The Language of Social Media


Below is an extract from an article I wrote 15 years ago for my school magazine, when my teenage generation was beginning to embrace the medium of text. Imagine a time when smartphones didn’t exist (you were lucky if you had the coveted Nokia with the interchangeable fascia) and Facebook was still a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye.


Everybody’s doing it. An average 700m txt msgs r snt in the UK per month, making SMS msgs (that’s short message service, 4 those few remaining ppl who r yet 2 bcum familiar with mobile jargon) now more popular than email.

But y is this abbreviated form of communication so popular? The most obvious reason 4 this new trend is perhaps the informality of txt. There r no awkward silences 2 suffer, and u can check what u have written before u snd (although, invariably, ppl don’t- and this can cause sum embarrassment). With most phone companies allowing up2 160 characters per msg, SMS provides a quick and easy way of getting ur point across- depending of course on how ur txting technique is. Some ppl r 4tunate enuf 2 have phones with a ‘predictive text messaging’ option, others spend 5 minutes fiddling with the small buttons on their increasingly tiny handsets 2 type out a nonsensical assortment of letters and numbers that can only b interpreted by fellow texters.

 Without wishing 2 sound ageist, it is clearly among the under-30s that SMS is so popular, whilst older generations seem 2b more wary of this new phenomenon.

Y is this? Dare I suggest that there r some people reluctant 2 embrace this new means of communication because “we managed fine without it when I was young”?

I think there is more 2 it that that. 4 a start, it discourages conversation & the spoken word. This is something we should all think about- how r we going 2 get through interviews & relationships if the only way we can communicate clearly is by txt? Another point 2 consider is the potential effect on written Nglsh. But neway, u can decide 4 urselves how significant that is after reading this article. Thanx, tx bk pls. ;)”

Nokia-5110-1Fast forward to 2016 and our everyday communications are overrun by instant messaging, with apps such as Whattsapp, Viber and Facebook Messenger in many cases taking over from traditional text messaging.

Was my 16-year old self right to be concerned about the changes this new phenomenon might have on our language? Absolutely. Back then I was much more of a language pedant; now I am regularly amused and sometimes aghast at the emerging linguistic peculiarities I see on social media, as well as shamefully conscious that I find myself adopting them all too easily.

In particular, the distinction between British and American English is blurring and we are so quick to imitate any quirky or fashionable innovations that they soon become everyday. That’s not to say that technology and social media are responsible for these changes; nor that they are a bad thing. It’s just that, because of their ubiquity, they’re much easier to pick up. Here are some of my (least) favourites:

  1. That moment you realise everything you write is a caption. (Admittedly ‘that moment you realise you left the house with no pants on’ is more concise than writing ‘imagine, dear readers, the horror I felt the moment I realised I’d left the house without any trousers on’.)
  2. Punctuation. An exclamation! A bigger exclamation!!! The BIGGEST exclamation!!!!! And sometimes you need to exclaim a question, right?! The moment when a comma isn’t enough but a full stop is too much and who the hell knows what a semicolon is for… just use an ellipsis… This tells you I’m thinking as I tpye… But have I finished?… Or am I waiting to see if you reply first…
  3. Using the word ‘like’ too often. Like, all the time. I told my friend this annoyed me and she was like, yeah you do that a lot.
  4. Inappropriate use of the word literally: this literally makes me tear my hair out. Oh, no it doesn’t.
  5. The spoken hashtag. I ‘heart’ (ooh there’s another one!) the hashtag function on apps- what a great way of linking and sharing stuff. But next time someone says ‘hashtag: first world problems’ out loud whilst bemoaning the lack of wifi in the gym, I will, like, literally… roll my eyes and take another workout selfie.



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