Text Speak

R U RDY 2 LRN? Love it or hate it, text speak is everywhere, and it looks like it's here to stay. But what exactly is text speak, why does it exist, and what are its main features? This article will tell you all you need to know. 

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Table of contents

    Text Speak Definition

    Text speak, otherwise known as SMS language or textese, refers to the shortened and informal language we use when communicating with each other digitally (usually online). The term was initially used to describe the language used in SMS text messages (who sends those anymore?) but can now be used to discuss any form of digital communication. Nowadays, we usually adopt the term to describe messages and posts on social media sites, such as Instagram and TikTok.

    There aren't any rules to text speak, and it generally develops naturally amongst its users over time; however, some common features include acronyms, abbreviations, and omitting vowels.

    The linguist David Crystal coined the term textspeak in 2001 in his book Language and the Internet, and in 2008 he went on to say,

    Texting is one of the most innovative linguistic phenomena of modern times 1

    Although many linguists share Crystal's enthusiasm for the creativity of text speak, others do not, stating that it is making us lazy and damaging the English language. What do you think?

    Text Speak History

    The emergence of text speak can ultimately be attributed to two things: saving money and saving time. Before the widespread use of the internet, the ways we communicated often cost, and saving money meant reducing the number of words or characters we used.

    Characters - In linguistics, the term characters refers to any sign used to represent language, such as letters, numbers, spaces, punctuation marks, and other symbols (e.g., the ampersand '&').

    Examples of when people would have needed to reduce the number of characters they used include:

    • Telegrams (written messages shared via an electronic device) charged per word

    • SMS text messages (sent via cell phones) cost per text, and each text was restricted to 160 characters

    • Tweets on Twitter were restricted to 140 characters - today they are restricted to 180 characters

    Text speak, texting, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Can you imagine paying for each character you use in a message?

    Text Speak and Identity

    Today, it isn't that necessary to restrict characters and words due to the cost, and, let's be honest, typing WYD? is almost as fast as typing 'what you doing?'. Despite this, text speak is arguably more popular than ever, so why is this?

    Text speak is often the way we choose to write when communicating with our friends and peers and can therefore help us form social bonds and a sense of belonging with others. How you communicate online with people who share the same social factors as you, i.e. age, may be different from how you communicate with others. Having this unique 'language' can play a significant role in your identity formation and the way you identify with others.

    Did you know that the first recorded use of 'OMG' was in 1917? The abbreviation appeared in a letter to Winston Churchill written by Admiral Lord Fisher, where he wrote, 'I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis - O.M.G (Oh! my God!).

    Text Speak Attitudes and Opinions

    The attitudes and opinions towards text speak are varied, with some linguists stating it highlights the creativity and adaptability of language. In contrast, others suggest it is having disastrous effects on the English language.

    David Crystal, a renowned linguist, countered the claim that text speak has a negative impact on language by highlighting that using abbreviated speech successfully requires a strong understanding of spelling, phonetics, and grammar. He also conducted a study on the use of text speak outside of online communication and found that abbreviations etc. were not as common as people might think.1

    The way people feel about text speak ultimately comes down to their view on language in general and whether they take a prescriptivist or descriptivist viewpoint. Prescriptivists believe there is a 'correct' way to use language, and deviations from this are 'wrong'. On the other hand, descriptivists view language as an ever-evolving thing and study the way language is actually used in a non-judgemental way.

    Features of Text Speak

    Now we have a basic understanding of what text speak is and why it exists, let's turn our attention to the common features of text speak and how it differs from traditional written communication.


    Text speak is arguably one of the most informal forms of communication as it is meant to resemble real-life speech rather than traditional written speech. When we message people online, we are communicating on our own terms. There's no expectation to follow traditional grammar, spelling, or syntax rules, and we can be free and creative with our language use.


    As text speech doesn't have to follow traditional writing rules, punctuation often gets left behind. However, there is one punctuation star in the world of text speak - the exclamation point!

    Studies have found that many young people today feel using the period (.) in online messages comes across as too abrupt or even rude.1 Instead of ending their sentences with periods, many people are now opting for an exclamation point to create a friendlier sounding message.

    Text speak, Exclamation, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Exclamation points are an important part of text speak.

    Capital Letters

    Using capital letters is another way of adding meaning to text speak. Look at the following two messages and decide if and how their meaning changes based on the use of capitals.

    1. Don't message me back

    2. DON'T message me back

    Here, the use of capital letters adds emphasis to the word don't and can be likened to a shout or change in the tone of voice.

    Text Speak Words and Symbols

    There are common aspects of text speak that appear again and again. These mainly include:

    • Initialisms and acronyms

    • Reductions and omissions

    • Gramograms

    • Logograms

    • Emojis

    Let's now take a closer look at each of these.

    Initialisms and Acronyms

    One of the most popular features of text speak is, without a doubt, initialisms and acronyms. Before we take a closer look at these, let's examine the definitions and differences between these two terms.

    Initialism - An abbreviation that consists of the first letters of each word, e.g., NBC

    Acronym - An abbreviation that consists of the first letters of each word that can be pronounced as a word, e.g., NASA

    Text speak is full of both initialisms and acronyms as they can save a lot of space and time.

    Look at the following list and decide whether you're looking at an initialism, acronym, or both (some abbreviations can be pronounced letter by letter or as a word).

    • LOL

    • TTYL

    • FTW

    • FOMO

    • ASAP

    • LMAO


    • Both

    • Initialism

    • Initialism

    • Acronym

    • Both

    • Initialism

    Reductions and Omissions

    It's not always possible to turn words and phrases into initialisms and acronyms. In this case, words are often reduced, and non-essential word classes, such as articles (e.g., a/an/the), are omitted.

