Autumn 2006 / Leading Edge
OMG I Luv IM

Frequency of instant messaging language amongst teens


Is the rise in popularity of instant messaging sounding the death knell of the English language, or adding to its rich slang? News stories take both sides, with the worriers complaining that terms such as lol (“laughing out loud”) and btw (“by the way”) are so common they’re finding their way into teen speech and more formal writing and “bastardizing” the language.

Nonsense, says U of T linguistics professor Sali Tagliamonte. In a recent study of instant-messaging (IM) conversations of 50 Canadian teenagers – which total more than a million words – Tagliamonte found the frequency of IM terms to be far lower than the media hype would suggest. As the chart shows, even lol, one of the most common IM terms, appears only 195 times out of 100,000, or about 0.2 per cent of the time. It seems English purists can rest easy – for now.

IM term
English
Frequency of IM term 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
nevermind
7
gtg
gotta go
5
np
no problem
4
nm
not much
3
lmao
laughing my ass off
2

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