LOL: Study shows short-forms comprise only 2.4% of teenage IMs

Parents and grammar nazis tend to flip out at instant messaging — because they worry the technology is ruining kids’ ability to write correctly. All those short forms! WTF! OMG! We’re breeding a nation of illiterates!

So I was intrigued to find a study of teenage IM chat that found that nu-wave short forms comprise a mere 2.4 per cent of their communications. University of Toronto professor Sali Tagliamonte spent two years examining the IM chats of 71 teenagers — collecting over 1 million words. The result? Behold the periodicity of these following common short forms:

Frequency per 100,000 words:

LOL — “laughing out loud”: 195

omg — “oh my god”: 107

brb — “be right back”: 31

ttyl — “talk to you later: 30

btw — “by the way”: 22

nvm — “never mind”: 7

gtg — “gotta go”: 5

np — “no problem: 4

nm — “not much”: 3

lmao — “laughing my ass off”: 2

Hardly the sort of linguistic rot we’ve been led to believe, eh? “There’s a misconception this is sloppy and ruinous,” as Tagliamonte told the Toronto Star. “It’s not. It demonstrates kids are really creative with their language. It’s a medium that lends itself to brevity so they have developed these short forms.”

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that too many kids these days aren’t blithering illiterates. I regularly receive bleak, bleak reports from friends of mine who teach high school or even first-year college classes. But me, I’m old-school: I blame whole language. What a total train-wreck of a pedagogical approach.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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