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How Texting Is Changing English

Think texting is all about making things shorter? Think again! Texters have created a new English conjunction—”slash”—and they spell it out instead of using the punctuation mark.

By
Mignon Fogarty
Episode #366

Text Is Bleeding into Speech, and Vice Versa

When I first head about “BTdubs” I thought I had misunderstood. I thought people were saying it, not actually writing it. It seemed like something people would say to be cute, but not something they’d actually write. But I was wrong. My guess is that people started saying it first and then writing it, much like the slash symbol in a sentence such as “She’s a dancer/singer,” was vocalized and then started getting written out as a word the way it was being spoken.

I’ve also heard of people saying the word “hashtag,” which started out as a type of tag in Twitter. For example, much as you’d write Wanna get ice cream? #calories, some people are saying it like that when they talk to friends: “Wanna get ice cream? Hashtag calories.”

So we’re getting words that come from texting (such as “hashtag” and “lol”) and we’re writing things out in text that mimic speech (such as “BTdubs” and “slash”). English is always changing, and although you shouldn’t use these kind of informal words and symbols in important documents such as school papers or staid corporate press releases, I think it’s a blast to see how words like “slash” emerge and change as people experiment with them. And you might still think texting is ruining English, but I don’t think you can make the argument anymore that it’s just because people are lazy and trying to avoid keystrokes.

Web Bonus: Things I Thought Were Interesting but Not Related Enough to Make it into the Podcast

“Period” is another punctuation mark that we sometimes write out as a word.  You are not wearing high heels to Disneyland. Period. is similar to He’s an actor slash model.

In one of my favorite movies, Zoolander, Fabio accepts a fake award called a Slashie for being the best actor slash model.

On the Grammar Girl Facebook page, Adam H. Clark made an interesting observation about the use of slashes in World of Warcraft to preface a command (e.g., "/dance" to make a character dance) and how that carried over to chat conversations. For example, in chat, people who did something stupid would write something such as “/palmtoforehead” to indicate that they felt dumb. I can’t help but wonder if this use in such a popular game is playing a part in the evolution of “slash” as a word.

Regarding “BTdubs,” one reason I though people would say it and not write it is that I went to the University of Washington, which we called “UW”—pronounced “Udub”—but I had never seen it written as “Udub.” However, my husband, also a UW alum, said he had seen it written that way, and a Google search shows that it is, indeed, sometimes written as “Udub.” I hate it (and love it) when my research proves me wrong!

As I was working on this article, I started to wonder why some abbreviations and contractions use a slash instead of periods or an apostrophe (e.g., "n/a" for "not applicable, "w/o" for "without," and "b/c" for "because"). People have posted some interesting explanations on StackExchange. It may have to do with the history of shorthand, printing, and the way punctuation was much more random in Medieval times.

Next: Different (and Interesting) Perspectives from Readers

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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