encouraged acronyms as substitutes for frequently used phrases (such as BTW, OMG, and the ubiquitous LOL), the limitations of a phone keypad spawned abbreviations that are showing signs of permanence, even including txt for text and k for ok (Netlingo hosts a list of more than 2,000 chat acronyms and text message abbreviations, while Wikipedia provides a thorough history and analysis of SMS language).

The international reach of the web means that the neologisms and (especially) emoticons are now functioning as the beginnings of a world language. Esperanto was supposed to achieve this, but failed miserably, perhaps because it was created by a committee of experts. Texting and messaging are developing from the grass roots up, and thus are more durable, regardless of what language professors might prefer. I see this as something to celebrate, but of course YMMV.

~Charles Platt

TAM Charles!


At 6/25/2012 2:12 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

OK, I concur -- who do I have to kill to get on the standards committee for formalizing this shit?



At 6/25/2012 6:30 AM, Blogger Jon Murphy said...

I understand the point, and it certainly is legitimate, but there is a big difference between formal writing and informal writing. Sure, emoticons and text-speak is good for conversation among friends, but does it have a place in the official world? Should it?

At 6/25/2012 8:49 AM, Blogger morganovich said...


i think you need to move to france to do so. they actually have just such a committee whose role is to prevent the bastardization of the french language.

they fought tooth and claw to get french people to stop using "le weekend" and switch to the ever so convenient "fin de la semaine".

based on my personal experience, they failed pretty miserably.

perhaps they could benefit from your energy here.

At 6/25/2012 9:18 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...




WOTD wirld




At 6/25/2012 9:22 AM, Blogger morganovich said...


the "official" world seems to have become a great deal less formal.

in the early 90's i still wore a suit to work. this is now VERY rare among hedge funds. there is even reverse snobbery about it. (eg "nice suit, what are you selling?")

formality is simply a much less important aspect of many workplaces.

i absolutely agree that having LOL on my marketing materials would look horrendous and would never do it, but extreme abbreviation and colloquialism has long been common on trading desks especially as IM has replaced phone calls.

bot 20k gm 20.32 0.5c is common


what do you want to do?


done that way.

etc. is just easier.

perhaps that's not what you meant by official, but it's certainly mission critical.

in many instances, the purpose of communication is to be clear and quick. whatever best accomplishes that works best.

it might be more elegant to trade using haiku, but i doubt it would work as well.

i need to unload
twenty k shares of apple
sell it at market

might make nice calligraphy

but S 20k apple mkt is faster.

At 6/25/2012 9:22 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

"they fought tooth and claw to get french people to stop using "le weekend" and switch to the ever so convenient "fin de la semaine".

m, maybe the ministry of french culture might be amenable to...

W/E :>)

At 6/25/2012 9:45 AM, Blogger Jon Murphy said...


I was talking about communication with clients, or in formal academic writings, etc. We use shorthand in the office all the time to communicate with one another, but would never, ever communicate that way with a client. I was raised that even writing contractions in formal writings (don't vs. do not) was incorrect, and I still follow that today.

No matter how you feel about this, would anyone seriously consider investing in a company who wrote their prospectus in text-talk?

At 6/25/2012 10:42 AM, Blogger morganovich said...


well, the line is not as sharp as you may think.

where does the liberal use of acronyms and buzzwords drift over into text speech?

you would not believe some of the buzzword bingo corporate presentations i see.

that sort of tech/valley speak is very, very common. personally, i tend to find it off-putting and would not utilize such language, but it's staggeringly common in investor decks.

there is somehting about the .ppt format that brings out the buzzwords and bad english.

i have one in front of me right now that is borderline unintelligible, and it's in an industry i am a deep expert in. (online ad targeting). without a decade of industry knowledge, this deck would read like glossolalia with colorful charts.

i'm dying to cut and paste you some excerpts but that would violate an NDA.

general note: if every word in a sentence is a buzzword, the likelihood that it can be meaningfully distinguished from gibberish is near zero.

