Understanding Chat Language and Acronyms

In the technology of chatting and messaging, a unique shorthand has emerged, of which many adults are unaware, and almost no adults are fully conversant. In an attempt to help you lose some of the fear of chatting and messaging, here’s a brief overview of the shorthand that our children already know.


Unlike verbal conversation, textual communication is devoid of emotion. I can say things that take on wildly different meanings depending on my voice inflection and facial expression. Emoticons attempt to compensate by explicitly communicating non-verbal emotions. Many readers will be familiar with these already. If you haven’t seen these, once you get the hang of it you’ll find that the added emotion makes text communication much more effective.

An emoticon is read sideways. As you look at the list below, tilt your head to the left and you’ll see the smiley face, the winky face, etc. There are usually several ways of making a particular emoticon, so I’ve included a couple versions of each. The full range of emoticons is vast and often very creative, but this short list constitutes probably 95% of all the emoticons you’ll ever need.

Smiling :-) :)
Winking ;-) ;)
Laughing :-D :D
Surprised :-o :o
Tongue Sticking Out :-P :P

It’s surprising how much better text-based communication can be with just a little emotion tossed in for good measure.


Most of the acronyms used in text-based communication originated with text messaging on cell phones because of the difficulty of typing letters. Abbreviating common expressions can save a considerable amount of typing. Acronyms fall roughly into two categories: commonly used expressions and abbreviations used to obscure communication from parents. Here are some commonly used acronyms and their translations.

143 “I love you”
AATK “always at the keyboard”
A/S/L? “age/sex/location?”
BRB “be right back”
EMA “what is your email address?”
FTW “for the win!”
FWIW “for what it’s worth”
G2G “got to go”
IOW “in other words”
JK “just kidding”
L33T “elite”
LOL “laughing out loud” (not “lots of love”)
MSG “message”
N00B “newbie”
NP “no problem”
OMG “oh my gosh”
OTOH “on the other hand”
ROTFL “rolling on the floor laughing”
SNERT “snot-nosed egotistical rude teenager”
TTFN “ta ta for now”
WTF “what the [fetch]”
WWJD “what would Jesus do?”
WWSD “what would Satan do?”

Studies suggest that a significant percentage of online teens use code words on a daily basis to hide online conversations from their parents. Here are some examples that may be enlightening to you.

P911 “parents are coming!”
PA “parent alert”
PAL “parents are listening”
PANB “parents are nearby”
PAW “parents are watching
PIR “parents in room”
POS “parents over shoulder”
TAW “teachers are watching”

In my view, a youngster using this parent-averse set of acronyms already exhibits a form of emotional separation from parents, and is undoubtedly engaged in an unhealthy and adversarial relationship with them.

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