Text Message Language Is Everywhere

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Those who hate text message abbreviations will be dismayed to learn of how far they have spread. Here is the sign at the gas station on the Gitksan reservation in Hazelton, British Columbia.
The gas station on the reservation in Hazelton, BC.


  1. richard said,

    March 7, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

    So great to have the full-on financial lingo beneath the texting! And good for the Gitksan: not that this'll help the push for self-government in the region, but they do deserve it. (Not that they need to deserve it — it's their land over which they'd be (re?)gaining control — but they do.)

  2. david matthew said,

    March 7, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

    Photoshopped! (I just want to get that out there.)

  3. Dan C said,

    March 7, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

    When did 'shoop' first appear in any corpora?

  4. Melissa Fox said,

    March 7, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

    You guys do know this is an ancient joke, right? Any LOL-customizer can do it for you. Here's a blog entry from 2008 with the same concept in it : http://www.queervoice.net/kmcmullen/2008/02/26/gas-prices-hit-record-high-in-birmingham/ – and I'm sure I've seen one with the full gas-station sign in it (though maybe not with the piles of snow), only I can't find it just now.

  5. kenny said,

    March 7, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

    The only thing dismaying about this is that Bil Poser can't tell an obvious photoshop (obvious because of quality as well as meme content). Unless…I'm not really familiar with Dr. Poser's style, and he is just being facetious, which is entirely possible, in which case, I apologize in advance, Dr. Poser! But if not, OMGWTFBBQ.

  6. Mr Fnortner said,

    March 7, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    Tools I have suggest that the picture has been edited. However, even pictures that have been edited for mere cosmetic reasons trigger the same indictment as pictures that have had important content changes. The kindest response is to assume that the station owner heard of or saw a modified sign like the one shown in the photo and decided to replicate it. Poser's observation is still valid.

  7. GeorgeW said,

    March 7, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

    Whatever may have been done to the picture, Dr. Poser's point was made.

  8. Dan T. said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 12:07 am

    In the U.S., Esso changed to Exxon decades ago. I don't know why they decided to keep the old name in Canada.

  9. Craig said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 12:09 am

    You don't need special tools to see that the "refinancing" sign board has been pasted in on top of the twin of the "capture the spirit with […] gift cards" sign to the left.

  10. Carl said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 12:26 am

    Photoshop or not isn't really important. Either way, it says something about the current state of communication.

    More important… That's not text-speak. Those three abbreviations predate text messaging by years. They're ancient in internet time, having been around nearly as long as people have communicated casually online.

  11. Ingrid Jakobsen said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 1:55 am

    I'm with Carl – these abbreviations all predate text speak significantly and are part of general online communication. And I think that's more significant linguistically than whether it's a photoshopped picture or not.

  12. Sollers said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 3:15 am

    We could do with signs like that in the UK (although of course we normally only have one grade of petrol and one of diesel). Prices are now over US $2 per litre, and an article in the Guardian pointed out that many people are now spending more to fuel their cars than on their mortgage repayments.

  13. stormboy said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 4:23 am

    @Sollers: "We could do with signs like that in the UK"

    There was one recently. Google 'Tesco petrol sign Fleetsbridge' or similar and you'll see it. This one's genuine – not photoshopped.

  14. John F said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 4:52 am

    Also seen in real life at Tesco Ballymena. Petrol: 130.9; Diesel: 133.9; Super: L0L. (If those weren't the prices it's pretty close)

    The Tesco signs are open to pranksters because they have 7-segment numerals with the little flaps that can be folded to expose or obscure enough segments to make a number.

    The Sainsbury's signs are electronic, dot-matrices that would require a little more effort to alter.

  15. Bob Violence said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 5:05 am

    In the U.S., Esso changed to Exxon decades ago. I don't know why they decided to keep the old name in Canada.

