SMS for beginners (with old phones)

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I seem to manage OK in competition with the youngsters at SMS-ing. You know they have their own language for texting, a sort of equivalent to Pitman shorthand, which became redundant as recording machines became smaller and cheaper.

I admit I still can’t match their speed: when I mentioned to some friends that I had just held a conversation involving eight SMSs in half an hour, their teenage daughter, who had been politely quiet up to this point, said “Only eight? Isn’t that a bit slow?” Still, I think I can offer a few principles that will help old-timers and beginners to increase their speed significantly.

I don’t believe SMS-ese is a single language. Just as every user of Pitman shorthand made their own alterations to the basic pattern, everyone has their own SMS short cuts. However, there are some guiding principles.

The first principle is the obvious: “never use three or four letters when one, or one symbol, will do”. So we get messages like:”C u 2moro.”

The second is similar: the use of simplified phonetic spelling, so we get messages like: “Pliz 4n me b4 3pm”

Now maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I don’t see ‘pliz” instead of “please” saves enough time to justify that kind of abbreviation. On the other hand, I find I can be slowed down considerably using the conventional telephone keyboard, by having to type two letters in succession that are on the same key. If you are too quick, “ab” becomes “c”and “no” or “on” produces a symbol that may, for all I know, vary from one model of phone to another. For that, I have two possible solutions.

For some common double letters, you may be able to train your correspondents to recognise, for example, that the word “meet” comes out as “m3t” and “steel” as “st3l”, but there are limitations to this option. Try typing “deed” quickly and you will see what I mean.

There are other easy ways around double letters: for consonants, only type it once: for example, “sell” becomes “sel” For double vowels, another method is to use one that sounds similar to the doubled consonant sound: “Where’v u bin?” or “hav u read this buk?”. I feel uneasy about either of these for “ss”, but you can choose either $ or ß (German softs).

Two different letters that occur on the same key present the same problem. The simplest answer is to leave out one of them. If one is a vowel that is the one to omit. After all, languages like Arabic and Hebrew were being written for a long time before anyone felt it necessary to have symbols for the vowel sounds. In that case “this” becomes “ths””seated” becomes “seatd” and “booked” becomes “bukd”. There is room for creativity, but the most important, maybe the only rule, is to ask yourself whether your reader will understand what you are saying. “Nashn” and “stashn” should be clear enough for most people. “Myt” for “might” and “lyt” for “light” are common enuf (and there’s another example) to be widely understood.

That leads us to notice that the “gh” and “igh” combinations demand phonetic spelling because they can be pronounced so differently: “cough” cn b spelt “cof” bt “though” shd be “tho”, “through” b-comes “thru” and “thought” goes to “thot”.

Have you noticed that these tricks are not so necessary in Shona? There really are far less cases of two successive letters on the same key. Words may be longer than in English, but you can probly type as fast as in English becos u don’t n3d so many of these tricks. It myt b interesting to try an xperiment: two people type the same list of msgs in difrent languages and c who cn complete the list faster.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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