October 5, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 50°F


Read btwn the lines

Ask senior Gabby Owens if she has any quirky mannerisms, and she will most likely say, “Probz.”

Photo Illustration by Michelle Barrie

Pay attention as she gets sidetracked in conversation and says, “B-T-dubz.”

Listen as she ends the discussion with “PTFO” (Peace the f–k out), and witness a completely new language — abbreviations.

Owens finds new ways to shorten her thoughts almost daily. But what she doesn’t know is that while she is finishing her sentences sooner, she may also be shortening her attention span.

David Crystal, author of “Texting: The Gr8 Db8,” said abbreviations, the use of which dates back to Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, are fun to use and help cut down the time it takes to say something, but they also alter the time people are willing to focus on a topic.

“Abbreviations are simply a response to various social and technological pressures,” he said. “They promote a communicative economy, but they are also fun, and it is this social motivation that promotes the use of texting.”

Sophomore Parker Daley said she abbreviates her speech so often that she no longer responds to people who don’t.

“If I’m talking to someone in a texting conversation and they send me a really long text and they don’t abbreviate anything, I just won’t even read it,” she said. “I’ll just skim through it or read it later.”

The abbreviation craze might even change the technology that originally created the phenomenon. A recent newsletter published by the Association for Business Communication said social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook will replace e-mailing systems within the next 10 years because of the short attention spans of many.

Anthony DiRenzo, associate professor of writing at Ithaca College and a member of the ABC, said these social networking sites will cut down their already tiny character restrictions, making people finish their thoughts in an even shorter amount of time. He said this shift in language is the result of the younger generation’s use of abbreviations — the users shaping information.

“Until very recently, you had to learn,” he said. “It’s not what you cared to [learn about]. But now information has become data, and in a consumerist society, we consume information rather than really process it and try to interpret it.”

Owens admits that she has a short attention span, but she said abbreviating just makes speaking easier sometimes.

“I can just use fewer words to express my point, and that’s just easier,” she said. “So I don’t have to waste my breath. I feel like I text all the time, or [BlackBerry Message] that even when I don’t think about it, it just slips into normal conversation.”

For Daley, abbreviations and acronyms, such as BRB (Be Right Back) and OMG (Oh My God), make a conversation more interesting. She said she and her roommates have their own abbreviated language that they go by.

“If someone says, ‘I’m going to the library at 8,’ we’ll text back, ‘OMG samesiez!’” she said. “[It means], ‘I’m going there, too!’”

But not all of these manners of speech stay in Daley’s circle for long. She said some are just overused.

“We don’t say ‘LOL’ anymore,” Daley said, “It’s not cool. We always make sure we try to say ‘Haha.’ But when we are trying to be goofy, we’ll say, ‘OMG! LOL!’ just to joke around.”

Writing abbreviations started in high school for Owens and Daley. Owens said once she started chatting on AIM, she began using abbreviations and acronyms. Then, as text messaging became the No. 1 phenomenon in her life, she wrote them even more. Now, Owens is so familiar with using abbreviations that she has permanently changed certain words in her head to shorter forms.

“It scares me because it slips in so much that I’m not even aware of it anymore,” she said. “I don’t think I even say ‘probably’ anymore.”

Linguistically, abbreviating does not change the messages people are trying to get across, according to Crystal. It actually adds something.

“What we are seeing is the emergence of new communicative opportunities as a result of evolving technology,” he said. “Each new domain adds to the language but doesn’t replace anything.”

Senior Jaylene Clark knows abbreviations affect her writing process. As an acting major and the president of Spit That!, the spoken-word group on campus, Clark works with words every day. She said while she was writing a poem the other day she couldn’t think of any words that rhymed with “knees” other than “please.” Eventually she went to and found an entire list of words she had forgotten about.

“The only thing that came to my head were all these very simple words,” she said. “When I have time to actually sit down and write a poem, it gives me an opportunity to really think more and be more creative with my word usage.”

Clark said she knows abbreviations can limit a person’s vocabulary but cutting down on time is necessary now. When working with writers at Spit That! meetings, she has to remind poets that the audience won’t follow their performance after three minutes.

“When I am writing poetry, I just write to write it and release my emotions,” she said. “I feel like there shouldn’t be a time limit on that, but now I actually have to think, ‘OK, this is getting long. People aren’t going to listen to something this long.’”

Clark knows from experience that she can’t always pay attention. If her phone beeps in the middle of a conversation, her immediate reaction is to respond to the message. Losing her train of thought, Clark is left repeating herself all over again.

“I can’t always stay focused,” she said. “I hear my phone go off, and I already forget what I’m saying. ‘What was I saying?’”

While students notice their inability to fully complete sentences outside of the classroom, Owens said she doesn’t take herself too seriously. When she ends a conversation with “PTFO” she knows she is speaking her own language.

“Sometimes people are like, ‘What are you saying?’” Owens said.