Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Technology is supposed to save us time. It’s supposed to make life easier and more convenient, but we inevitably try to cram even more into even less time. For better or for worse, this has given rise to an increasingly daunting number of acronyms and shorthand.

Shorthand isn’t anything new and it’s not unique to the Internet. Terms like P.S. and P.M. have been used for ages and many people don’t even know their origin (postscript and post merediem, respectively). Even so, I find myself using even more acronyms and abbreviations in my online conversations with friends and colleagues.

Some of these come from text speak and others evolved with Internet communication, but here are a few prime examples of what I mean.

  • AFAIK: As far as I know. I’ve also used AFAIR, meaning “as far as I remember.”
  • AFK: Away from keyboard. This is a typical status I use in my GChat to indicate I’m not actually at my computer.
  • BBL: Be back later. This indicates a little longer absence than the usual BRB (be right back). According to Stephen, BBL stands for “bye bye la.”
  • FWIW: For what it’s worth.
  • IDK: I don’t know. Thanks to the power of the Internet, lack of knowledge is oftentimes temporary.
  • IMHO: In my humble opinion (or simply IMO).
  • YT: “You there?” or YouTube. The meaning is derived from the context of the conversation. Similarly, I use FB for Facebook and TW for Twitter.

In conversations with friends and colleagues, I’ve come to use many non-standard shorthand terms too, like using “img” for image. The 160 character limit of a standard text message got the ball rolling. The 140 character limit of a Twitter update pushed the ball down the hill. Even where there are no character limits, as would be the case with instant messengers, we find these forms of communication spill over.

You would think that, as a professional writer, this degradation of the human language would irk me. While it would bother me to see them used in any formal or semi-formal writing, I have no qualms about shorthand when it comes to casual conversations. What about you? Do you tend to write everything out or have you started to rely more heavily on acronyms and abbreviations for brevity?