Unlike the purity that the French desire to retain in their language (au revoir, le hamburger), American English is a dirtier affair: a living, breathing organism that adapts to changes in times and styles. Dictionaries, even the stodgier names, regularly add new words and phrases that hit the big time, and eventually phase out unused, obscure ones to rescue shelters like this. Also, we see annual lists of words and phrases that grate on us like nails on a blackboard, such as refudiate, epic fail and viral.

I like and hate this about my native tongue. I like the fluidity of our daily conversations, the LMAO moments of our melting pot. But I’m apprehensive about what our collective shorthand will do to our cultural communication skills. Will we graduate class after class of students who can’t master the art of the complete sentence? Already, I see it creeping into the workplace. My husband, once looking to hire a web designer, received an inquiry written completely in incomplete text-message-speak. “Ready when u r,” would not be too far off the mark. This dude’s first contact with a potential employer was tapped out as casually as the text he just sent his girlfriend.

Something’s wrong here. I’ve worked for myself and pitched jobs. I’ve worked for others and hired freelancers. But I don’t recall a single cover letter or e-mail to or from a potential employer that was worded so lackadaisically. (Now, there’s a word worth keeping.)

Maybe this was an isolated incident, and I’m being too hard on the class of 2011. After all, the only constant in this world is change. Who am I to even think I can hold back the advancing glacial foot of the English language? Perhaps some had bemoaned the introduction of movies, radio, and television as the death knell of civilized culture, as I rail against thumb-typing and strange acronyms now.

We survived early technology. We survived cartoon violence and Watergate. We survived Benny Hill, Wham! and Vanilla Ice. I have a feeling we’ll survive this current shift in our cultural paradigm.

After all, old expressions have their way of hanging on and easing us into the future. For every three sparkly new words entered into the Urban Dictionary, only one is jettisoned. We still say “dial” the phone even though we no longer have dials on our phones. We “cc” colleagues who may never have seen carbon paper. Collections of published music are still called “albums” even they may only exist as electronic files. Who knows? One day we might still “drive” cars that require little more than coordinate programming. Or “type” e-mails and blog posts (as I often do) by dictating into our computers. It will be a fascinating world. Although I do hope we continue talking to each other with our mouths, and not just with our thumbs.

Word up.

81 thoughts on “Acronymlish

  1. JenD says:

    Wait – you mean there are people who use text abbreviations in professional (even introductory???) communique? Call me old fashioned, but I’m keeping my LMAOs and OMGs strictly where I think they belong: in casual social media. Does this make me stodgy?

    • nadiaqahmad says:

      @laurieboris – Great post. I love the link to Save the Words. Wish I had known about it sooner!

      and @JenD – No, I don’t think this makes you stodgy. We should definitely keep lolspeak within casual social media. Though I wonder what new words might come up if we blurred the boundaries just once in a while…

    • grandpetcare says:

      There seem to be plenty of people who feel that text/ social media acronyms are appropriate in any context. It makes me cringe every time I see it.

  2. minimrs says:

    With you on ‘epic fail’… aargh! I think these days text speak is worse than plain bad spelling/grammar.. complete lack of care

  3. mynakedbokkie says:

    I must admit- i dont use them at all. IN fact, i actually dont understand what you said there? Haha. My bigger worry is that by the time my little girl is 16, she is 4 now, she wont be able to hold a conversation…….. however she will be an awesome writer! It is so much simpler, and faster to type out a quick sms, or email then it is to actually call. Very very sad! But so so true.
    Well done on being Freshly Pressed!!!

  4. Joe Storm says:

    I only chat stuff like “OMG”, “LMAO” “U” e.t.c to friends or family(Because, no need to be all uppity with them). But, I do type/text professionally dealing with my teachers or other people. I think people who text shorthand professionally, is probably had a slight mishap. Maybe he forgot to type normal because a second ago he was typing “Text-Worthy” to someone he knows.

  5. bigsheepcommunications says:

    I’m hoping that one day “cooking” dinner will not involve actual cooking, but more to your point, I’m hoping that we will continue to demand that people communicate using actual words that are spelled correctly in their entirety. I refuse to accept that we’re either too busy or too lazy to spell out 3 letter words, like “you” and “are.” I take the pledge the Word Up!

