What are the acronym, internet words like lol, brb, imho, etc., called? Is there such a term beyond acronym? I was wanting to tell someone that someone else was not familiar with the meme/internet jargon/acronym 'M8' (or mate), but couldn't think of a reasonable word to use.

So, is there a term that would define these terms for how they are different than other, regular english 'SMS text'. Moreover, we find these terms more and more in the wild and not necessarily even on electronic devices, like on t-shirts or even spoken.

If I e-mail the message, "I'll be leaving the office at 10, but then I'll brb." What would I call the 'brb' part of the message, apart from the rest? "He e-mailed his boss a message saying 'He'd be right back', but he decided using an [internet jargon] was acceptable."

Update 02/01/2018

Although I have accepted an answer for now, I think it is inadequate, and that a word will eventually be coined to define these text terms. Until then...

  • This page calls it Internet Slang: ruf.rice.edu/~kemmer/Words04/usage/slang_internet.html . This page calls it "Typical texting language" or an "initialism": blog.dictionary.com/texting-leet
    – rajah9
    Jul 15, 2016 at 21:03
  • 1
    Why do you think that "but he decided that using chat speak was acceptable" isn't a valid statement? That's exactly what I'd say... though I'd be more likely to say "I find your use of chat speak in emails disturbing."
    – Catija
    Jul 15, 2016 at 21:51
  • Well, I think that's a good question. So, I would know what you mean, but that sounds to me like 'street speak', instead of the more specific thought, using a slang word. So, 'text term' or 'chat term' is getting a little closer. And it's becoming clear there really is no single word for it.
    – John
    Jul 15, 2016 at 21:58
  • Obligatory initialism comment.
    – Davo
    Feb 2, 2018 at 14:02

2 Answers 2


Generally, it's called "chat speak" or "text speak" as it originated in shorthand used when writing text messages and in chat rooms on the internet.

The main Wikipedia article calls it SMS language but I've never heard that term before.

SMS language or textese (also known as txt-speak, txtese, chatspeak, txt, txtspk, txtk, txto, texting language, txt lingo, SMSish, txtslang, txt talk) is a term for the abbreviations and slang commonly used with mobile phone text messaging, but sometimes used with other Internet-based communication such as email and instant messaging.

The Wikipedia article includes lists of examples that include the ones you've listed in your question.

Another source of information, NetLingo.com broadens the terms for this to include:

a.k.a. Internet acronyms, text message jargon, abbreviations, initialisms, cyberslang, leetspeak, SMS code, textese

Note that leetspeak (or just leet) is generally considered a separate entity from chat/text speak, as it uses more numerals and special suffixes and also encompasses things like ASCII art.

LOL, notably, has its own Wikipedia article where it is defined as being internet slang:

LOL or lol, an acronym for laugh(ing) out loud, or lots of laughs, is a popular element of Internet slang. It was first used almost exclusively on Usenet, but has since become widespread in other forms of computer-mediated communication and even face-to-face communication. It is one of many initialisms for expressing bodily reactions, in particular laughter, as text, including initialisms for more emphatic expressions of laughter such as LMAO ("laugh(ing) my ass off") and ROFL (or its older form ROTFL; "roll(ing) on the floor laughing"). Other unrelated expansions include the now mostly obsolete "lots of luck" or "lots of love" used in letter-writing.

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    SMS = Short Message Service, for anyone who's wondering. (I was, so I looked it up.) Jul 15, 2016 at 21:05
  • So, these are descriptors for 'text speak'. That would lead me to believe that the word I'd be looking for, if it existed, which it appears does not, would be a word that is nearly synonymous with 'text term'. Text speak, text term, both convey the general idea that it is via text, but not necessarily that it is either a term that translates to an entire phrase, or shortening of one. I'm going to update my question.
    – John
    Jul 15, 2016 at 21:34
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    @FumbleFingers Wow, TIL! Jul 15, 2016 at 21:56
  • @rand al'thor: Ditto! Being an ole fart, I had to look up TIL too, so I've actually learned two things today. (The bummer being that at my age I'll prolly have forgotten both of them by tomorrow! :) Jul 15, 2016 at 22:01
  • @FumbleFingers It always amazes me how much usage varies on this—you've got parts of the Anglosphere where no one even has a clue what SMS means, and then you've got parts where “I'll SMS you” is the regular thing to say and ‘text’ would raise eyebrows and cause confusion. And then of course the majority of the Anglosphere where ‘text’ is more common but SMS is equally well understood. Jul 15, 2016 at 23:25

I came across this thread because, I too wanted to know the name for this category of terms. I can't believe there isn't one yet; at least not any that I would want to be stuck with for the rest of eternity.

So let's come up with a term for this type of abbreviated text.

I propose "TLA". This stands for "Three Letter Acronyms" of course.

Before a bunch of people reply with a lot of irrelevant points like, "Wait! TLA like "ROFLMAO" has more than three letters!", I would counter with, "Who cares. it doesn't have to make sense. It just has to sound better than "SMS speak" (which, BTW, we can all agree is just terrible, right?)

But if that argument falls flat, then I was mistaken, WHat I meant to say is the TLA stands for "Text Letter Acronyms"

If that doesn't work, then come up with something better and post it here

(aside: I saw John's comment to Catija:

@Catija, I have a real gut feeling that we will have a single word someday for these terms. Until then yours is probably the best that we have. Accepting this. Thanks. – John Jul 22 '16 at 16:13

after I posted. I reread Catija's post, however, and wasn't really able to discern what term was being accepted. Perhaps Catija or John could clarify what term they are proposing. Sorry if I stepped on any toes.

  • Her answer was "chat" or "text" - "speak", so... I'm not crazy about it. I do think the question has value and I'm glad you were able to find it in your queries. I can't really vote yours as an answer, but I think it's a good proposition. And I do like where you're going with it. Another proposition might be "AT"s for Abbreviated Texts. It has the added benefit of being the name for a symbol that is common in electronic communications - The @! "The young woman had included all kinds of 'at's in the text to her boss"
    – John
    May 9, 2017 at 19:33
  • To comment further on the 'at' proposal, Because using 'at' for the purpose of an e-mail address is almost always in the context of dictating an e-mail address, it's reuse should not be (IMO) ambiguous or confusing. Kind of like, "her response was full of 'buts'" would not be interpreted as she only used the word "but".
    – John
    May 9, 2017 at 20:10

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