FTW or WTF?


We’ve all gotten used to abbreviations in email, text messages and Twitter. Today at Silicon Alley Insider a list of such abbreviations was compiled and presented. The list is obviously not complete and was not offered as such, and commentators provided additional examples. Three things are interesting to think about wrt (with respect to 🙂 ) these abbreviations:

  • they represent an area of our linguistic usage that is extremely fluid and undergoing change and expansion right now
  • although these forms are dynamic, speakers (er, I should say ‘texters’ I guess) adopt them quickly — their meanings are being disseminated rapidly and enabling communication, not impeding it.  (There are misfires – a reported case of someone wanting to send emotional support to a friend about a grievous event and signing off with LOL intending ‘lots of love’. when most people have learned that this abbreviation means ‘laughing out loud’.)
  • the abbreviations refer to whole phrases, not nouns or verbs – their meta-function is to pack in information within the constraints of the message format.

Here is a sampling of abbreviations and their meanings currently in use. And yes, four-letter-words are now embedded as single letters into these forms, with a notable prominence of the letter ‘F’.  The abbreviations are often capitalized, but I’ve noticed a growing trend to not do so. In any case, the use of uppercase or lowercase letters does not appear to change meaning.

  • BTW  – by the way
  • QOTD – quote of the day
  • HT – hat tip  (gives credit to another for a post or twitter)
  • FIFY – fixed it for you
  • OMG – Oh my gosh/god
  • FWIW – for what it’s worth
  • OH – overheard
  • IMHO/IMO – in my (humble) opinion
  • NSFW – not safe for work (referring to content or link associated with message)
  • AFAIK – as far as I know
  • IRL – in real life
  • NFW – no f—ing way
  • STFU – shut the f— up  (the ruder side of social media)
  • BFN – by for now
  • FTW – for the win
  • WTF – worse than failure OR what the f—?

And maybe my favorite so far 🙂

  • IANAL – I am not a lawyer

There are also some two-letter abbreviations specific to Twitter operations.

  • RT – retweet (implies the message (tweet) with this abbreviation is forwarded by another user/sender)
  • MT – modified tweet (signals the message is a paraphrase of an earlier tweet, not the exact original)
  • PRT – partial tweet  (signals the message is a truncated version of an original tweet)
  • DM – direct message (a message only shared between the sender and a specific recipient)

One basic rule for the above set of abbreviations appears to be that each word in the compressed phrase gets assigned one letter, and no words are dropped. How large an inventory of these can be evolved without increasing their ambiguity?  For a given tweet, constrained to 140 characters, the low-information content seems ripest for the compression into abbreviations — the names of users don’t get abbreviated because the full correct name is the unique ID of a given user. For high-information content words in tweets, e.g., technology products, social events, news items, opinions, etc., how compressed do users go?  It would be interesting to know.

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