Talking how you type: a history of alphabetical abuse

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As members of the Internet era, young adults have become shameless abusers of traditional grammar rules. This occurs especially in the face of limited-character endeavors such as Snapchat, Twitter and text messaging.

And we haven’t just grown up around text lingo — we’ve invented it.

It began with alphanumeric keyboards on the seemingly indestructible phones of the 1990s. The now-archaic practice of using numbers in place of words was initially employed for efficiency but later became a regular part of text culture (e.g., “that’s gr8,” “you’re 2 cool 4 school”). People who continue to do this on smartphones really aren’t saving themselves any time and are hopefully being ironic.

Other forms of text lingo:

Using letters that sound like a word in place of that word (for lazy people and mothers): “r u ready to go?,” “C u later!”

Awkward acronyms that caught on for no good reason whatsoever: “rofl,” “lmao,” “bae”

Legitimately useful acronyms: “gtg,” “brb,” “btw,” “idk”

But an entirely new phenomenon has appeared, and it’s confusing “af.”

These days, prospective English learners not only have to learn the alphabet but also need to learn certain letters’ independent meanings (e.g., “that’s v cool”). For lack of a name for this recent trend, I have made one myself: We will call these one-letter acronyms, these slippery micro-abbreviations, these pesky abridgements that are slowly becoming part of colloquial English … lexonyms.  

After crowdsourcing and a rigorous verification process involving, I have broken up the alphabet into several categories.


P – a synonym for pretty (“that’s p cool”)

B – short for bae, which is another, more recent text acronym (“hanging with my b”)

D – self-explanatory (“she/he wants the ____” )

F – a long-established lexonym for the F-word (“F you!”)

K – short for “ok,” which is already an abbreviation for “okay” (“k I’m ready”)

V – a synonym for very (“I’m v excited”)

W – an abbreviation for “with” (Good catching up w you)

G – an abbreviation for gangster; capitalized (“he’s such a G”)

Letters that sound like words:

B – be

C – see

R – are

U – you

Y – why

I, A: These are actually just words, so they’re fine.

Everything else: E, H, J, L, M, N, Q, S, T, X, Z

Ever since the letter G became a synonym for gangster, individual letters have been associated with specific words in contextual situations where they operate like abbreviations. Lexonyms are commonplace online but have since made their way into colloquial speech, and that’s where it becomes an issue.

Unlike useful acronyms that combine multiple words into a shorter one, a lexonym’s only colloquial purpose is to be a monosyllabic ball of confusion.

Most letters in the English alphabet are not specifically referential to a certain word, and when we limit a letter’s meaning, we are missing out on all sorts of exciting possibilities. Take the letter P, for example. It doesn’t have to mean “pretty” — it could refer to words such as “probably,” “practically,” “palatable” or “penguin.”

Using letters in place of actual words might save you room for an extra word or two in a Snapchat caption, but it won’t do you any service out in the real world.

So although the idea is “p cool,” keep lexonyms on your screen and out of your vocabulary. Otherwise, you’ll end up using them as much as I do.

And it gets “v annoying” — trust me.

Contact Maya Eliahou at [email protected]

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