Wednesday 16 May 2007

On answering asap

A correspondent writes from the USA: 'Here in Orange County, California, 11 to 13-year-olds are increasingly using acronyms in their conversations. Text message shorthand is now everyday talk. Instead of exclaiming, "Oh my god," kids will say, "OMG!" Instead of "Just kidding," they will say, "JK." I would like to know what you think of this development; is it good or bad for language? Why is it happening? Has it happened before?'

Yes, I've heard it in the UK too, where it's been around for a few years. (Text-messaging took off in the UK before it hit the US.) There's nothing intrinsically new about the process. I remember my Uncle Bill saying TTFN ('ta-ta-for-now') when he went off to work - and that was in the 1940s. And I say ASAP all the time. Abbreviations of this kind (i.e. colloquial ones, as opposed to the abbreviations of names, such as CNN, BBC, M&S) have been in English for ages - some for decades. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a first recorded reference to ASAP as 1955. PDQ is recorded from 1885.

Having said that, colloquial abbreviations are unusual, and what is interesting about the current text-messaging vogue is to hear so many of these (like OMG, LOL) being spoken. Some might end up with a permanent home in the language, but I doubt that most will. It's too early to say. It feels like a fashion, which might disappear as quickly as it started. It certainly isn't a big deal, as far as language is concerned. We are talking about a tiny number of uses.

As for the 'good vs bad' question - it's neither. That's like asking whether it's good or bad for the tide to come in and go out each day. It's just another manifestation of the remarkable ways in which people use language creatively to show social networks.


joco said...

The most prevailing absurd abbreviation must surely be 'reducing' world-wide-web to nine syllables.

For once German is getting the better of English.

DC said...

Quite so. Letter abbreviations usually work quite well in English because all letter-names are monosyllabic - apart from 'w'. www is probably the craziest, indeed, but it's not alone. World Bank (WB), World Wildlife Fund (WWF)... And try saying World War 2 as initials only!