The letter ⟨u⟩ is used in text messaging and internet and other written slang to denote 'you', by virtue of both being pronounced /juː/.


When and by whom was the letter "u" first used as an abbreviation for the word "you" in writing?

  • 5
    Very soon after the name of the letter was learned. Since they sound the same, it's natural to use them the same way. The name of the first person to do so is lost in the mists of time. Sep 3 '18 at 17:31
  • 1
    With alphanumeric keyboards on old phones, it was hard to type each letter. Also, texts are charged on length. It made sense to shorten words by sound, like 'u' for 'you', 'r' for 'are' '8' for '-ate' suffix, etc Sep 3 '18 at 18:54
  • Useful link Sep 3 '18 at 18:58
  • Define "in the internet".
    – tchrist
    Sep 3 '18 at 21:26

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it has been used in IOU since 1795:

An I.O.U. is admissible evidence of a debt without a stamp.
Espinasse's Rep. (margin note)

As for standalone examples, the first one given by the OED is from 1840:

There was no one but the plaintiff to whom the ‘U’ in the document [an IOU] could be applied. Manning and Granger's Reports

The next oldest example given is from 1862, in a letter from Thomas Hardy to his sister:

I wish you wd tell me how u.r. when u. write.

After that, the OED lists a source which mentions it in an advertising context:

This is another device which appears to be growing in popularity. Where possible a capital letter is often substituted for writing out of a syllable.

Call Tel-U-Where for our nearest distributor... Fits-U Eyeglasses. U All Kno After Dinner Mints. Uneeda Biscuit.
Dialect Notes

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