  6. runtobefit says:

    I don’t think it was an isolated incident. We can expect the communication skills of the next generation to be grossly diminished. Communication is turning away from hours of conversation to quick words jammed together to form somewhat coherent thoughts that will serve as commonplace “exchange” between people. It’s sad really.

  7. Kathryn McCullough says:

    OMG–thanks for raising this issue! Until two years ago I taught writing at our local university, shorthand was the name of the game and students lacked a contextual sense of the texts they created–literally.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  8. Marvi Marti says:

    I am still using cheat sheets/sites to figure out the short hand in texts! I cannot imagine using it in professional settings. As the office manager, that is one candidate that would not be hired.

    • laurieboris says:

      Well, it’s also how we learned to communicate. When you grow up with teachers (those in school and in the media) telling you that a certain way of speech and writing is “correct,” it makes that fluidity difficult. But it’s great that we can all talk about this.

  9. Jim says:

    My 13-year-old son uses casual online “speak” in much of his writing. He does avoid it in his schoolwork because his teachers won’t abide it. But my 70-year-old father showed me an e-mail my son recently sent him, completely in that casual style, and it was hard for Dad to understand what my son was saying.

    My son also wants to wear logoed t-shirts to church. I see it as part of the same problem. We have to learn the formality every context demands. US society has become considerably less formal in my lifetime. 25 years ago, you went to church in a shirt and tie; today, a polo shirt and khakis or even nice jeans will do it. So I insist on the polo shirt on Sunday mornings, and I intend to teach him how to tuck in his shirt and tie a tie because there are still times in your life when you need to know how — interviews, weddings, funerals, meeting clients, working in a bank. Similarly, I hope to help him learn when it’s okay to type, “i know lol” and when he needs instead to type, “I agree! How amusing.”

  10. broadsideblog says:

    I think there’s an interesting challenge for those unable to communicate clearly in full sentences — working with those of us who can, and who expect it. Not every workplace is filled with 22-year-olds in hoodies, but also — gasp! — workers in their 30s, 40s, 50s or even beyond and if you can’t quickly and efficiently communicate ideas throughout the workforce, good luck!

    I’m a journalist and author of two non-fiction works. I expect a very high level of literacy and clarity from those I work with. Woe to any assistant who wants to work with me who can’t offer these skills.

    A related challenge for managers is the (over) use of text and IM as opposed to those pesky face to face meetings or (snooze) telephone calls. One quickly loses a whole raft of social skills without them.

    • laurieboris says:

      Yes. We are still human animals with a hard-wired desire to see and talk with each other. Odd since I have many clients in other parts of the country that I only communicate with through e-mail. And we do it quite successfully and professionally.

  11. rtcrita says:

    It makes me feel old when I can’t understand what is being said by the younger generation. This is where having teenagers comes in handy! “Translate, please.” Fortunately, my children have a large vocabulary and can use proper English, but can also communicate with their friends in their own terminology and catch-phrases, text shorthand and what-have-you. I guess you could say they’re “bi-lingual!”

  12. badtwincam says:

    Oh, hell yeah! “Lackadaisically”….Did I even spell it right? Haven’t seen that one since high school ( that I damn near didn’t graduate from….).
    Yup, I’m One of Those…. My favorite word begins with “f “, I ride a motorcycle ( two guesses what flavor an’ the first one doesn’t count….), my Missus has a bunch of tattoos, I was dumb enough to join the Army ( getting shot at and hauling ass for the bunker ain’t the way to see the world ) , AND I type with two fingers….Geez….
    How does one become a good writer, novels and such as that? Seriously….

  13. auntbethany says:

    Wait, wasn’t there a time when cell phones didn’t exist? How on earth did we ever function without having an electronic appendage attached to our hands? I reserve all media acronyms for texting and online chatting only. The minute I let them creep into my email or…egads…writing…is the minute that I commit myself to an insane asylum.

    Great post! Kudos on being FP!

    • laurieboris says:

      Thank you, auntbethany! I was the last hold-out among my family and friends to get a cell phone, and that was just for emergencies. I do very well when I don’t have it, and reserve the acronyms for casual chats.

