Friday, February 11, 2011


You may well be asking WTF? is this blog post about? But when you ask WTF?, do you actually say it out loud, or do you only think it? Is there ever an occasion when you would use it away from a keyboard? And if you do say the letters WTF out loud, do they mean the same thing as the words they stand for (which we all know is What The Flip?) or something a bit less rude? And furthermore, if we type or text these letters should it be WTF? (always with a question mark) or WTF (sometimes without)?

It seems odd to me that anyone would even say double-yew tee eff when they could say whatdaf**k so much more quickly - especially as speed and ease are usually the drivers of change with expressions like this - but if WTF? and what the f**k are actually quite different in meaning, then it makes a bit more sense.

These are important questions because we're increasingly hearing people using initialisms like ILY, OMG (thank you, Usher) and LOL (sometimes pronounced as L-O-L and sometimes as a word that sounds a bit like laaaaawwwwwllllll) and it's got linguists quite excited.

What we often see is the appropriation of words from spoken English into a written vocabulary - and some would argue, a casualisation or colloquialisation of the written word - but it's a bit rarer for words or groups of letters to go from a largely written or blended form into spoken usage. We've seen it on a smaller scale with pwn and n00b, but the more recent examples seem to have taken off among a much bigger part of the population.

In this article by Jocelyn Noveck, several linguists and commentators take a look at what's happening and consider the influence of age on this language use, as well as looking back at the history of acronyms and initialisms in language. It's an interesting read and offers some examples of usage that I'd not heard before (ILY = I love you, for example. Sob.).

Edited on 17.11.11 to change broken link to Noveck piece

Black British English vs MLE

The latest episode of Lexis is out and it features an interview with Ife Thompson about lots of issues connected to Black British English, i...