    Omitted - removed

    A common reduction technique includes removing the vowels from a word, the linguistic term for this is disemvoweling. For example, please becomes pls, table becomes tbl, and plant becomes plnt.

    Disemvoweling became a common technique because it is fairly easy to understand as the human brain automatically fills in the missing vowels for you.


    A gramogram (otherwise known as a letteral word) is when a word/group of words is phonetically similar to a letter, group of letters, or a number and can be written that way. For example, see you can be written as CU.

    Other examples include:

    • Are you okay? - R U OK?

    • To - 2

    • For - 4

    • Ate - 8

    • Any - NE

    • I see - IC


    In language, a logogram is a written sign or character that represents a word. Egyptian hieroglyphics, Chinese characters, and numbers are widely considered logograms. For example, the symbol '3' represents 'three' in English, 'trois' in French, and 'tres' in Spanish.

    Logograms became popular in text speak in the late 1990s and early 2000s and, in many ways, pathed the way for emojis.

    Some logograms that were popular in text speak included:

    • :), :p, :D, ;) etc.

    • <3 - represents a love heart

    • @ - represents the word at

    • x‑D - represents a laughing face

    • >:3 - represents a lion (yes, we know...)


    Nowadays, text speak goes far beyond acronyms, abbreviations, and simple logograms, and the world of emojis has forever changed how we communicate online.

    Emojis are a highly-impactful way to add lots of meaning to things we say online quickly and efficiently. However, the meanings of emojis can change over time the more they are picked up and used by different social groups, and sometimes an emoji's meaning may be completely different from what you might expect. If you've ever received an emoji of an eggplant from your mum when asking what you want for dinner, you know what we mean!

    It's important to recognize that many emojis carry a connotative (literal) and denotative (implied) meaning. The denotative meaning may not be known by all and may differ depending on the social factors of the groups using them, i.e., their culture or age.

    Let's look at some common emojis and their implied meanings.

    1. Text Speak, Image of holding back tears emoji, StudySmarter

    Fun fact, the 'holding back tears' emoji won Most Popular New Emoji at the World Emoji Awards, 2022. The emoji can be used to express a wide range of emotions, such as gratitude, embarrassment, admiration, and even anger.

    2.Text Speak, Image of skull emoji, StudySmarter

    Many people have moved on from the crying laughing emoji - see how fast language can change - and instead use the skull or coffin emoji to show when they find something very funny. It's believed the origins of using the skull emoji in this way are rooted in the phrase 'dead funny'.

    3.Text Speak, Image of clown emoji, StudySmarter

    The clown is a simple insult to send to people who are acting 'foolish'.

    4.Text Speak, Image of melting face emoji, StudySmarter

    The face melt... We all know that feeling, right? This emoji has a more symbolic meaning and can be used to show embarrassment, shame, or a sinking sense of dread.

    Understanding the intended meaning of emojis, as well as many elements of text speak, involves looking at the context. For example, if you messaged someone saying 'it's hot' and they responded with the melting face emoji, you could assume they're saying they're 'melting' and not that they're feeling embarrassed.

    Text Speak List

    This is in no way a complete list of all text speak (compiling such a list would probably be impossible), but it is a short collection of common text speak now used on social media.

    Take a look at the blow list, and think about how text speak has changed from the 'LOL' days. How and why do you think text speak has evolved? Can you think of any other examples?

    • AITA - Am I the a**hole?

    • FTW - For the win

    • IB - Inspired by

    • IDC - I don't care

    • IMO - In my opinion

    • KLM - Calm

    • NSFW - Not safe for work

    • OMW - On my way

    • POV - Point of view

    • RN - Right now

    • SMH - Shaking my head

    • TfW - That feeling when

    • YNK - You never know

    Text Speak Examples

    Now you know all about text speak, see if you can 'translate' the following examples.

    Snd ur addy pls

    CYA 2MOZ Yh?

    Busy ATM TTYL


    • Send your address, please

    • See you tomorrow, yeah?

    • I'm busy at the moment. Talk to you later

    Text Speak - Key Takeaways

    • Text speak refers to the shortened and informal language we use when communicating with each other digitally.
    • Text speak has no rules and generally develops naturally amongst its users over time.
    • Some common features of text speak include acronyms, abbreviations, omitting vowels, and emojis.
    • Attitudes towards text speak vary. Some linguists state it is having a negative effect on language, and others suggest it is innovative and requires a good understanding of spelling, phonetics, and grammar.
    • FTW, G2G, IMO, and ATM are examples of text speak.


    1. D. Crystal. Txtng: The gr8 db8. 2009.
    2. G. McCulloch. Because Internet: Understanding how language is changing. 2019
    Frequently Asked Questions about Text Speak

    What is an example of text speak?

    'Busy ATM! TTYL' is an example of text speak. It means 'I'm busy at the moment. Talk to you later'

    How do you say really in text speak?

    A common feature of text speak is removing the vowels. So 'really' could become 'rlly' or 'rly'.

    When was text speak invented?

    Text speak became common in the 1990s and early 2000s when people started sending SMS text messages using their cell phones. However, evidence of abbreviated speech goes back as far as the early 19th century! 

    The linguist David Crystal coined the term textspeak in 2001.

    What is texting speech called?

    The language we use when texting or communicating online is often called text speak, SMS language, or textese.

    What is the meaning of text speak?

    The term text speak refers to the language we use when texting or communicating online. Common features of text speak involve acronyms, abbreviations, omission of non-essential words, and emojis.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Pick the best word to describe someone who views text speak as innovative and exciting 

    Pick the best word to describe someone who believes text speak is 'wrong'

    Fill in the blank:'FTW' is an example of an _____


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