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The abbreviated form of "Too long; didn't read" is tl;dr. To me it kind of defeats the purpose of typing an abbreviation quickly, if I have to type the ; key too.

Why is tl;dr more common than TLDR, and usually used with ";"? I have read the wiki discussion but am not too clear on this.

SNAFU comes to mind as one which could be SN-AFU. Are there any other such abbreviations which have punctuations in them?

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; is on the home row beneath the pinky on American keyboards. It seems like more trouble to type t and r, if anything. –  Kosmonaut Apr 5 '11 at 12:53
    
@Kosmonaut: it's right next to l on mine - so it actually slots in l;, but I had to search for it. guess i'm just lazy. –  JoseK Apr 5 '11 at 12:55
    
@JoseK: Yes, next to the l on the home row, under the right pinky finger. –  Kosmonaut Apr 5 '11 at 13:02
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At least to me, it seems like typing the ";" is quicker and easier that hitting the cap-lock at the beginning and again at the end or the shift key for every letter (at least for a touch-typist). –  Jerry Coffin Apr 5 '11 at 16:27
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@JYelton - me neither - I always assumed that it was a bit of html table markup that hadn't been escaped properly! –  mgb Apr 5 '11 at 16:35
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5 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In several programming languages ; is required at the end of every statement. Its usually seen at the end of every line but multiple statements can be put on one line separated only by semicolons.

As it originated from a tech literate crowd I suspect the semicolon has been added to separate the two statements

too long;

didn't read

tl;dr - programmers like using semicolons to separate statements

edit - A citation has been requested, I originally made this statement based on personal experience of first encountering it only amongst a technically proficient audience before seeing its usage spread.

Unfortunately being internet slang its a touch difficult to track down a verifiable origin, however.

KnowYourMeme's article on tl;dr states

Unknown Origin

It’s not entirely clear where and when t;dr first began, but the term has been used on Genmay since at least 2003. Example: On June 19th, 2003, gen[m]ay user waptang created the thread tl;dr asking “what does it mean?”

as per this article genmay (General Mayhem) is a spinoff forum from [H]ard|OCP (Hardware Overclockers Comparison Page).

Overclocking is a reasonably technically involved process, so I'd feel safe calling them a tech literate crowd.

However, essentially this is conjecture on my part.

Commenters on a reddit thread on this subject suggests a different theory

They are two separate clauses of a related nature. It is correct grammar correct to place a semicolon between them if you did not want them to be individual sentences.

but more than that, it shows that the second sentence is a result of the first. "it was too long therefore i didn't read it"

Though I'm still inclined to side with a latter comment stating

Because it is the only semicolon most of us get to use outside of programming.

TL;DR - Because

TL;DR pt 2 - I believe this to be the case however ymmv

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Um, citation needed for "it originated from a tech literate crowd". In fact, if "; is required at the end of every statement", then how come it's not tl;dr;? (^_^) –  RegDwigнt Apr 5 '11 at 11:21
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@RegDwight - I've cited as best I can. As to the tl;dr; vs tl;dr. I'm not sure why the second ; is omitted though I'm inclined to blame laziness. –  Robb Apr 5 '11 at 12:07
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@Robb: even though a ; "is required at the end of every statement", there are many languages and language structures that allow you to skip the mandatory semicolon at the very end (or in certain circumstances). Again, if this originated in the tech literate then it make sense. C, Perl, C++, PHP, ... –  MJB Apr 5 '11 at 12:38
    
@MJB: Very true. I suppose the other option is that they were aware the semicolon is grammatically correct and kept it in the abbreviation because they like semicolons. –  Robb Apr 5 '11 at 12:46
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@MrHen - The two phrases aren't particularly related to programming (though programmers often have little tolerance for vague rambling posts(1st and 2nd virtues of a programmer :P)) it was only the use of the semicolon. Overclocking doesn't require programming ability however I would expect programmers to be well represented in an overclocking community as in my experience the communities overlap heavily. –  Robb Apr 5 '11 at 15:31
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Punctuation, even though there are regularities in it, is almost entirely a creature of custom and fashion. There is no answer to a question like this other than "that's how people have started writing it".

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I think the question was, "what motivated people to use one form of punctuation over another?" not, "why does it show up in this form rather than another?" –  snumpy Apr 5 '11 at 13:56
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There are probably a lot of hyphenated abbreviations. Come to think of it, shouldn't most abbreviations have punctuation in them to denote the fact they're abbreviations? (I've already used the apostrophe several times, and you'd often see things like "etc.", whereas "etc" would be incorrect).

Certainly an interesting point in the case of tl;dr though, you'd think punctuation would be one of the first thing to go if you're trying to abbreviate something.

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I can think of a handful of ideas but have no references.

The phrase "too long; didn't read" actually makes sense with a semi-colon in place of "too long and didn't read." The short, bursty phrase sounds better (and is shorter) as "too long didn't read." Something feels missing; a semi-colon works. (Why that in place of a colon is what I wonder about. "Too long: didn't read." would work just as well.)

Shortening "too long; didn't read" into "tldr" makes sense. My guess is the semi-colon came with because "tldr" was confusable with something else happening at the time or people were not picking up on the abbreviation until the semi-colon was added.

That being said, there is something aesthetically cool about having the semi-colon that distinguishes it from other shortened phrases. I am having trouble thinking of another phrase that does this. "tldr" just looks like a serial number or massive typo. "tl;dr" looks like it means something. Instead of wondering if the author made a mistake, you know it means something and are encouraged to ask what it means.

The time it takes to add the ; is minimal: The key is one away from l. Tech crowds are used to typing semi-colons frequently and it wouldn't be any more difficult for them to type "tl;dr" than it is to type any other five letter word.

Of note, the abbreviate appears to be under quite a bit of meme pressure. The forces of the internet don't seem entirely happy with it yet. I have heard people refer to it as a "tealdeer" or "teal deer" and even spell it out as such. "tldr" is used. Authors as well as readers use it. Long posts will often have a "tl;dr" segment near the bottom. (Some people like to put it before the content.) Some people capitalize it as "TLDR" or "TL;DR".

With the advent of easy to access video you will also see the variation "tl;dw" and audio could conceivably have "tl;dl". This could be another reason the semi-colon is there: Variations are quickly recognizable. "Too long; didn't read/watch/listen" belong to the same family.

The phrase is here for now and will probably go through a few more evolutions before it settles in. My generation of internet users knows it well; the kids get to decide whether it stays or dies.

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In US QWERTY keyboards, [;] is just next to [L] so it is a common accident to type the extra semicolon after "L". Putting the semicolon there emphasizes the carelessness.

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I am not sure this is a good explanation for the semicolon in tl;dr. The semicolon appears in the elongated version as well: "Too long; didn't read." An accidental "l;" combination doesn't mesh. –  MrHen Apr 5 '11 at 16:38
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