  14. Ryan Rosado says:

    Excellent topic to discuss. I feel the shift in how the English language is used is also reflected in hand-writing as well. I am only 23 but I remember when I was in 3rd grade, we learned cursive. I feel like no one today, especially the youngsters, will even know what cursive is. And I also thoroughly enjoy phrases that are considered old. If you ever watch Sex and the City, I love the way Michael Patrick King writes his script to have characters be so articulate and use “old phrases.” Just my two cents 🙂

      • JenD says:

        I still use words like “dungarees” and “slacks”. My 22 year old step-daughter just shakes her head (when she manages to look up from her Blackberry; sometimes she looks up WHILE she’s still texting – now that’s a skill my generation will probably never develop). At least she understands the words we say…

  15. Mikalee Byerman says:

    Incredible post!

    As a lover of language, I completely agree with your assessments. I’m stunned at the lack of care shown to the art of stringing words together to form a thought.

    My favorite recent moment illustrating such apathy: When I was managing editor for a magazine, I received a resume from a man claiming he was a “freelance waiter and copy editor.”

    Um, I think “writer,” my friend. Irony much? 😉

  16. CrystalSpins says:

    “American English is a dirtier affair…” — Brilliant. I could probably write an entire blog post about this myself (and maybe I will) so I won’t reply with the tome that is in my head about this. But I should mention that even as a young person (okay, maybe not so young — I’m 31) I’m very surprised by how casual people are about communicating.

    This mostly strikes me as odd when I’m applying for jobs and the people I’m applying to start treating me as if we are very familiar. I miss the use of Sir, Ma’am, Mr., Miss and Mrs. in common language as a sign of respect. It occurs to me that this might be a regional thing though. In the Mid-West we are rather familiar, non-ceremonial folk.


    • laurieboris says:

      Thanks, Crystal! I hate when young guys call me ‘ma’am,’ though. I’ve asked a few why they do it, and very often the reply is that someone told them it was respectful.

      • CrystalSpins says:

        I don’t think I would like being called Ma’am either. But again, I’m only 31 and I’m not even married. Ms. (or even Miss) Hohenthaner seems like a nice sign of respect though. (Of course everyone is afraid to try to say my last name.

  17. Tori says:

    I love the “Word up.” closing. I hear/read this everyday through e-mail, social networking, and even the occasional blog. I am a fan of tweaking certain phrases or words to better get my point across, but using ONLY new acronyms and terms (most of which originated as a way of sending a quick text or instant message) means a lot of younger folks are essentially speaking in tongues! In a few years, we can reduce paragraphs of writing and minutes of conversation into a pile of letters!
    COBFPS! (Congrats on being Freshly Pressed, Sister! )

  18. pegoleg says:

    A “make new friends, but keep the old” approach to vocabulary is healthy for the language. That doesn’t mean that rules and standards should go out the window. As long as everyone avoids tortiloquy, they won’t have to be tudiculated.

    By the way, thanks for the teeny, tiny “this” link to the Save the Words website. It’s great! I’m taking tortiloquy and tudiculate home. I’m sure we’ll be very happy.

    (congrats on being Freshly Pressed!)

  19. milieus says:

    Great post! I completely agree with you. Too many people- even professionals- seem to not be able to spell or type correctly. We have gotten so used to just sending a quick text message with abbreviations that the meaning of our words is lost. I try to avoid these types of messages. Instead of saying “cu soon,” I will say “I can’t wait to see you!” It only takes an extra 3 seconds, and shows the receiver that you care.

  20. Evie Garone says:

    I totally agree with this whole topic. The use of acronyms with your friends is ok, but in the work place, can’t we be “professional”, thus the word workplace. Also, I just love the use of words, I understand shortening them when texting perhaps for speed, making it easier to type as I’m technologically challenged so it makes it easier, but not in e-mails or any other media. The youth of today are forgetting how to read, write, compose and use the English language and it is a shame! They starting to sound like they are ignorant and uneducated…perhaps that is why other countries are catching up and passing us in Oh, so many ways…!?

  21. Cy Quick says:

    I am confused. Why would the people of Earth, Selene, Mars, the Belt, and the arks, a century, or two, or three, from now, be concerned about archaic European languages? Mandarin is surely well able to do its own “hanging on and easing us into the future”?

