Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.


with 14 comments

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The death of the English language (and civilization generally) due to the proliferation of texting is regularly reported but, along with Mark Twain’s demise, this is surely an exaggeration.

First of all, it’s nothing new and did not arrive with the computer age. For example, the convention of writing ‘SWALK’ (Sealed with a loving kiss) at the end of love letters or on Valentine cards has been around for decades. And I can remember that children’s comics and annuals in the 1960s regularly included teasers such as the heading of this post. (Too wise you are too wise you be I see you are too wise for me.)

Interpreting ‘C’ as ‘see’ didn’t exactly boil my brain as a child or render me incapable of learning how to read and write properly.

However, its history goes back even further as a letter published in the UK newspaper, the Guardian, revealed. The writer, Brian Read, recalls that his father used ‘text language’ as a teleprinter operator in the 1920s and 1930s and carried on doing so into his retirement, signing off letters to his son with: Thx for yr ltr bi bi.

The grammarian, David Crystal, wrote an excellent article about text language, also published in the Guardian a while back, in which he says that texting is: …merely the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative and to adapt language to suit the demands of diverse settings.

Indeed, a recent study carried out by Coventry University has found that texting is ‘actually driving the development of phonological awareness and reading skill in children’.

Crystal adds that no disaster is pending. I agree. Unless the gradual evolution of massive opposable thumbs represents a threat to the human race.

Btw, this gr8s on me…

Grammar writer, Lynne Truss, wrote in the Guardian a while back:

We pedants are supposed to hate texting, but we don’t. We are in love with effective communication, and there’s nothing more effective than sending a message direct from your phone to someone else’s, sometimes from the hairdresser’s (which I mention for a reason). “I CANT BELIEVE U PUT APOSTROPHE IN HAIRDRESSERS,” a friend texted me recently (he obviously had a bit of time on his hands, too). “Oh, I felt the apostrophe was required,” I texted back, happily – in both upper and lower case, with regular spacing, and a comma after “Oh”.


Neologisms — new words and phrases


14 Responses

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  1. Hi Deborah,

    Personally, I text in plain English, but use short words.

    I’ve no objection to textese as long as it stays where it belongs but, of course, it doesn’t – it leaks into emails and blog comments, both of which will be unceremoniously binned.

    Regarding YY U R YY U B I C U R YY 4 ME I find getting out more helps 😉


    Ron Graves

    13/06/2010 at 7:49 am

    • Hi, Ron — yes, I suppose it does leak out, but it doesn’t bother me that much in emails and blog comments. I know it has a tendency to raise blood pressure generally. Btw (sorry) ‘textese’ is the word I was trying to think of instead of ‘text language’ which doesn’t sound right. I’ll use that in future. Ta!


      13/06/2010 at 8:34 am

  2. “, a recent study carried out by Coventry University has found that texting is ‘actually driving the development of phonological awareness and reading skill in children’ ”

    Interesting – everything I’ve read suggests the opposite – that reading skills, and literacy generally, are declining.

    As for La Truss, she may be smug but she does have a point – DON’T SHOUT! But correcting other people, no, absolutely not. Though I have been known to erase aberrant apostrophes (© K. Waterhouse), on pub menu blackboards.

    Ron Graves

    13/06/2010 at 8:00 am

  3. IDK how 2 text pretentious.

    HAGD + ty 4 the interesting post as always.



    13/06/2010 at 3:10 pm

    • thx, ur welcom! l%k fwd 2cin u agn sn.


      13/06/2010 at 3:21 pm

  4. I do rather dislike texting an entire msg, though I use abbreviations like btw and lol. I’ll also accept it if it is effective and/or thought-provoking. The only all-caps text of substance I know is this attestation of the value of authenticity:

    BSUR SICU SIM. (Be as you are, as I see you, as I am.)

    Invisible Mikey

    13/06/2010 at 7:29 pm

    • Hi, Mikey — thanks for your comments, especially ‘BSUR SICU SIM which I’ve not come across before. Interesting! It’s also interesting that you mention ‘lol’ as that’s one I rarely use because I always think it could also mean ‘lots of love’ and so might be ambiguous. But I think that’s probably just me!


      13/06/2010 at 7:38 pm

      • “lol” came into use partly because of the ease with which in can be typed using a QWERTY keyboard. The “L” and “O” keys are vertically adjacent. Ease influences texting, since the keys are tiny on phones.

        Invisible Mikey

        14/06/2010 at 6:45 pm

        • That’s interesting and not something I’d previously considered. The problem of its ambiguity remains, however. (To me, anyway!)


          14/06/2010 at 7:20 pm

          • Ah, but on a standard mobe keypad it takes 9 keystrokes to type lol.


            20/08/2010 at 2:20 pm

            • I never thought of that. Thanks, Ron!


              20/08/2010 at 6:59 pm

  5. …and in a new exhibition, the British Library provides more evidence that ‘textspeak’ is nothing new:

    There will be examples of the linguistic games people played, and a poem from Gleanings From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, published in 1867. In it, 130 years before the arrival of mobile phone texting, Charles C Bombaugh uses phrases such as “I wrote 2 U B 4”. Another verse reads: “He says he loves U 2 X S,/ U R virtuous and Y’s,/ In X L N C U X L/ All others in his i’s.”

    Read more:


    19/08/2010 at 11:36 am

  6. A poem by Norman Silver:

    txt commndmnts

    1 u shall luv ur mobil fone with all ur hart

    2 u & ur fone shall neva b apart

    3 u shall nt lust aftr ur neibrs fone nor thiev

    4 u shall b prepard @ all times 2 tXt & 2 recv

    5 u shall use LOL & othr acronyms in conversatns

    6 u shall be zappy with ur ast*r*sks & exc!matns!!

    7 u shall abbrevi8 & rite words like theyr sed

    8 u shall nt speak 2 sum1 face2face if u cn msg em insted

    9 u shall nt shout with capitls XEPT IN DIRE EMERGNCY+

    10 u shall nt consult a ninglish dictnry

    This and another poem by Silver are analysed by David Crystal on the Oxford Journals website.


    04/04/2011 at 12:30 pm

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