From The Guardian, Saturday January 7, 2006 [Iain Hollinghead]

Whatever happened to … txt lngwj:)?

‘It’s good to talk,” BT used to tell us. But it’s even easier to send a text message. The Mobile Data Association predicts that 36.5 billion texts will be sent in the UK this year (a rise from 32.1 billion in 2005). This equates to 3.6 million messages every hour – remarkable for a technology that was launched commercially only 10 years ago.

Texting’s devotees now stretch beyond its core fan base of flirters, adulterers, school bullies and David Beckham. In November 2004 Tony Blair – not known for his ability to ignore a bandwagon – became the first Prime Minister to answer questions texted by members of the public. “My texting talents are poor, let’s say underdeveloped,” he admitted.

But what the Prime Minister lacks in dexterity, he is generally thought to compensate in his ability to spell. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the nation’s youth. Since 2002 various examiners’ reports have bemoaned the prevalence of abbreviated text message style words – such as “u” for “you” – in formal exams.

It’s not just the teaching profession that has expressed alarm at the rise of vowel-less txt lngwj. In November 2003 modernisers made headlines with suggestions that shortened text phrases such as ttfn (ta ta for now) and fwiw (for what it’s worth) should be allowed in the game of Scrabble. Traditionalists were furious.

Equal outrage has been vented at attempts – most of them tongue-in-cheek – to “translate” well-known bits of literature into modern vernacular. The first line of Hamlet’s soliloquy can be rendered as “2b/-b=?”. Richard III’s cry to exchange his kingdom for a horse becomes, “ggggUK4gg”. A Christian magazine launched a competition to update the Lord’s prayer – “dad@hvn, ur spshl” etc. And Microsoft recently had a stab at reducing the first five books of the Iliad to 32 lines of text language – “Wot hapnd when Agamemnon n Achilles had a barny?”

Interestingly, however, the rising popularity of predictive texting – whereby the phone guesses the full, correctly-spelled version of the word as you hit the keys – has put a stop to the more extreme forms of abbreviation. But while predictive texting might be good for the nation’s spelling, it is not always easily understood. Try typing “he if is cycle, he’ll in to get his awake and come go to red of” and see what happens when the right combination of buttons throws up the wrong words.

Indeed, there is probably a whole field of predictive text-related lexicology awaiting serious study. Researchers might find an intriguing answer for why a “kiss” often turns out to be on the “lips”. Are chefs aged? Is it boring to be coping? Is art apt? Is it always good to be home in the hood? Or has everyone gone? And if you try and do something “asap” why does it often turn out “crap”?

Likewise, Darwin is easy to spell once you’re two-thirds there. Media is normally office based. And propaganda has always been prosaic first and foremost. Even “dual” has two meanings – one of which you have to teach your innocent phone.

Readers over the age of 14 will have probably turned the page by now, but these silly examples do at least point to the indestructibility of the English language. Text messaging has not savaged the “language of Shakespeare”, as doomsayers predicted. It has merely been absorbed, moulded and sculpted, much as the language integrated its Norman influences in the 11th century, or its American in the 20th.

Even the Conservatives are part of this process. Their new pressure group focused on correcting the gender imbalance in parliament is called – rather trendily – Women2Win.