  22. dtrasler says:

    Wonderful post! I work as a Script Reader for a publisher, as well as being a Playwright, so I have my own grammar and punctuational hangups. But I’m the father of three weasels and I struggle with their spelling problems too. I understand the evolutionary nature of language, but the bottom line has to be the calrity of meaning. The reluctance to punctuate because it slows your texting speed becomes a dangerous habit. We received a FaceBook message from an adult friend that contained four sentences but no full stops or capitals. It made me breathless just reading it. I didn’t correct her in response, though I suspect I did grind my teeth!
    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  23. humanitarikim says:

    There is definitely a time and place for such lingo. I partake a bit, but I do get annoyed when someone texts me something like the following:
    “it was gr8 2 c u 2day.”

    I believe if I tried to follow suit it would take me too long to figure out how to shorten the darn replies…I’m much better and quicker at typing everything out.

  24. momintraining13 says:

    Having worked with a team web developers, I’d have to say I don’t think I’d want to hire someone who sent me a message like that. Seriously? People are supposed to put their best foot forward in an interview process. Web developers will generally have to work with customers to get requirements for what the website they are designing will look like. I’d like to think they were capable of writing grammatically correct sentences, especially given all the tools to help with these days. They would have to show me some websites they already developed that was pretty amazing for me to consider otherwise.

  25. Lindsay says:

    I’m in total agreement — I just don’t want to see our language being disrespected like this. And yes, I do find it largely disrespectful to send a potential employer an email in short form like that. Hell, I won’t even send my closest friends text messages without typing out the full word. Since when did it become really hard to type the two extra letters in “you”? Lazy, lazy, lazy.

  26. HaleyWhitehall says:

    I am disappointed in the evolution of communication that seems to be happening from talking on the phone to texting. I don’t text and likely never will. Unfortunately, more and more people are using text abbreviations in professional communication. What is this world coming to? Is professionalism and talking to a person becoming obsolete?

    • laurieboris says:

      I can’t seem to stop myself from saying “tape” a TV program instead of “record” a program, even though we trashed our VCR years ago for a DVR. It’s a process…

  27. Rania Abuisnaineh says:

    Beautiful post! I definitely agree with your worrisome (albeit realistic) observations. I myself have little tolerance for “typn lyk dis” and “rytin lyk dat” and “w8ing 4 ppl” to revisit their grammar, regardless of the sphere of communication.

    You’d think texting and chatting with friends would desensitize me to short hand, acronymic, text-like lingo, but I guess not.

    Anyways, thanks for the satirical read and congrats for being freshly pressed!

    Write on.

    Rania Abuisnaineh

  28. acleansurface says:

    Agreed. I read something recently about future generations not being taught the skill of alphabetizing, because technology will take care of it for us…another way things are changing.

  29. Marcos Gonzales says:

    I BRB, LMAO, LOL and OMG on text messages, on twitter, social media and any communicator that allows me to speak with friends. Still, I am trying to avoid any of it in blogs and I will never ever use it in business communication. Okay, I am not a native speaker of both English or American English, but still. There are certain limits when it comes to these popular terms. I know there is no way to stop new words from hitting the dictionary, no matter how ridiculous they look. Everybody will using them in the end anyway. I am just not willing to sell any decentcy for now.

  30. Deanna says:

    Yes, you have hit a nerve. I’ve been wondering about the evolution (or is it devolution?) of our language, as texting becomes omnipotent with new generations; as even I fall prey to its convenience more and more on my handheld device.
    The times, they are a-changing, let’s hope not at the expense of proper diction.

  31. elleisfor says:

    Congratulations on your post. It’s well written and hard to disagree with.

    I think there’s a dual tension in the written form. Professionally, I am constantly having to push myself (and colleagues) towards the use of plain English and away from legalese and its stuffy, outdated, and incomprehensible phrasing. Then there is the contrasting need to add formality to overly casual and abbreviated phrases, as you’ve discussed in your post.

    It’s easy to blame technology and space constraints for the latter, as well as social media like twitter. Ultimately, I think it’s really the fault of laziness. Never in our age has digital space, whether it take the form of tweets, Facebook status updates or text messaging, been so cheap or readily available. There’s plenty of room to say what you need to say without resorting to stilted, inelegant text speak. While the shortform atrocities may have resulted from the cost of text messaging, and the real need to keep it short, I don’t think that is still the case. However, the abbreviations seem to be our hangover from taht time. It’s a real shame.

