The English Pedant – Txt spk

Economy is an important concept for a writer. Economy of words, that is. You don’t waste them. And more importantly in this impatient world, you don’t subject your readers to more of the hard labour of reading than they are prepared to put up with.

This blog breaks current rules every day, in that it contains articles (sorry, posts) of between 500 and 1,000 words. And it sometimes makes people think.  That is not a recipe for success in this day and age, but the fact that some people do read it demonstrates that the notion of reading for pleasure does still exist and that communication has not yet been reduced to a series of ultra brief titbits about celebrities.

The chief culprit here, as we have discussed before, is the text message. You’ve got to keep it brief on a phone for several reasons, principally the fact that the keypad is so small that it’s difficult and boring to compose anything of substance.

I can’t help but admire those who bash away with their thumbs and manage to convey their thoughts to friends squinting at a small screen as they sit in their room, hiding from their parents, or while bouncing down the aisle of a bus with a Big Mac in the other hand.

Given the countless other demands on their time, it is obvious why they seek to reduce words to skeletons. It’s called shorthand, and it has been around quite a long time. Sir Isaac Pitman developed his system in 1837, and there may have been those at the time who feared that would be the end of written language as they knew it. But it wasn’t.

A few years ago I embarked on a shorthand course run by a nice but bossy woman named Sandra. We were a motley crew: middle-aged journalists, young journalists, secretaries, civil servants and others with some reason to want to be able to write quickly. The teacher’s role in such a situation is different from when she is standing in front of a class of children. What she has here is a bunch of people with their own reasons for being there, their own requirements and their own youthful past when they may or may not have been attentive students. So she was bossy for a reason.

To her credit, Sandra’s bottom line (sorry, getting all jargonistic there) was that while she taught us how to abbreviate words, if we came up with our own ideas and they worked to the extent that when we read back what we had scribbled down during a test and ultimately in real life, if we could understand it, it was okay. My dad used to do it, mainly by leaving out vowels. He would sign birthday cards to my Mum “Yr lvg hsbd.”

When you create your own system, at least you should be able to remember what everything means. Looking at a list of other people’s text abbreviations, though, can be confusing.

Try these, from an online list I came across:

BLNT. No? Better luck next time. The context  might give it away, but otherwise you could be racking your brains for the extra ingredient in a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Or maybe bacon, lettuce, no tomato.

RUOK we can probably all manage. And ROFL – rolling on the floor laughing.

But how about ROTFLUTS? I suspect that was planted in the list by a pro-language subversive: it means rolling on the floor laughing, unable to speak. Apparently. And obviously they wouldn’t include the comma, because that’s punctuation, a phenomenon whose days, some would say, are numbered.

BRB and BTW most of us can get: be right back and by the way. But how about CMIIW? Correct me if I’m wrong, says the list. I reckon they just made it up to be clever.

Way down in the Y section there sits this: YRYOCC. You’re running your own cuckoo clock (although they spelled cuckoo as cookoo). I have no idea what that means even when written in full and spelled correctly.

Under W, along with the well-known WTF we have WIIFM (what’s in it for me), which would benefit from a question mark, but that’s not going to happen.

But then the subversives are at it again.

WISP. Anyone? Beats me too. Winning is so pleasurable. Has anyone ever said those four words together? Certainly not often enough to merit creating a labour-saving acronym.

Incidentally, strictly speaking, an acronym is an abbreviation using the first letters of words and pronounced as a word itself, so WISP could count, but now we’re getting into mind-twisting pedant territory.



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