One of the most beautiful things about language is that it’s fluid and always changing. Each generation adds new words and pronunciations to the language they learn as a child. The language evolves and is passed down to the next generation, who does the same. Within a few decades, the language can dramatically change and be virtually unrecognizable.
The English language has especially started to evolve rapidly thanks to technology. Pretty much everyone has a cell phone these days, and the vast majority use them to text one another.
Each day, billions of text messages are exchanged, and virtually none of them will feature proper grammar or spelling. As a result, texting has significantly altered the English language in a very short time, and it’s primarily due to abbreviations.
Why Do People Use Abbreviations in Text?
In many ways, texting is almost an entirely different subset of English. Using words like “lol” or “omg” is extremely common and for a good reason. Text messages have only supported a maximum of 160 characters for a long time.
Brevity is critical when using text unless you want to flood someone’s phone with several messages and a wall of text. Especially if you’re in a group message with particularly chatty texters.
For example, typing out “talk to you later” would use 17 characters in a text message. On the other hand, you could just text “ttyl,” and the recipient will instantly know what you mean. You’ll have used 13 fewer characters which saves both time and space.
It can also help keep you from texting too much and potentially injuring yourself in the process. It’s a win for all parties involved!
LOL and ROFL
One of the particularly fascinating aspects of texting abbreviations is how fast they can evolve. Take “lol,” for example. It means “laughing out loud” and has been a staple of text messages since May 1989.
Over time, using “lol” became so common that it sort of lost its meaning. People then started to use “lmao” (laughing my a** off) or “rofl” (rolling on the floor laughing) to really signify their approval. Before long, these different phrases merged into “roflol” (rolling on the floor laughing out loud) and “roflmao” (rolling on the floor laughing my a** off).
You can see how difficult it can be trying to keep up with the ever-evolving language of text messaging. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, there are plenty of text messages that require context. The ellipsis (three little dots) is such an example and can mean a ton of different things.
What Does “...” Mean?
From a grammatical perspective, the ellipsis usually represents an intentional omission of words, sentences, or paragraphs from texts. It often appears when someone is summarizing a quote and leaving out unnecessary words to save time. From a text message perspective, the ellipsis can mean many different things. It all depends on the context of the text message.
Depending on context clues, texting “...” can indicate the following:
A lot of times, texting back “...” to a question will usually indicate feeling awkward. The question has stunned the recipient so much that they have no idea what to say. They feel like they should say something, but the words just can’t come to mind.
Kevin: Hi Susie, this is Kevin from work! I got your phone number from the listing in the front office. I think you’re really great and would like to take you on a date sometime!
In this example, Susie is probably speechless that Kevin blindsided her with the request after getting her number without her permission. She has no idea how to respond to such an awkward and unsolicited request, so she sends “...” as a response.
She’s probably hoping that it will dawn on Kevin that what he did wasn’t appropriate. Susie is probably wishing that she had used a second phone number to prevent the invasion of her privacy.
The ellipsis typically represents a pause when it’s used in literature. It’s the written equivalent of stalling for time and can be used to represent staying silent as they think. When sent by itself, “...” can mean you are stunned by the previous message. No words are coming to you, and all that you can say is “...” instead.
Rachel: Hey! Did you hear that Kevin got Susie’s number without permission and asked her on a date?? OMG!
In this example, Sarah can’t believe that Kevin would do something so inappropriate. She’s so stunned by hearing this story that she can’t find any words to text. Her mouth is probably hanging open, and she’s literally speechless.
In some cases, adding “...” to the end of a sentence can change the entire context of a text. It’s kind of like the text equivalent of adding a wink at the end of an otherwise innocuous statement. This is often associated with sliding into someone’s DMs (aka their direct messages).
Jane: Hey Kevin. I heard you were texting Susie, but I think you should take me out instead. Maybe we could have a late-night snack after dinner and a movie…
In this example, Jane is very clearly jealous that Kevin was texting Susie. She’s trying to entice him to take her on a date instead. By adding the last line and the “...”, it’s pretty clear that she’s insulating something other than ice cream after their date has ended.
Adding Dramatic Flair
Reading a text only takes a few seconds as your eyes quickly scan the words. By finishing the text so quickly, it can sometimes lessen the impact of a story filled with twists. Using “...” might help to slow down the reader’s speed and add some dramatic effect to the words.
Billy: You are never going to believe what happened at work this week. First, Kevin got Susie’s number without her permission from the front office… he texted her and asked her out… but then Jane found out and got really jealous… so she texted Kevin, and they’re going out Saturday night.
In this example, the story being told is filled with drastic twists. Billy is trying to convey just how wild the situation is by adding several pause breaks. He could send each line as a single message to slowly unveil the story, but that would be pretty annoying and flood the inbox of the recipient. Instead, he uses the “...” to break up the story into more easily digestible pieces.