i am not disagreeing with your interest in clear, correct english to communicate ideas. frankly, if one cannot communicate an idea in such a fashion, i begin to harbor doubts that the writer actually understands the subject matter. however, there is a sort of "in crowd" technologista communication gap that is deliberately cultivated in the tech industry. the purpose IS to exclude non-initiates from comprehension and to create a warm fuzzy feeling of being an "it" guy among those able to parse such near nonsense and outlandishly specialized and acronym driven speech.

does it help their case? that's an interesting question. among many, probably. it helps the techno-hipster identify each other and makes sure those seeking a "change agent" never hire a mere "consultant".




At 6/25/2012 10:55 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

Sure, emoticons and text-speak is good for conversation among friends, but does it have a place in the official world? Should it?

The answer is that it depends on what the people who are communicating want to accomplish. If your client has little problem with a quick message full of shorthand then it is fine. But if s/he isn't or needs a formal set of communication during some periods then that is what you have to provide. The point is that there is no central authority to formalize the use of language. France tried it but has failed miserably.

At 6/25/2012 5:45 PM, Blogger Marko said...

When all documents were done in longhand, before printing, there were also abbreviation conventions. The most obvious is etc., but also ibid, ditto, e.g., i.e., and many others. Not sure how many of these came from long writing, and how many from printing, but the point is the same - the medium changes the use of language.

Now we have a host of new media, and they are changing the use of the language as well, and it is creeping into other media. Ho hum. BTDT. OK is funny, since wtf is OK anyway? Look it up, pretty funny.

At 6/25/2012 5:52 PM, Blogger Marko said...

Word Origin & History

1839, only survivor of a slang fad in Boston and New York c.1838-9 for abbreviations of common phrases with deliberate, jocular misspellings (cf. K.G. for "no go," as if spelled "know go"); in this case, "oll korrect." Further popularized by use as an election slogan by the O.K. Club, New York boosters
of Democratic president Martin Van Buren's 1840 re-election bid, in allusion to his nickname Old Kinderhook, from his birth in the N.Y. village of Kinderhook. Van Buren lost, the word stuck, in part because it filled a need for a quick way to write an approval on a document, bill, etc. The noun is first attested 1841; the verb 1888. Spelled out as okeh, 1919, by Woodrow Wilson, on assumption that it represented Choctaw okeh "it is so" (a theory which lacks historical documentation); this was ousted quickly by okay after the appearance of that form in 1929. Okey-doke is student slang first attested 1932. Greek immigrants to America who returned home early 20c. having picked up U.S. speech mannerisms were known in Greece as okay-boys, among other things.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Cite This Source

At 6/25/2012 6:10 PM, Blogger Craig Howard said...

based on my personal experience, they failed pretty miserably.

Yes, and from reading your post, I can see that we are losing the battle for the capitalization of letters.


At 6/26/2012 10:07 AM, Blogger morganovich said...


i'm not sure if that was a joke or not, but, regardless, using poor grammar and haphazard commas to make fun of a lack of capitalization seems like a poor way to try and seize the grammatical high ground.

that is one clunky sentence you wrote.

what was the point of that second comma?

that is not a clause that needs to be set off as it does not interrupt the flow of the sentence.

further, to use "yes, and" is not terribly proper either.

perhaps you might want to look to your own writing before criticizing others.

At 6/26/2012 11:35 AM, Blogger Charles Platt said...

Jon Murphy wrote: "Sure, emoticons and text-speak is good for conversation among friends, but does it have a place in the official world? Should it?"

Well, it's a judgment call. My Latin teacher (yes, I had to learn Latin, back in the day) strongly believed that it was unacceptable to use an apostrophe anywhere in the "official world." Thus "Won't" was unacceptable while "Will not" was acceptable.

All I know is that when you fight the evolution of language, you're trying to hold back the preferences of many millions of people, and it may turn out to be a losing battle.


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