cn u txt?

by Colin McIntosh

Acronyms speech bubble
LadyDart/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty

The advent of social media has seen a huge increase in the use of informal abbreviations, many recently added to the Cambridge Dictionary. We have always had abbreviations, of course. Well-known examples include IOU (for “I owe you”), used to give an informal written guarantee that you will pay back a sum of money, and x for a kiss, for example at the end of a letter.

The fact of using a small screen or keyboard to write means that we look for even more efficiency in how we write. Email communication first introduced a few, often semi-formal abbreviations, which are now often used out of context in speech in a playful or ironic way:

Fyi (= for your information), my weekends are for relaxing, not clearing up your mess!

Our anniversary is still May 12, afaik (= as far as I know)! How could you forget?

Texting takes this even further.

The simplest way to form abbreviations is to simplify, often by omitting the vowels, for example cn for “can”, wd for “would”, or txt for “text”. Sometimes different ways are found of writing certain combinations of sounds, for example thx for “thanks”:

Thx fr yr help!

Like Egyptian hieroglyphs, some words can be formed from a sound association with an unrelated symbol. We have, for example, the letters c, u, and r used to represent the words “see”, “you”, and “are”, and the number 8 to represent the sound “ate”, for example in l8r (= later). The number 2 can stand in for “to” and “too”, as well as “two”:

Hope 2 c u l8r!

Acronyms form another group of common texting abbreviations. These are formed from the first letter of each word in the phrase:

rofl/rotfl (= rolling on the floor laughing, used to say that something is funny)

Sometimes idioms gain a new lease of life when transformed into abbreviations:

yolo (= you only live once)

Abbreviations are particularly commonly used as discourse markers, in other words to give a structure to what you are writing by explaining its function. For example, imo (= in my opinion) is used to introduce a sentence that expresses an opinion while recognizing that other people may think differently.

Abbreviations can also give structure when opening, closing, or interrupting a communication, as in brb (= be right back), used in instant messaging:

kettle’s boiling – brb!

An important function of internet abbreviations is to comment on something:

I put my pants on back to front this morning lol (= laughing out loud).

And then, omg (= oh my God), I saw Johnny Depp in Starbucks!

One interesting feature of texting abbreviations is that they can be subjected to elaboration, often just for the sheer fun of being playful rather than for any change in meaning. We saw imo above; this frequently becomes imho (= in my humble opinion). Rofl can become rotflol (= rolling on the floor laughing out loud).

Life is too busy to write out words in full, obvs (= obviously), so we certainly don’t have time to type capital letters. So, while all of these acronyms could be written with capitals, you’re more likely to see them with small letters.



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