Short for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI has armed their agents with an exhaustive, though far from complete, listing of shorthand abbreviations used by the denizens and devotees of social media. The research into and printing of this list was brought to light thanks to the fine people over at the open-records website MuckRock, who filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for the document back in January. What we learned is that the FBI produced an 83-page document with around 2,800 entries to help keep their agents up-to-date “in [their] work or for keeping up with [their] children and/or grandchildren.”
The “Twitter Shorthand Guide” is comprised of many of the most well-known social media acronyms created to date. LOL and LMAO are almost as well-known as someone who will TTYL. But the list also has some acronyms that, short of you being in the know and part of a community of users that communicates with the abbreviations frequently, might look as jumbled as a spoon just drawn from a steaming bowl of alphabet soup.
FMTKFYTFO could be an intimidating message to try and decode. Your lack of understanding might play right into the sender’s hands as it is “For me to know, for you to find out”, however. Several other highly obscure acronyms are listed in the document which, according to the DI’s (Directorate of Intelligence) IRSU (Intelligence Research Support Unit), became necessary, “with the advent of Twitter and other social media venues.”
David Shariatmadari, of The Guardian, wrote up an excellent article about the nature of sub-languages within cultures and how they have a propensity to morph and change as the affected language loses its secretive and exclusive qualities.
“There’s a long history of cliques and subcultures modifying the way they speak or write,” Shariatmadari stated. “They might do it to evade detection, or to strengthen the bonds of group membership by excluding others. The results are not languages, exactly, but sub-languages, byways that weave between the main roads of common parlance, navigable only if you have the right kind of map.”
He continued, “They have been called slangs, argots or cants. The circle of those who can understand may be as intimate as two, or it can encompass whole communities of strangers.”
The use of acronyms or argots or cants or slang on the internet was, in many cases, developed to evade detection, whether by parents standing over a child (PLOS = Parents Looking Over Shoulder) or from prying eyes out in cyberspace where TROL refers to a police patrol. And, as Shariatmadari notes, this is not a new phenomenon brought about by the ubiquity of online communications.
“Twitter has its strict 140-character limit; in comment threads or on forums, it becomes tiresome to have to type out long phrases,” he explained. “As Tom Standage has pointed out, similar constraints gave rise to the short forms used on Roman wax-tablet messages: SVEEB meant “If you are well, that is good, I am well” (si vales, bene est, ego valeo). SPD was short for “Sends many greetings” (salutem plurimam dicit). Now, as then, people who have something risky to say can make a virtue of these necessities. An abbreviation saves time, but it can also act as a means of addressing only those in the know.”
It is this last point that could render the FBI’s efforts fruitless. The nature of a sub-language is that it remains exclusively understood by a relatively small subset of individuals. By studying, understanding and distributing this list to its agents, the FBI has all but guaranteed that many of these acronyms will undergo a necessary change in order to communicate a message tailored to a specific audience while excluding from the conversation those they don’t want to let in.
In a somewhat related and very funny twist on the explosion of online acronyms, CarTalk.com grabbed a list off the internet that was making the rounds of the forwarded e-mail circuit so very popular with members of the greatest generation. This list takes some of the more popular acronyms out there and redefines them to mean something to an elderly audience.
For example, where LOL might mean ‘Laughing Out Loud’ to most who have seen that acronym, this list, tailored for the more wizened among us, claims it means ‘Living On Lipitor’. And DWI now means ‘Driving While Incontinent’, BTW means ‘Bring The Wheelchair’ and it throws a twist to ROFL by adding CGU, meaning ‘Rolling On The Floor Laughing…..Can’t Get Up’. A MILF to this crowd means ‘A Meal I’d Like To Forget’ and when you see TTYL you may want to reach for your earplugs. The comedic take on this is ‘Talk To You Louder’.
Whether for fun, efficiency or evasion, our rekindled love affair with acronyms is here to stay. If you don’t have access to the FBI’s full list, just know that when you run across a new jumble of letters you can remain calm and LMGTFY (Let Me Google That For You)
photo credit: Marie Linder via photopin cc
(Originally published at redOrbit.com)