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.” And 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.
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.
Textspeak Around The World
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.”
There are other elements of Thai textspeak that involve keyboard shortcuts (or happy accidents?). In Thai, the word จังเลย (jang looei) is used after adjectives to intensify the meaning. However, young people have taken to expressing it as จุงเบย (jung booei) via text. The swapped characters are next to each other on the keyboard, so this probably arose as a typo initially, but now teens do it on purpose because they think it sounds cute.
There are also informal ways to say “I” and “you” that you’ll most often hear among younger people speaking amongst their friends. กู (goo) is a casual, gender-neutral way to say “I,” and มึง (meung) is how you would say “you” in that context.
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 United States 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.
To keep the good mood going, you only need to text mara (short for maravilhoso, or “wonderful”).
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. The phrase ggg stands for ganz großes Grinsen, meaning “a very big grin.”
German textspeak also makes liberal use of abbreviations, particularly by replacing letters with numbers. For example: meins (1: eins) = m1 (“mine”), or Nacht (8: acht) = N8 (“night”). You can also shorten common phrases like Wie geht’s? (“What’s up?”) into a sleek and simple Wg?.
Texting frees you from a lot of formal grammatical rules, and you can do casual, lazy things with your language, like saying I bims instead of Ich bin’s (“It’s me”).
Oh, and if someone texts you that something is porno, don’t clutch your pearls right away. They probably just mean that it’s “cool” or “interesting.”
French texting slang is almost the opposite of its formal written form, which is to say, efficient and mostly devoid of accent marks unless absolutely necessary.
If you see the number 1, it could be referring to the sounds un, ain or ien. So in effect, b1 translates to bien. You also don’t need to bother with c’est, sait or s’est when a simple c will do.
To start a conversation, you don’t need much more than a BJR (bonjour) or sa va (ça va, or “how are you?”).
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. 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 or 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.
Using this system, you can text someone Kul 3am wa ente bi5ayr (or كل عام وأنتي بخير) to wish them a happy holiday, or Meshta2alek kteer (مشتقلك كتير) to tell them you miss them a lot.
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!
Generally speaking, your typical Spanish textspeak is going to vary depending on the locale, but it’s also not uncommon to see certain English slang terms pop up with a Spanish twist: likear, lolazo, trol, selfi, friki.
This is a lot to think about, but try not to overanalyze it. If someone texts you NTR, they just mean no te rayes (“don’t overthink it”).