On December 3rd, 1992, a test engineer named Neil Papworth sent the world’s first text message, and it may come as a surprise to find out it was a fairly eloquent phrase — well okay, at least it wasn’t LOL. The first text ever sent was a simple, “Merry Christmas.”
Since that merry moment, “textspeak” has evolved alongside our technology. When flip phones became popular — for you youngsters, those were phones without full keyboards! — letters were jettisoned in order to save time, which means that over a decade later, Papworth’s “Merry Christmas” had become a “Merry xmas.”
Although today’s smartphones make texting full phrases a lot easier, it’s safe to say that textspeak, with all its nuance, is here to stay. Consider how you laugh online. Even though LOL, LMAO, ROFL, and Haha mean generally the same thing, they’re certainly not interchangeable, and each one takes on its own meaning depending on the context and the person.
Of course, English isn’t the only language that has adopted textspeak. New technology has influenced how people all around the globe communicate. Here are some of our favorite examples of textspeak from six different languages:
You might recognize the phrase 555 as the beginning of a fictitious phone number from a movie or television show. But in Thailand, it’s used to denote laughter. In Thai, the pronunciation of the number five sounds like Ha, so typing a series of 5’s is akin to typing Hahaha or LOL.
Use this Portuguese expression when you’re just not in the mood. SQN stands for só que não, which translates to “just no.” An equivalent expression in the U.S. would be sarcastically adding “not!” to the end of a phrase.
Another one of our Portuguese favorites is BBB, which stands for Bom, Bonito, Barato, and means “Good, pretty, cheap.” There’s no precise equivalent in English, although a “good deal” comes close. We think Bom, Bonito, Barato sounds better, though.
If your German friend cracks a joke over text, you can reply with g, which stands in for Grinsen, meaning “grinning.” Or, if it’s a really funny joke, you can throw in a few more g’s. ggg stands for ganz großes Grinsen, meaning “a very big grin.”
We’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you how to text je t’aime, which gets shortened to JTM. And if you see the letters MDR, it means mort de rire, which translates to “dying of laughter.” Hopefully that isn’t the response you get right after professing your love, but if it is, then, well, DSL (which is textspeak for désolé, meaning “sorry”).
Over the years, new tools and technologies have made it easier to type in many different languages, including ones that don’t use the Latin alphabet, like Arabic. However, that hasn’t always been the case. Historically, the Latin alphabet was the most accessible option for many people to write a text message or chat online. But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. The Arabic Chat Alphabet, also known as Arabizi, Arabish, and Franco-Arabic, was born from these technological limitations.
Arabizi makes it possible to use a combination of Arabic numerals and the Latin alphabet to write Arabic words and phrases. For example, Arabizi uses the numeral 9 to represent the Arabic letter qāf, which is equivalent to the Q in the Latin alphabet. In Arabizi, the Arabic word for heart, qalb, becomes 9alb.
Warning: you may be confused by the following text expressions when you first see them, but stick with us, they’re actually brilliant.
XQ means both por qué (“why”), and porque (“because”). XA is para (“for”), and XO is pero (“but”). XFA is por favor (“please”).
So, what’s up with all the X’s? They’re actually multiplication signs. When you’re multiplying numbers, por is the equivalent of the English word ‘‘times.” Told you it was brilliant!