Some people always tell me to avoid using abbreviations that often used in forum talk, AKA "Internet Slang", in semi formal written conversation. Of course, I would never use the phrase TTYT, TTYL, LOL, YSVW, YW in my email.

IMHO, it is still appropriate to use abbreviation as long as it is very well known and does not contain inappropriate meaning. AFAIR, phrases like BTW, ASAP, FYI, CMIIW and etc. are often appears in my email with customers. YMMV.

What's your suggestion? How do you decide if particular abbreviation is appropriate or not to be used in semi formal written conversation (email) ?


  • What is etc. doing on this list?
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 14 '11 at 13:09
  • The abbreviation etc or ETC, that stands for et cetera? Mar 14 '11 at 13:15
  • 1
    Perhaps I haven't made myself clear: this is the first time ever that I see etc. written as ETC.
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 14 '11 at 13:20

Never use such abbreviations especially when writing to your customer, no matter how close you are with them. Apart from sounding casual, you also risk the possibility of the client inferring you're too busy (to write complete words) even for your customers. How I hate it when people sign off with a BR (=best regards, supposedly).

Having said that, I think it's perfectly valid to use abbreviations that expand to nouns, such as WHO, FBI, WWW etc, and some latin derivatives such as N.B. and P.S.

  • +1 I thought BR was the Bum's Rush. While the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are well known by their abbreviated acronyms, not all organizations are. When used in semi-formal or formal documents, it's customary to write the whole name immediately followed by the abbreviation in parentheses the first time the term is encountered. After the first time the abbreviation can be used.
    – oosterwal
    Mar 14 '11 at 17:53
  • would you believe it, some people even skip spaces to write faster! (look at the history of the question to see the irony)
    – F'x
    Mar 14 '11 at 20:21

The rule I follow with emails (which are, after all, still somewhat informal, even if you're writing to a business associate) is "would my dad or grandma know what this abbreviation means?"1 Thus, etc., i.e., e.g., P.S. and ASAP are perfectly fine; FYI and perhaps BTW might be ok, but use with caution (and avoid in a more formal email, e.g. to your CEO or to a brand-new customer); and the rest are probably right out. (Especially CMIIW, YSVW, and YW: I don't even know what those mean.2)

1 Well, ok, so I always just use "dad", because my grandma never spoke a word of English, but you get what I mean.
2 Looking forward to definitions in comments. Yeah, yeah, I could look them up, but I'm too lazy.


These are fine in online chats and informal emails, but I would avoid them (except etc., as others note in comments) in any serious writing that was not itself a discussion of these chatty Web abbreviations.

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