Acronyms, Initialisms and Thumbs

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Acronyms, Initialisms and Thumbs

TL;DR I think humanity may be in the midst of constructing a new, shared meta-language that is going to transform communication — or we’re going to devolve into a techno, fall-of-Babel that only sentient AIs could understand.

IMHO language is transforming due to the proliferation and utility of acronyms and initialisms (look it up) which dramatically shorten long concepts into short abbreviations. Know what these mean (WTF; TTYL; LMAO; BRB)? Then you know what I’m talking about. It’s meta-language. It’s cool, it’s fun and it’s evil. We all know this, but there’s more.

YKW? These meta-terms can be used to communicate more complex topics. PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair) ROTFLMAOWPIMP(Rolling on the floor laughing my ass off while peeing in my pants) and TANSTAAFL (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) are all used today (ask your teenager for more). You can even communicate more complex concepts by stringing meta-language into sentences, like this: IMAO TINC — it’s just Trump being Trump LMFAO. If you saw the Republican debate YKWIM.

IIUC, if this trend flowers fully, this could get really hard for us pre-meta humans to understand what the hell the next generation of thumb-typers is jabbering about. What happens when we start communicating mostly or wholly in meta-language? What if I say: TIMO BITO YJDU BAR and you respond GGIO AHOMO IPI TINS and then suddenly I’ve bought your 2007 Hyundai? And what happens when this sort of complexity emerges not just in English, but in every other world language? 中国梦 很好很强大! LMFAO!(???) Try to understand that with your dictionary.

IOW if this trend continues, we’re going to be able to communicate a lot of information in a very short time, but no one will know what the hell we’re talking about, unless they do. It’s all going to be like car ads (2009 RAV4, V6, 4WD, AC, ABS, MP3, EXCOND, 11k). This is where the sentient AIs come in. When we invent them, and we will, I fully expect that they will intentionally reduce common, complex phrases into acronyms, or even better, binary code. Why write a long apology letter for accidentally committing genocide against your neighbor’s avatar community when you can just send a heartfelt “10100010100110 avatars“ (long form communication indicating deep regret and commitment to never participate in such activity again).

TTBOMK research already shows that the use of meta-language makes it harder for the recipient to understand the sender, unless they are in the same social cohort. Like other types of slang, meta-language serves both a utilitarian function — shortening complex ideas into short bursts — but also bonds social groups together (and excludes others). Your teenager may understand what ig2gttyll8rZ means, but the rest of us don’t want to and frankly, probably shouldn’t care. Teenagers only invent things built to last until they are no longer teenagers.

CMIIW — I suspect as we move more and more communication to mobile devices, this type of meta-communication will become more common. The telegraph spawned a proliferation of initialisms (POTUS was born in the 1800’s) but the telephone reversed that trend. Back then it was an economy of words (telegraph companies charged by the letter) but now it’s an economy of fingers (I weigh the benefit of writing long emails on my iPhone against the carpal tunnel developing in my digitus primus manus (or DPM if you want to be edgy). So we’ll likely see more and more ASLs, ADADs and IWKWIMs up until the point that we no longer have to use two thumbs as our primary input mechanism for mobile device messaging and email. When we have telepathic email, we’ll be able to emote and relate to our hearts content.

And won’t that be an insufferable joy…

101110011 DBEYR L8R

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