SMS Language

I’m listening to the audiobook of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, set in an approximate dystopian future where, among other things, youth lingo has evolved even further along its current trajectory towards what Wikipedia classifies as SMS language. OMG, you don’t know what SMS language is? These are the short initialisms that have become so popular especially among youth to minimize keying long phrases on cell phones or in IM chat.

Shteyngart’s take on the trend is hilarious, and some of his invented phrases ring completely believable. “JBF,” says one character. “I’m just butt-fucking with you.” I had to Google to confirm that this does not, in fact, appear to be a trending phrase.

Is SMS language a symptom of society’s plunge into illiteracy, or merely an example of culture adapting to the preferred aparrati of communication? Did wise old elders frown upon the impatient young monks who grew tired of laboring over “Anno Domini,” opting for the quicker, albeit more cryptic “AD”? Did the mathematician scoff at his student, “Is that all you have? You haven’t proven anything,” only to be rebuffed for the first time with a terse, indignant “QED, dude.” Perhaps each generation of your own family has rebuffed the generation before, by misinterpreting the underlying meaning for the initials GI, but using it freely nonetheless.

Initialisms reflect the human desire to optimize away the most tedious, repetitive aspects of written and spoken communication. Over the past decade or so, society has shifted toward communicating with devices that, frankly, make all forms of communication tedious. The result? A shitstorm of initialisms in order to cope. I like to think that SMS language is a trend that will diminish once our devices offer superior means of communicating fluidly and expressively in complete words.

Of course, there will always be room for a reasonable number of popular abbreviations. Slang prose, FTW.

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