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As we covered in one of our previous posts, the Internet and social media has had a profound impact on the language we use daily. One of the most visible ways the new age has influenced our everyday communication is the rise of the informal Netspeak – a form of casual language you’ll come across in forums and social media.

Netspeak is characterised, among other things, by its use of abbreviations, shorthand, and slang that is widely accepted and used by the community of everyday Internet users but can sometimes be a bit baffling to the more casual observer.

So, in an effort to provide new learners with some insight into how English is used in real life, we have put together this short intro to the essential shorthand used on today’s world wide web.

Note: Since one characteristic of Netspeak is the short lifespan of trending slang, we strongly advise to use this intro with caution after its shelf life has passed (November 2016).

The Basic Oldtimers

Although Netspeak changes its face often, there are some abbreviations that have reached a “classic” status in this particular vernacular. These “oldtimers” often have their start in being shorthand used for texting which have carried over to general usage.

Some examples that have stood the test of time include:

2nite – Tonight

Brb – Be right back

Btw – By the way

Cya – See you!

Lol – Laughing out loud

Omg – Oh my god!

Ttyl – Talk to you later

Wtf – What the f**k

Xoxo – Hugs and kisses

The Contemporaries

This category is a lot more susceptible to change. New trend words and expressions fall in and out of favour quickly and, for a casual Internet user, they can be rather confusing.

For now, the current trend words include examples like:

Boots – Essentially used to add emphasis to your previous statement, a synonym to very, extremely. For example: Look at that dog – it’s cute boots!

According to some sources, it can also be used to mean ugly but current use seems to favour use as a synonym to very or extremely.

Bro/Sis – Shorthand for brother and sister. While bro has been in popular use for a long time, sis has been seeing increasing use in the recent months. Used to mark a close friendship or other relationship. For example: Hey Sis, what you up to tonight?

Goals – Used to describe anything that you find inspirational, or want (to be/have). Most common uses include: relationship goals (used to describe a dream couple, or an especially inspirational relationship), squad/fam goals (used to describe what your groups of friends should ideally be, or achieve), goals AF (AF here means as f**k, simply used to denote something you desire or want in broader terms).

High key and low key – These are two opposite terms. High key means something very obvious, saying the truth, proudly acclaiming a statement, something great. Low key is the antonym – a secret or discrete matter; also means slightly or a little bit. As with much contemporary slang, the meanings are constantly reinterpreted, expanded, and discarded. For example: I low key like knitting. High key love eating nachos.

Lit – Something that is truly amazing. Literally, on fire. For example: That party yesterday was lit!

On point/(on) fleek/slaying/snatched – These are all terms that mean the same thing: good, great, looking fabulous. With these terms, we can see the evolution of Netspeak, and how various terms fall out of use to be replaced by their new form. On point is the oldest version of this term (but still used today), which has now been added other variations. For example: You outfit today is on point/(on) fleek/slaying/snatched.

Suh – A combination of What’s up and huh. A more contemporary version of ‘sup and wassup. For example: Hey. Suh?

This is only the very shortest introduction to current trending Internet slang. The changing nature of trend phrases means that compiling a lasting list can be a rather complicated task.


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