    The old name survives in other non-U.S. markets as well (e.g. the UK). Standard Oil of New Jersey was unable to use the "Esso" name throughout the U.S. (because it was derived from "Standard Oil," for which they only held regional rights) and switched to "Exxon" partly to get around this — previously they'd used other brands ("Enco" and "Humble") in U.S. regions where the "Esso" name was disputed. Evidently there was no such issue outside the U.S., so the "Esso" name was retained.

  16. Spell Me Jeff said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    Sure, it's a gag. It works because these expressions are so ubiquitous.

    Somewhat on topic: What I find odd is Sarah Palin using WTF in speech, but actually speaking the letters. WTF spoken aloud is a lot more cumbersome than the phrase itself, exactly the opposite of what a good abbreviation is for. Even a good euphemism catches on because it trips lightly off the tongue . . .

  17. Morten Jonsson said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 11:05 am

    @Spell Me Jeff

    Are you suggesting that Palin should go ahead and say "What the fuck?"? It might be refreshing to hear a politician being so direct, but I don't think it's going to happen. Besides, there's something cheerfully naughty about a euphemism that's so cumbersome it draws attention to itself as a euphemism, making it completely obvious what she's saying it instead of.

  18. GeorgeW said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    Jeff & Morton: I found Palin's euphemization shocking. I would be very interested to know how her fan base reacted to it. But, I am not willing to become a FB friend to find out.

  19. Toma said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 11:42 am

    I saw a gas station sign (with my own eyes, not a photo) that said


    It didn't specify which nut…

  20. Matt Weber said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    "Sure, it's a gag. It works because these expressions are so ubiquitous."

    I think you mean "It works ON THE INTERNET because these expressions are so ubiquitous ON THE INTERNET."

    The fact that it's Photoshopped is relevant because the photo is NOT evidence that the expressions have filtered into analog discourse. The humor is created by and directed at Internet users. "Ubiquitous on the Internet" still doesn't sell gas at the Gitksan reservation.

    (Also, re: Sarah Palin, I've always thought that "What the F" was a nice compromise between the uncensored expression and the awkward acronym. But, really, we should just come up with a monosyllable for the word "W." Right after we get the US on the metric system.)

  21. Kaviani said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    Photoshop duping has made it all the way to Language Log.

  22. Spell Me Jeff said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    @Morten Jonsson

    I wasn't suggesting an alternative at all. I was simply struck by an unnatural quality of WTF when spoken. It's not like saying NASA or even TMI. It's the addition of a vocal inefficiency to a meme that emerged for the sake of typographical efficiency. "What the heck?" (if you want a TV-safe alternative) would sound less edgy-tech and 21st century (which I imagine she's aiming for) but it would also sound innocuous.

    Maybe I'm wrong. Do a lot of people actually say "Double-you tee eff"? Is it common?

  23. matth said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    Spell Me Jeff, I've heard "WTF" spelled out in conversation, but always ironically (similar to, but probably more forced than, speaking out the letters of "LOL"). It's the sort of thing, you might make air quotes when you say it.

    Also, I remember that the acronym was used in the dialog in the "Miami Vice" movie from a few years ago — a female cop says it (while wearing bulky body armor and holding an enormous gun… it struck me as a bit odd).

  24. Chandra said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

    @Matt Weber – "But, really, we should just come up with a monosyllable for the word "W.""

    I'd say George Dubya*'s helped us get most of the way there.

    *The former president, not the regular LL commenter.

  25. Bill Poser said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

    It's a joke, though internet memes such as this have become very widespread, even in remote northern BC communities. (For some reason people often can't tell when I'm joking. Other people are SO eccentric.)

    I think of this kind of thing somewhat inaccurately as "text messaging" because to me the "internet" harks back to the arpanet and not to the more popular culture that arose on AOL and other such places. Abbreviations like LOL were, for me, an innovation that came from a different culture.

    As to "Esso" vs. "Exxon", the larger company changed its name to "Exxon" in Canada too, but stations operated by Imperial Oil still go by "Esso". I don't know why.

