The age of texting and instant messaging as we all know has created a phenomenon of using shorter versions of words to save on keystrokes. On tiny keypads or phone buttons this obviously can be a time saver. However, in a medium where these shortcuts are not expected (for example, this very Q&A site collection), I find it aggravating and annoying that someone cannot be bothered to type two extra characters for word substitutions such as "u" (you), "r" (are), and "4" (for).

I sometimes want to refer to this activity as something other than "lazy spelling" or "texty-speak..." Is there a term for this type of lazy word substitution?

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    I nominate "twitspeak" as an appropriate noun. – Robusto Mar 1 '11 at 16:35
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    What is your evidence for characterising this habit as "neglectful"? – Colin Fine Mar 1 '11 at 17:53
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    This phenomenon predates texting and IM. Have a look at The Phillips Code from 1879. C — see, R — are, U — you, W — with... And then scroll further down to watch that guy invent POTUS and SCOTUS! (Courtesy of Alan Hogue's answer to a related question: Using shortcuts such as “u” or “r”.) – RegDwigнt Mar 1 '11 at 18:01
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    @advs89: Well, if you ask me, it's a classical case of recency illusion. Not everyone writing a quick note, a cheat sheet, or a grocery list back in, say, 1500 was spelling out every single word, either. It's just that most of those quick notes have vanished. Archive.org doesn't go back to 1500. – RegDwigнt Mar 1 '11 at 18:50
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    I lean towards "illiteracy", but I'm a curmudgeon, and may be ignored without consequence. – PSU Mar 1 '11 at 18:56

Wikipedia suggests the name "SMS Language", but also offers "textese", "texting language", and "chatspeak", among others.


This is known as txtspk, from the shortened forms of text and speak.

A more scientific name is SMS language.

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    @Dan Brumleve, self-referentiality does not disqualify the word from consideration - see en.wiktionary.org/wiki/TLA or other words here en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Autological_words; as for permanence similarly - that is not really relevant if the word (and specially acronym) is accepted it can still be used (for example quicksilver comes from 'living silver', it does not matter that quick is not used in the sense of living, alive anymore - the meaning of the coined word is not changed) – Unreason May 25 '11 at 13:14
  • @DanBrumleve I can understand both of those things just fine, and I think a lot of other people could too. – Max Williams Jun 10 '16 at 12:47

I (and others) have been known to refer to it as Princespeak, since The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince was a pioneer in the area, inflicting it on the mass consciousness as early as 1985 with the initial release of "Nothing Compares 2 U", though Sinead O'Connor's 1990 cover was when it really got out there.

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    Well, yeah, if your definition of pioneer is "someone who's too late to the party by more than a hundred years". – RegDwigнt Mar 1 '11 at 18:12
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    @RegDwight: That's the one I learned in school, yes. Davey Crockett, Lewis & Clark, Daniel Boone, all famous pioneers, yes? All way more than a hundred years late to the party. – chaos Mar 2 '11 at 16:07
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    @RegDwight: But the Phillips Code seems to have been an agreed-upon convention used within a particular field, so it's not a counterexample to the possible statement that TAFKATAFKAP "was a pioneer in the area [of] inflicting it on the mass consciousness". :-) – ShreevatsaR Mar 2 '11 at 20:29

Chat Abbreviation or Chat Slang


As Guffa and Kosmonaut point out wikipedia has entry for SMS language and lists following terms:

Textese (also known as txtese, chatspeak, txt, txtspk, txtk, txto, txtk, texting language, txt lingo, or txt talk

Urban dictionary has interesting entries for text speak, textese, etc..

Let me present another perspective, which is not necessarily better, but might shed another light on the whole subject.

I would say that this practice is an example of shorthand. Though the term is usually used for

a quick way of writing that uses symbols to represent letters, words, or phrases, used especially when you write what someone is saying as they are talking

where symbols are usually meant to be graphemes different from regular alphabet, I find the definition very relevant for 'SMS language'.

Especially "you write what someone is saying as they are talking", which I think is the reason why such abbreviations are attractive

  • any increase in speed will make the chat (instant messaging) more interactive and more similar to conversation
  • in text messaging use of such abbreviations becomes more frequent due to inferior input methods on most mobile phones
  • possibly there is a desire to be very informal in attempt for the communication to resemble conversation (justification for this idea is: "u" and "you" are indistinguishable in speaking, by using "u" in written communication it can be said that one actually pretends it is indistinguishable from "you" i.e. pretends that one is in verbal conversation.)
  • then there are all emoticons and related words used to convey nonverbal signs and signals, which introduce certain degree of flexibility towards attempts to be 'creative' with spelling and grammar

Certainly you can also find influences such as need to be as short as possible (text messages, tweets) or attempts to be recognized as part of some group by using ingroup memes (leet, lolspeak) as well as you will find bad spellings due to international character of the internet and varying level of proficiency in English. However, I think that the desire for the communication to resemble conversation is often neglected when looking at the reasons for shortening of words.

All in all I would consider using the term shorthand, since shorthand can also be:

  • aesthetically substandard
  • cryptic
  • can use different methods to shorten same message
  • is appropriate to write spoken language

The difference is that shorthand has a definitive use in capturing spoken words, where in written communication shorthand represents a problem if both parties are not familiar with the codes used and does not improve it.

If I was to coin a new term maybe something like stenotyping might give some idea about nature of the process (even though it mixes Gk. stenos, narrow and English sense of the word typing in construction).

  • Very interesting and insightful analysis! – Ilari Kajaste Jun 6 '11 at 7:30

I believe shorthand or SMS language would technically be equally appropriate given the definitions of SMS (short message service, I think), are fairly similar, but given "u" and whatnot are used mainly for messages, I vote SMS :)

protected by user140086 Jun 10 '16 at 9:59

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