Text speak – WTF (What’s The Fuss)?


As new technologies develop, the effect they have on our culture is played out in our language. The status update and the tweet are two clear examples of technology leading a change in the way we communicate. And, regardless of whether you use Facebook or Twitter, the now-common terms “status update” and “tweet” hold some semblance of meaning to most of us.











Another key example of our language changing to suit our new technological environment is texting, and the advent of text speak. David Crystal, one of Britain’s best known linguists, has described texting as “the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative and to adapt language to suit the demands of diverse settings”.

Not being a texting expert, or “textpert”, I have until recently enjoyed an almost wilful ignorance of text speak. I had never bothered to use it much on the assumption that it was, well … a bit pointless. Very few of my friends and family use it to any great degree so I never learnt it myself.

However, it would be virtually impossible to be completely ignorant about text speak. I know the obvious examples but I have always pointedly refused to use acronyms such as LOL so as not to be associated with the kind of person who thinks that updating their Facebook status with details of a recent meal is somehow amusing (‘I’ve just had jelly for my tea. LOL!’).

In fact, I compose my text messages in much the same way people write (or used to write) letters, eschewing the kind of texting flourishes that many people use.  I subconsciously apply four rules to my texting (and use them to silently judge other people’s):
1) All words must be written out in full
2) Never use predictive text
3) Always sign off clearly
4) Under no condition use emoticons

It’s all I can do to stop myself writing ‘Yours faithfully’ at the end of each message, even to my mum.

The upside of these rules is that I can understand what I’m writing to people. The downside is that it takes me about ten minutes to compose even the most rudimentary text. Still, I’ve always felt it was a price worth paying.

I realise that my internalized rules for texting might be explained simply as a badly disguised form of snobbery. My assumption about text speak was that it was used by lazy people who either couldn’t be bothered to spell out an entire word or couldn’t actually spell and used it as a cover. I may have been implicitly aware that text speak had its own clear rules of usage but not that it could also be creative or funny. A few examples that I discovered online suggested that I might be wrong:

AYTMTB – And you’re telling me this because?
The fact that this even exists as a phrase in text speak alone showed me that there is humour in texting language. What’s more, it packs a bigger punch than when writing the phrase in its entirety. The next time somebody texts me some pointless information, I shall be using this as a comeback.

KISS – Keep it simple, stupid / YOYO – You’re on your own
I’m not sure when you would use either of these in a text but I find it entertaining that a word in text speak can appear to be positive or even frivolous but hide a critical or darker meaning.

PAW – Parents are watching
Text speak being used for covert means; to protect the texter from discovery. Which makes sense when you think about who much of it was created by – teenagers.

The debate about the positive or negative effects text speak is having on the English language will go on. It will continue to have its defenders and detractors but for me, at least, I may be starting to see some point to it after all.


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