Hybrid-Text Language: Revolution or Just Bad Writing?

My coworker Jen has told me that I “text like an eighth grader” because I tend to use shortcuts such as 2moro and l8r.  I argue, however, that my writing has evolved to be able to incorporate these shortcuts for space-saving purposes.  And since my grammar, punctuation and word usage is correct, (I hope), my method of texting should be acceptable.

I attended high school in the late 1990s and did not have a cell phone.  There was no text messaging or Facebook and even email, IMs and blogs were still somewhat new.  In lieu of texting, my friends and I would write notes back and forth using pen and paper.  Now that I have replaced writing pen-and-paper notes with text messaging, my style of “casual writing” has changed.

From what I have seen, teenagers today seem to be influenced by casual writing styles so much so that they carry this casual style with them into academic writing.  I’ve had teachers tell me that they have found emoticons, acronyms such as LOL and overly casual language in students’ academic papers.  So why is there such a difference between my version of casual text messaging and that of someone just twelve-years younger than me?  I argue that since the older members of my generation, namely those of us born before 1985, for the most part did not have high-speed Internet and cell phones growing up, we learned to write less casually and have been only mildly influenced by the popularity of new digital mediums.  When I wrote notes using paper and pen, I did not abbreviate in the same way that I now do in text messages. Since I know how to write professionally, I should have the creative freedom to abbreviate in a text message.  What do you think?  Is my coworker correct in referring to my texting style as adolescent or have I just discovered a new hybrid form of writing that should be accepted?

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  • Nicole Wittenburg says:


    I also switch between different forms of communicating when I text vs. when I write for school. I think it is important to know how to do both. For people like us, who did not grow up with cell phones and internet, it is easier to make the transition. For people who were born into houses with the internet and cell phones, it is harder to make the distinction. I think there is a proper time and place for each mode.

  • Jennifer Ferreira says:


    I don’t know if this ‘debate’ is a matter of being right or wrong, but rather a debate of how digital writing, particularly in texting/IMing/emailing/social networking, encourages shorthand and this finds its way into academic writing.

    As someone born post 1985, I need to say that my experiences with technology are not much different than your experiences. I did not grow up with a cell phone in hand, or with high speed internet at my fingertips. I remember getting my first cell phone when I was 16 years old. Not that I had text messaging capabilities, because back then, each text message cost ten cents, but I thought that texting was ridiculous– why would I need to text something to someone if I could just call them? But as technology progressed and phone companies realized charging people per text was ridiculous, I became more fond of the good old text message. However, I didn’t find it necessary to have to write, “where r u?” or “c u l8r.” Quite frankly, it takes my brain longer to process this shorthand. I mean, I know how to spell words out, so why shouldn’t I spell them out in a text? In response to your comment about shortening words to “save space,” I don’t feel like this is a concern for most texters. For most, phone plans include unlimited texting. And if someone were paying for x amount of texts, I’m fairly certain that they have enough texts to cover the over 160 character limit. Anyway, I think the “space saving” argument is outdated– changing “later” to “l8r” seems like a hassle. Most phones require changing keyboards to get to the number pad. So if you’re already in letter mode, why not stay there and type the ‘a, t, e’?

    Anyway, I just think that this switching between texting presents a problem for those who do not understand that shorthand is not actual standard English. So I think it’s cool if you know the time and place to use emoticons, shorthand, and acronyms. But I find myself struggling with these things because I do not use them– when I see them, I don’t understand what the person is trying to communicate to me. One time, one of our coworkers wrote to me in a text, “SMH.” I tried my hardest to figure out what this meant, using the context of our conversation to understand why she said “SMH” to me. I literally tried to find “s words” that might fit this equation. Finally, I swallowed my pride and asked her what this meant. “Shaking my head.” I shouldn’t have to work so hard to communicate with people. If I want to be confused and struggle with language, I will reread Ulysses.

  • L'rece says:

    Sorry to laugh Jennifer but you trying to decipher SMH was funny… because in light of the answer you would have also have been shaking your head. I have teenagers who have kept me up to date with the lingo. I was born in ancient times and had to learn to keep up. I learnt to text on the hop for cost and time sake.
    I have seen on some social media sites, to my horror, some people of my vintage writing completely in hybrid and it does my head in trying to understand it as if I am a fairly new ESL person (English as a second language)(I gave up trying to read it).

    As a new teacher, one day I had a lot to write on the board and quite frankly found myself slipping into some abbreviations like @/at and hm/home … it was only a few but the kids were very quick to point it out to me and I went back and fixed it. They laughed and so did I but they understood easily what I was writing. I am about to embark on teaching the kids how to write hybrid text in speculative fiction. Should be fun!


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