All Thumbs, All The Time

From Louis Menand’s review of two books on texting is an interesting example of how non-English speakers (and texters) are using abbreviations in a localized and relevant way:

Different cultures have had to solve the problem of squeezing commonly delivered messages onto the cell-phone screen according to their own particular national needs. In the Czech Republic, for example, “hosipa” is used for “Hovno si pamatuju“: “I can’t remember anything.” One can imagine a wide range of contexts in which Czech texters might have recourse to that sentiment. French texters have devised “ght2v1,” which means “J’ai acheté du vin.” In Germany, “nok” is an efficient solution to the problem of how to explain “Nicht ohne Kondom“-“not without condom.” If you receive a text reading “aun” from the fine Finnish lady you met in the airport lounge, she is telling you “?Ñlä unta nää“-in English, “Dream on.”

and a (not-novel) theory about the appeal of texting that I think is partly true but not sufficient to explain the tremendous global usage.

A less obvious attraction of texting is that it uses a telephone to avoid what many people dread about face-to-face exchanges, and even about telephones-having to have a real, unscripted conversation. People don’t like to have to perform the amount of self-presentation that is required in a personal encounter. They don’t want to deal with the facial expressions, the body language, the obligation to be witty or interesting. They just want to say “flt is lte.” Texting is so formulaic that it is nearly anonymous. There is no penalty for using catchphrases, because that is the accepted glossary of texting.


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