MED Magazine - Issue 27 - February 2005

New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

LetsGt2gtha on Valentine's Day!

Is the word LetsGt2gtha likely to appear on your mobile phone on February 14th? Or might you be exercising your thumbs to punch out its variant form, ltsGt2getha, and sending it off to a 'significant other'? This string of characters and its variant form are of course a text messaging abbreviation for the phrase let's get together.

In 2003, SMS messages, or text messages, overtook handwritten cards as the medium by which romantic communications were exchanged on Valentine's Day. Text messaging provides the ideal forum for the exchange of Valentine's sentiments, a quick means of communicating intimate thoughts without attracting the attention of those around you! The vocabulary of text messaging is rich in items belonging to the domain of romance and relationships. Here are just a few among the many examples:

lutp love you to pieces
luwamh love you with all my heart
ly4e love you forever
mayb mad about you, baby
Adcdt2Luv addicted to love
dwkotl deep wet kiss on the lips

The evolution of text messaging vocabulary depends in no small part on the contexts of its use. People in close relationships, i.e. friends, partners, husbands and wives, are more likely to exchange text messages than strangers, so commonly used terms refer to loved ones, e.g. b/f (boyfriend) and g/f (girlfriend). With the current decline in the use of emoticons (groups of punctuation symbols such as :-) , meaning 'happy'), expression of emotion to those close to us is a rapidly growing element of text messaging vocabulary. Some common examples include:

hhoj ha, ha, only joking
hak hugs and kisses
musm miss you so much
sre, sry sorry
lho laughing head off
clab crying like a baby
c&g chuckle and grin

In January of 2005, the British Government issued a statement advising against the use of mobile phones by children under the age of nine, a response to the explosion in the use of mobile phones by children and young adults, many of whom are proficient 'texters' at a very young age. Observation of such trends led to the coining of the term thumb generation in 2002, as researchers observed a new dexterity in children and young adults as frequent users of mobile phones and hand-held games consoles. The popularity of text messaging among children and young adults has in turn had an impact on the texting lexicon, with many terms reflecting concepts of importance in the world of young people, e.g.:

paw parents are watching
pos parents over shoulder
mgd my gameboy died
hwk, hmwrk homework
SA essay
skul school
sk8, sk8r skate, skater

Just as the typical users of mobile phones influence the development of text messaging vocabulary, so do the conventional situations of use. Unlike e-mail, text messaging is often a simulation of real-time conversation, so as well as typical greetings such as howru (how are you?) and cya (see ya), text messaging vocabulary often incorporates items which we would normally think of as restricted to the domain of spoken discourse, e.g.:

YYSW yeah yeah sure whatever
ysyd yeah, sure you do
ab ah, bless!
a? eh?
ow oh well!

The evolution of the syntax and lexis of texting language has largely been driven by one single constraint: the fact that providers of mobile phone networks usually restrict users to about 160 characters per message. Speed and ease of typing is another important factor, since as we have said, text messages are often used as an alternative to real-time conversation. Although predictive text messaging (a facility that stores words in the mobile phone in order to avoid having to press the keys a number of times) is also popular today, abbreviation is still the name of the game, and texters have employed various strategies to achieve their communicative goals in the speediest fashion.

One of the most common strategies is of course to take the initial letters of each word in a commonly used phrase or sentence, e.g.:

bfn bye for now
bbs be back soon
od oh dear
ta thanks again
tbc to be continued

The texting fraternity often take this concept to its absolute limit, however. Many such abbreviations are frequently very long and driven by specific contexts of use, so much so that their interpretation is not always immediately obvious to the uninitiated, e.g.:

botec back of the envelope calculation
btdtgtts been there, done that, got the T-shirt
ycdbwycid you can't do business when your computer is down
wysbanrtwyg what you see bears absolutely no relation to what you get

Some of the longer abbreviations of this type often represent familiar sayings and turns of phrase which are popular in conversation, e.g.:

oosoom out of sight, out of mind
lab&tyd life's a bitch and then you die
ywsyls you win some, you lose some

Another common mechanism for condensing text is the use of characters, both alphabetic and numerical, to represent entire syllables. The most common digits used are 8 (/et/), 2 (/tu/), and 4 (/f/), as in for example:

l8r later
b4 before
tlk2me talk to me

Letters of the alphabet are used in a similar way, especially those which have the same pronunciation as complete words, e.g.:

ne any
y why
t tea
cu see you

Increasingly it seems, texters are adopting the convention of showing whole syllables by the use of capital letters, as in, for example:

SA essay
thN then
Njoy enjoy
funE funny

Non-alphabetic characters (e.g. & for and, or @ for at) which have a specific functional meaning have always been a basic feature of texting language, as in e.g.:

gd&h grinning, ducking and hiding
u@ where are you?

However other non-alphabetic characters are now being introduced as a substitute for letters on the basis of physical form, regardless of their conventional meaning, e.g.

r%m room
c%l cool
ca$et cassette
Ndl$ endless

Though the texting lexicon represents many words by the initial letter of their 'genuine' English counterparts, simple contraction of familiar words is an established mechanism of abbreviation which is still used, e.g.:

cnfsd confused
cngrtultns congratulations
dwn down
mch much
pls please

Every texter is of course at liberty to type the full forms of English words if their thumbs can work quickly enough or they do not run out of space! Interestingly, however, the English texting lexicon even features 'loan' words, as for example the Italian word ciao, which is a common substitute for bye, despite the fact that it is one character longer.

The conventions exemplified above are just some amongst the many strategies texters combine indiscriminately to minimise thumb activity and achieve their goal: effective communication which is speedy enough to simulate real-time, verbal conversation. This leads to the formation of a vocabulary which, though rather bizarre in appearance and considered by some as a devaluation of the English language, is an effective means of communication for millions of people. All that remains is for me to say:

thku & ta4n (Thank you and that's all for now!)

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