  26. Troy S. said,

    March 8, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

    Puerto Rican Esso stations still existed as of 1999 when I was last there.

  27. Lugubert said,

    March 9, 2011 @ 4:34 am

    On way of writing The Acronym that I've seen a couple of times is Whisky Tango Foxtrot.

  28. Bob Violence said,

    March 9, 2011 @ 5:41 am

    Puerto Rican Esso stations still existed as of 1999 when I was last there.

    Not anymore — Total bought out the Caribbean Esso stations in 2008 and rebranded them.

  29. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 9, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

    Sarah Palin uses WTF because Obama has a slogan "Win The Future". The whole right side of the lunchroom is sniggering. The connection has been made abundantly clear on talk radio.

    Cops and the military say just "Whisky Tango," the "Foxtrot" being reserved for emergency use.

  30. Qov said,

    March 9, 2011 @ 10:13 pm

    Where I live, WTF is pronounced "Wha'thuff?" (' is a glottal stop) and "Exxon" immediately evokes a horrible oil spill.

  31. Who said,

    March 11, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

    I've read a thread which turned into a debate about textspeak. I've linked to the last post I saw in this thread.

    Personally, I think that textspeak isn't a matter of 'What's it hurting?', it's language progressing, as it always has. I had to learn how to read Shakespeare, Chaucer, etc because that was standard wellspoken English in those days but now it's incomprehensible to someone who has never studied how to read it.

    The English language is constantly changing and there has always been differences in how it's used between formal, colliquial or vernacular English. It also has huge variety between areas in which it's spoken. If children are becoming worse at reading and writing standard English then maybe they're not being taught it very well, I'm no one to comment on education, but they're not illiterate. They can read and write very well in the variety of English that they use.

    The conventions and patterns we have today are a product of usage. As the world around us evolves, so does the way we describe it. Usage is what creates patterns that become conventions because they are so widely used that it becomes accepted as correct.

    This is how it seems to me whose study of language involves reading languagelog (and wikipedia when I don't understand something) and thinking about language use as I hear it day to day. So, I'm really interested to hear what youse think about it. ('youse' is basically a rule where I live and has damaged my confidence about using 'you' as a plural.)

    On topic though, WTF is most commonly spelled out in voice conversation between intarwebz types. LOL can be spelled out or said like a word, it kind of depends on context I think, like laughing, you have different laughs for different contexts or situations. You can say lolled, lolling, lul, or that something is for the lulz, which comes from for the win. For the win is generally used to say that something is good, or that you like it. So for the lulz is used to say something is fun. OMG can be spelled out but generally this is only used in a mocking tone. Normally if someone finds something shocking or frightening the say it like a word. A common derivative of omg is zomg, generally used, I think, to express surprise. Some people say oh em Jesus in a comedic way but only in spoken context, I don't recall ever seeing it on the internet. For everything you probably didn't actually want to know about internet culture and language there is always Encyclopedia Dramatica.

  32. David Marjanović said,

    March 14, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

    On way of writing The Acronym that I've seen a couple of times is Whisky Tango Foxtrot.

    …occasionally subverted as


  33. Roberta Wedge said,

    March 15, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

    While microscopic attention has been paid to the differences between analogue and digital modes of expression, the Language Loggers who have commented appear to have forgotten the other somewhat permeable border that was crossed in this post. Did no one pick up Dr Poser's obvious humour? That reference to "the gas station on the Gitksan reservation in Hazelton, British Columbia". We'll leave aside the transliteration of the First Nation in question, who tend to prefer Gitxsan, but I cannot allow to pass without mention how cleverly Dr Poser slipped in the "reservation" when, as we all know, in Canada these territories are called reserves. Legally they are Indian reserves under the Indian Act, but colloquially they are usually referred to as First Nations reserves or sometimes Native reserves. Between the analogue and digital worlds, some slippage may be allowed. The 49th parallel, on the other hand, is patrolled by Mounties, metaphorically speaking. (And don't get me started on the unconscious of Ted Hughes.)

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