Question from English4Today member Vin in the USA:

What is it called when letters are substituted for words, e.g., ‘LOL ‘stands for ‘Laugh out loud’.

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Answer

Hi Vin, they are everywhere and they are called ‘acronyms‘!

An acronym was originally a pronounceable word made from the initial letters of other words. For example, NATO for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

As acronyms have invaded our lives more and more we have started to coin other shorthand versions such as TV for Television, USA for United States of America, IOU for I Owe You (a debt), MD for Medical Doctor, or CEO for Chief Executive Officer which are not acronyms in the original sense of being a ‘new pronounceable word’ made up of the first letters but which we still pull into our bulging bag of acronyms.
Acronyms are often used as mnemonics, a device for helping you remember something. You’ll often see this sort of usage in training manuals and self-help manuals. An illustration of this sort of acronym would be one that I found on a quick trawl of the Internet; taking the word ‘HOPE’ as an acronym for ‘Hanging Onto Positive Expectations’. You may remember other similar acronyms from your school days designed to help you remember a spelling rule, historical event or math equation. I remember, for example, ROYGBIV, a mnemonic acronym for remembering the colors of the rainbow – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet – a pretty senseless sounding acronym but one that has stuck in my mind since I was around seven years old!

But where acronyms have really exploded and become a sub-language of their own is through text messaging, the Internet and email where the ‘need for speed’ has led to the creation of hundreds of new acronyms that are used globally by millions of people. Your example, LOL for ‘Laugh Out Loud’ is one of the most used of these Internet acronyms. Here is a list of some of the other common Internet acronyms used in emails, SMS and text messaging. Hope it helps, CU!

Common Acronyms Used in SMS, Text and Internet Chat:

A
AFAIK As far as I know
AFK Away from keyboard
AKA Also known as
AOL America Online
ASAP As soon as possible
ASL Age, sex, location
ATM At the moment
B
B/C Because
B4 Before
BBIAB Be back in a bit
BBL Be back later
BCC Blind carbon copy
BF Boyfriend
BFF Best friends forever
BFN Bye for now
BOT Back on topic
BRB Be right back
BTW By the way
C
CC Carbon copy
CTN Can’t talk now
CU See you
CUL See you later
CYA See ya
CYE Check your e-mail
D
DIY Do it yourself
DL Download
DW Don’t worry
E
EG Exempli gratia (Latin: For example)
EOD End of discussion
ETA Estimated time of arrival
F
F Female
FAQ Frequently Asked Questions
FOFL Falling on the floor laughing
FUBAR Fouled up beyond all recognition
FWIW For what it’s worth
FYI For your information
G
G2G Gotta go
GB Goodbye
GF Girlfriend
GG Good game
GJ Good job
GL Good luck
GM Good match
GR8 Great
H
H/O Hold on
HH Ha-ha
HOAS Hold on a second
HTH Hope this helps
I
IAC In any case
IC I see
IDK I don’t know
IE Id est (Latin: That is)
IIRC If I remember correctly
IK I know
IM Instant Message
IMHO In my humble opinion
IMO In my opinion
IOW In other words
IRT In reply to
J
J/K Just kidding
JC Just curious
JK Just kidding
K
K OK
KIT Keep in touch
KWIM Know what I mean
L
L8 Late
L8R Later
LMAO Laughing my a** off
LOL Laugh out loud
M
M Male
MMA Meet me at
MMB Message me back
MSG Message
MYOB Mind your own business
N
N/A Not Available
NC No comment
NE1 Anyone
NM Not much
NP No problem
NRN No reply necessary
NW No way
O
OMG Oh my gosh
OT Off topic
OTOH On the other hand
P
PDA Public display of affection
PHAT Pretty hot and tempting
PIR People in room
PK Player Killing
PLZ Please
POS Parent over shoulder
PPL People
Q
QT Cutie
R
RE Regarding
ROFL Rolling on the floor laughing
ROTFL Rolling on the floor laughing
RPG Role Playing Game
RT Real-time
RTFM Read the flippin’ manual
S
SMH Shaking my head
SOS Someone over shoulder
SOSO Same old, same old
SP? Spelling?
STR8 Straight
SUP What’s up
T
TBC To be continued
TBH To be honest
TC Take care
TGIF Thank goodness it’s Friday
THX Thanks
TIA Thanks in advance
TIC Tongue in cheek
TISNF That is so not fair
TLC Tender love and care
TMI Too much information
TOH Typing one-handed
TTFN Ta-ta for now
TTYL Talk to you later
TY Thank you
U
U2 You too
UR You are
V
VBG Very big grin
W
W/ With
W/E Whatever
W/O Without
W8 Wait
WB Write back (e-mail)
WOOT Way out of topic
WTG Way to go
X
XOXO Hugs and kisses
Y
Y Why
YRG You are good
YW You’re welcome
Z
ZZZ Sleeping
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