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I've been running across some interesting abbreviations on the internet. For example:

b4: before
w8: wait

I find it clever because you use just 2 letters to express a longer word. What's the origin of these abbreviations? Can you please provide a full list of them?

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I'm not fond of these, personally. Are vowels so hard to type nowadays? – user730 Dec 13 '10 at 2:40
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would think most, if not all, of these diminutives have evolved with the texting/IM culture. Before the days of cellphones with full keyboards, users saved space and, perhaps, time using these abbreviations. The general rule is to replace a syllable with the figure of the number that sounds most like it.

Most of these abbreviations, however, consist of more than two characters e.g. "9ce" (nice), "gr8" (great), "2moro" (tomorrow), etc. You could also invent yours e.g. "d8" (date), "f8" (fate), but who uses these?!

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It's not so much about saving time as space. You only have 160 characters to work with in a standard text message, and before the rise of unlimited texting plans, you wanted to pack as much information as possible into the message to make it worth choosing a text over a call. – Jon Purdy Dec 12 '10 at 18:55
@Jon Purdy: Yes, that is also a significant reason for the initial use. Extended length messages were quick to be introduced though. Most young users are amongst the worst offenders for this type of abbreviation, yet they were not using the phones when the 160 cap was real. – Orbling Dec 12 '10 at 19:00
@Orbling: Not to say that saving time isn't also a factor, provided you get sufficient practice typing with the new spelling, which, obviously many people do. – Jon Purdy Dec 12 '10 at 19:04
@Jon Purdy: Using numbers does save significant time when you're using a phone keypad to enter texts. Numbers are a single press, which letters are two or more. – bikeboy389 Dec 12 '10 at 21:01
I do agree it is more a matter of space than it is of time. On the regular alphanumeric keypad, entering the figure "2", for instance, would require either holding down the button for a few seconds or cycling from "a" through "c" and possibly a few more characters. Thus, these abbreviations are really only time-saving when using a full-keyboard on the phone or computer. – Jimi Oke Dec 12 '10 at 21:21

Such abbreviations are older than the Internet, though they became popular through text messaging on mobile phones, before spreading to Internet-based chat and beyond.

The oldest instance that I know of is Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man. The original version serialized in the Galaxy magazine in 1952 featured such characters as T8 and $$son. The subsequent novel publication was edited to tone down the use of such abbreviations, but there are still characters called @kins and ¼maine. Randall Garrett wrote a review in verse whose beginning and ending I will quote here:

In the far & distant future — you can pick the d8 2 suit yourself …
… are the (ter of Reich.

(Pronounce ( as parenthesis; it's not an exact match.)

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Nice examples. :-) – Orbling Dec 13 '10 at 1:13
2-pieces-of-eight-son? ;) – Stein G. Strindhaug Dec 15 '10 at 13:57

Well, they are a variety of shorthand, most notably on the rise because of text messaging (SMS - sending textual messages via mobile/cellular phones).

Essentially the concept is to type phonetically, using the numbers that are comprised of a standard syllable: 1,2,4,8. (3 tends not to be used.)

The spelling contractions, lack of punctuation and phonetic replacements are extensive and most words that can lose letters whilst still remaining loosely readable do so; a lot of acronyms are thrown in to the mix as well. Therefore you get a multitude of sins produced in this medium, usually blamed for the downfall of literacy in youth.

Some example uses: (apologies)

hi m8, u out 2nite? - "Hi mate, [are] you [coming] out tonight?"

we 1! - "We won!"

w8 4 me m8, no1 else 2come. - "Wait for me mate, no one else to come [after me]."

Fortunately some people do still use proper English in such messages, but it is surprisingly uncommon. Most people seem very happy to dispense with the rules of language.

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I don't believe it's necessarily about some downfall of English. See my comment on Jimi Oke's answer. – Jon Purdy Dec 12 '10 at 18:57
@Jon Purdy: I have answered your point there. If it only applied where there were a limit, then it would not represent any downfall, only a sensible solution to a constraint. People use this language form online, in written work and even exams I have seen. That is why it represents a calamity. – Orbling Dec 12 '10 at 19:02
no one else [too --> to] come. – Ophiuroid Dec 13 '10 at 2:19
@Ophiuroid: Whoops, I guess all the horrible spelling got stuck. Fixed, thank you. ;-) – Orbling Dec 13 '10 at 2:27

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