    For my part, I love twitter for the challenge it throws down – make your point and make it concisely. I never or rarely use text speak. For me, it’s an excellent tool to make me rethink sentence structure and retrain my brain to express my ideas succinctly. I think there is real merit in acquiring that skill set.

    Thanks again for your post.

  32. mia1984 says:

    If you think work culture (in relation to technology) in the US is bad, wait till you see what it’s like in Indonesia. Not only do they use self-created shorthand (not acronyms) I already can’t understand (and I’m only under 40 years of age), they’re completely clueless about tweeting about their work, their boss, their clients (on public Twitter accounts, using their real names, and identifiable photos). They have no fear, no worries, no concerns, no courtesy whatsoever when it comes to mixing work with social networking. Plus, some of them tweet every hour during work hours. What the hell has become of this generation. Where did we all go wrong?

  33. ctwfrank says:

    Thank you for this, laurieboris, it hits so close to the gargantuan center of “the problems with today’s world” that it motivated me to write and then post this; my very first reply. Your piece did something that is incomparably spectacular to participate in: it sparked actual communication. Greetings and congratulations to everyone who replied; it is so fulfilling to communicate with all of you!

    Laurieboris, when you wrote “Something’s wrong here…”; you pinpointed a specific problem that all of us have to deal with: communicating with each other, and then addressed it; simply, objectively and without the drab and pompous overtones usually found in purely opinionated pieces. It worked, everyone who read it understood the point at hand and participated. It stirred our humanity. Brilliant!

    I hope that we (all of us) can do this; communicate successfully, more and more until it is the ‘norm’. We are all we have and to be able to communicate successfully with another person is absolutely supercalifragilisticexpialidocious -there’s no nonsese in that!

    Thanks again for this warm ray of sunshine!

  34. Victoria Oldham says:

    I think what I find fascinating about the change is that although we still use the words to indicate the actions, the actions themselves are changing, and therefore the meaning of the word changes as well.

    As you say, dial still indicates making a call, but the action indicated by the word is entirely different, and therefore the definition, at least in modern usage, is no longer the same. So although the words may stay the same, the definitions and actions they indicate actually differ. Amazing.

  35. loxinan says:

    I adore your post and I just have to say that you really hit us (teens) right on the target. I have to admit that I was once scolded by my cousin because he received a message from me which was so SMS-like. He told me right away to text like an educated person, and because of him I now, send messages to my friends in those words and their correct spelling.
    I still have a hard time in keeping myself from texting “wer r u?” since my friends text me in that manner. I appreciate the English language so much that I blog in that language even if I am a Filipina. I really appreciate your thoughts on it.

  36. Deen says:

    Well, somethings will stay and some will fade of and some will last our life time and then the future generation wouldn’t even know it existed or they will reinvent the same thing.
    If you think it happens only in English, you will be surprised some words that are used in Sri Lanka, its hilarious, if you have been out of the country for a while and return you will get confused for ‘good stuff’ and ‘road’ and things like ‘fresh milk’ and ‘excellent’.
    But then again if we really notice the texting, twitting, (lately sexting) all has come make things short and of course if you are a person who keeps using it you will end up typing the same way on the keyboard, i.e. dont, k, txt, etc.
    It also has to do with the awareness of the media or the thought or consideration you give it what you are doing and respect for yourself. I will never imagine a person sending me an application or any formal communication saying ‘buzz me wen ur redy’
    Cheers ~ Deen

  37. Aligaeta says:

    Last semester my English Professor commented on how she missed the courtesy of the letter. She had no email address. What she longed for was the old fashioned letter. I did write her twice and received no reply. Was she too busy? Has the English Department in the university staffed incompetent workers unable to file mail to the inbox? I would have appreciated a note of congratulation’s on my graduation. What’s up with that? LOL J/K

  38. Kimberly says:

    Fantastic post! Loved (and sympathized with) every word of it.

    The art of the capitalized and punctuated sentence is definitely becoming something of a rarity. Something in me just ends up feeling sad every time I see a tweet written entirely in lowercase letters (it doesn’t cost a character to hit the shift key last I checked).

    The inquiry your husband received, however, is truly baffling. That sort of introduction to a potential employer is, to me, about as valid and appropriate as saying in person, “‘Sup! I seen your ad, heard you was looking for a designer. My desk over there?”

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