FYI: initialisms in OED

What have texting and its conventions, abbreviations, and shortcuts done to our language?

And what does it mean that some of them have even ended up in the Oxford English Dictionary? The end of civilization as we know it?

Calm down!

Can’t the spate of common initialisms be traced back at least as far as the New Deal? Isn’t the Oxford English Dictionary itself known as the OED? Granted, finding LOL, IMHO, FYI, BFF, and the gang in such august company as antidisestablishmentarianism and floccinaucinihilipilification is a bit of a departure.

I have lately managed to reconnect with lots of my high school classmates on Face Book, and someone asked if our crusty old seventh-grade English teacher would have approved of this text talk.

It would be hypocritical of her to object to initialisms. After all, we had to mark sentences with parts of speech and their functions for all the words. That’s two rows of initials above every word! If the direct object was a noun, for example, we had to put DO for direct object on the top row and N for noun right underneath it.

She probably would have a hard time considering texting abbreviations as words, though. I’ll bet the slowest of her alumni writes with better grammar than a lot of younger people do, including too many professional writers.

The great thing about the OED is the way it documents the development of the English language. Each word contains examples of its usage from the earliest attested appearance in writing up to the present day.

Some of the oldest words have completely different shades of meaning now than they used to. It also shows that language is fun, and that people of different generations have found different ways to make it so.

In the nineteenth century, apparently, people liked to make up long words and publish them in order to see who could get the longest word into the OED. Floccinaucinihilipilification, which means estimating something as worthless, won that competition. Much longer words exist, but they’re all names of chemicals or otherwise beyond the scope of a general reference work.

BTW, I have always wanted to use floccinaucinihilipilification in a sentence.  I’ll bet there’s no texting abbreviation for it!

Nowadays, the needs are different. Text messaging requires people to use a number pad to make letters. The number 2 represents ABC, so to text, you need to press it once for A, twice for B, three times for C, and four times for 2.

Most keys represent three letters, but 7 and 9 represent four each. I text as little as I can get away with. I have trouble enough hitting the letters I intend with a standard keyboard, but I can easily understand why folks who text all the time want shortcuts. Twitter, chat, and instant messaging likewise require short cuts for different reasons.

FYI and CYA have been around since long before cell phones were ever invented, but ROTFL, TMITIN, @TEOTD, IMNSHO (my personal favorite) became shorthand for longer phrases that everyone wants to use, but no one wants to type out.

I am a little concerned that this text talk has leaked out into ordinary writing.

A significant number of readers has no idea what many of the abbreviations mean. I certainly hope that texting abbreviations will remain in the OED the same way that big word I have already overworked has–as a souvenir of a language game that came and went quickly.

Anything written to communicate with anyone but close friends or professional colleagues ought to, well, communicate to people who don’t know or need to know all the insider jargon. Real words that people actually use and the rules of grammar, syntax, and parts of speech I learned in seventh grade remain the key to writing clearly.

That, IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion) is what text talk in the OED is all about.


FYI: initialisms in OED — 1 Comment

  1. I MADE A SYMBOL OF MY OWN A LONG LONG TIME AGO, I THINK IT WOULD GO CRAZY! ITS….L.A.L…This means love a lot!…hope u like it! Miss Judy:)

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