Awaiting a Response
Using “...” can function as a prompt for a response. That’s usually the case whenever someone asks a question in a text and doesn’t receive an answer.
Charlie: Can you believe that Kevin and Jane are getting engaged now? Do you want to go in half on an engagement present?
In this example, Charlie asked a question and wanted to create a conversation around it. When the other person didn’t respond to the question, Charlie sent “...” to gently nudge them. There’s no need to resent the original message as the “...” will create a text notification and politely tell the recipient that Charlie is awaiting their answer.
The Meaning of Other Text Abbreviations
Using “...” is just one example of the millions of abbreviations used during texting. Texting basically has its own language at this point and is constantly evolving at an incredible pace. It’s easiest to separate common text abbreviations into three separate camps:
In the ye old days of phones, it was challenging to convey tone while texting or commenting on someone’s social media post. A text could be taken in a variety of ways as it’s merely words devoid of vocal inflections and facial cues. As a result, people started using emoticons to help indicate the tone of their text.
Of course, these emoticons have largely been replaced by emojis that can basically convey every possible human emotion. However, you might occasionally see an old-school emoticon in text.
Here are a few of the most popular examples:
- Happy =)
- Smiling :)
- Laughing :D
- Love <3
- Sad =(
- Frowning :(
- Crying :’(
- Angry >:(
- Winking ;)
- Disappointed :/
- Flirty :p
- Shocked :O
You probably don’t think about how often you use acronyms in everyday conversation. For instance, most people know that the letters "USA" means the United States of America. Why spend all that time saying the whole thing when the US or USA will do the job?
The same principle is true for text messaging. You can save a lot of time and character space by trimming down a phrase to just the first letter of each word — or, as the texters would say, ASAP (as soon as possible).
Here are a few of the most commonly used acronyms in texting:
- AFAIK: as far as I know
- ATM: at the moment
- BC: because
- BRB: be right back
- BTW: by the way
- HMU: hit me up
- IDC: I don’t care
- IDK: I don’t know
- ILY: I love you
- IMHO: in my humble opinion
- IMO: in my opinion
- IRL: in real life
- JK: just kidding
- LMK: let me know
- LOL: laugh out loud
- NBD: no big deal
- NM: not much
- NP: no problem
- NVM: nevermind
- OFC: of course
- OMG: oh my God
- SMH: shaking my head
- TBH: to be honest
- TGIF: thank God it’s Friday
- TL/DR: too long/didn’t read
- TMI: too much information
- WBU: what about you
- WTF: what the f***
- WTG: way to go
- YOLO: you only live once
The last category is one of the newer evolutions of texting and the most difficult to understand. Texting shorthand usually involves a combination of letters and numbers to convey a word or phrase.
In other instances, it might be as simple as dropping the vowels in a word to shorten it up a bit. It can be a bit confusing when you first see it, but it makes sense after you see them a few times.
Here are a few examples to help get you familiar with the concept:
- ABT: about
- ACDNT: accident
- ACK: acknowledge
- ACPT: accept
- BFF: best friend forever
- B4: before
- BDAY: birthday
- CMON: come on
- CU: see you
- CYA: see ya
- DNT: don’t
- EZ: easy
- FW: forward
- GR8: great
- H8: hate
- K: okay
- L8R: later
- OIC: oh, I see
- PLZ/PLS: please
- PPL: people
- PROLLY: probably
- QT: cutie
- RLY: really
- SK8: skate
- SRSLY: seriously
- SRY: sorry
- SUP: what’s up
- THX: thanks
- TTLY: totally
- TY: thank you
- UR: your or you’re
- W8: wait
- W/E: whatever
- W/O: without
- Y: why
Final Words on Text Slang
The language involved with texting is almost entirely separate from English. It can take a long time to easily comprehend the intentions behind a text. A few letters could represent shorthand or an acronym, and it can be tricky to figure out its meaning.
The key thing is context. That’s especially the case whenever “...” is involved with a text. You’ll have to use your judgment based on the specific conversation to figure out what’s being said between the lines.
It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the hidden meaning between “...” if you know the person that you’re texting. After all, most people have similar texting and speech patterns. It gets a little difficult when you’re texting someone that you don’t know.
For that reason, getting a second phone number with Burner and keeping your personal number private might be a good idea. This way, you won’t have to decipher random messages from strangers and can easily block them when they’re too annoying.
The surprisingly long, unfunny history of ‘LOL’ | The Washington Post
Why text messages are limited to 160 characters | Los Angeles Times
Smartphone subscriptions worldwide 2027 | Statista
Linguistics 001 -- Language Change and Historical Reconstruction | University of Pennsylvania