I receive many emails from students that were likely composed using a mobile device. Their sentences do not contain capitals (“i request…”), there are often grammatical and spelling errors as well as incomplete sentences. This comes as no surprise, I know.

But tYp3 LyK tHi5?

What is the point of this? Does it reflect a generation gap?

Perhaps this is simply a farce, a hook to get people’s attention on the web. I admit that it got my attention, if only as a reminder of the challenge of written communication with so many choices of mobile devices and networks.

This latest example seems to take written communication to a different, more confusing level. In many cases, I respond to these errant students with a request that they resend their message written using correct grammar and spelling. Sometimes they respond with a corrected message, sometimes they do not.

Do you have examples of a similar experience? Let’s hope that written communication can maintain integrity and clarity of understanding, regardless of the inexorable progression of the technology that we use to communicate with each other.


  1. #1 blf
    January 9, 2011

    What is the point of this?

    IM(H?)O, it’s stoopidity and fad: It’s harder to type / keyboard, and is easily deciphered only by those somewhat familiar with the abbreviations used in texting. That is, people who are part of the “in” crowd (also known as “idiots following each other in a clewless herd”).

  2. #2 Tom
    January 9, 2011


    I always assumed it evolved from leet speak.

  3. #3 Phillip IV
    January 9, 2011

    I think it’s mostly a fad, although it evolved from legitimate concerns – replacing letters with numbers throws things like search engines off track, useful if you want to prevent your post from being indexed under a certain searchword. Imagine, for example, you have context-sensitive ads on your blog, and want to make a post discussing porn (in a non-exploitative manner) – spelling it as pr0n will (hopefully) prevent your adserver to serve you adult ads in response, which is otherwise bound to happen.

  4. #4 Anonymous
    January 9, 2011

    “Does it reflect a generation gap?”

    Like Tom said, it’s the remnants of 1337-speak (which is actually kinda antique itself, now, as is the alternating upper/lowercase).

  5. #5 dean
    January 9, 2011

    I think the practice comes from the difficulty of typing on the keyboard of a phone or ipod, coupled with the youthful urge to be ‘in’ (or cool, or hip, or whatever an acceptable term would be). I also think that for informal communication it’s harmless for informal communications.

    However, I am concerned that every semester I have a couple students who see nothing wrong with submitting work without capitalization or with some of the popular abbreviations. “Everyone understands what I meant, what’s the problem?” is almost the universal question. I teach statistics; this is happening in survey classes when I require students to interpret results of a test or study. The belief is that if it is understandable it should be acceptable, especially since “it’s only a math class”. This is when it gets irritating.

  6. #6 stripey_cat
    January 10, 2011

    Could you plan some sort of compulsory day-training in register? If nothing else, the threat of a Saturday seminar ought to bring the lazy ones (as opposed to the ones who really don’t get it, and thus need the remedial class) into line.

  7. #7 James Sweet
    January 11, 2011

    FWIW, I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the universal “Everyone understands what I meant, what’s the problem?” question. The best I can muster is, “Yes, but it usually makes you somewhat less understandable.” Though for me, the biggest reason is, “I find it personally revolting on an aesthetic level.” But I could say that about Hank Williams Jr. too…

    The “less understandable” answer is usually pretty good, but it doesn’t answer everything. I would argue that using very common internet acronyms such as “FWIW” or “IIRC” actually makes you more understandable for people who are familiar with it (and that caveat holds no critical value; the use of certain words in this parenthetical remark only makes it “more understandable” to people who know what ‘caveat’ and ‘parenthetical’ mean, and I’d hazard that within the US that population is similar in size to that which does not know what ‘FWIW’ or ‘IIRC’ means). Although you see at the very first word of this comment that I am not above using such abbreviations in blog comments, I studiously avoid them in my actual blog posts, and would never dream of using them in a piece of formal writing.

    But why? Objectively, that is — the subjective reason is because I find it aesthetically jarring to even imagine an internet acronym in formal writing. Objectively, though, why? Why is that a problem? For most Americans, “FWIW” conveys the same meaning as “For what it’s worth” and is arguably faster and easier to parse.

    I’m not saying there isn’t an answer, but I am saying I don’t for the life of my know what it is. And maybe there isn’t one.

    (Just to be perfectly clear, I am not asserting that “FWIW” is more easily parseable merely because it is shorter… using “u” in place of “you”, for instance, is more difficult to parse for any number of reasons. But I would argue that “FWIW” has a distinctive enough shape and meaning so as to be rapidly and easily recognized and parsed)

  8. #8 becca
    January 11, 2011

    Wasn’t there just a bit of news about how horrible fonts enhance learning? Maybe l33t makes you slow down and process the information differently. Or maybe it’s just as annoying as I think.

  9. #9 dean
    January 13, 2011

    “FWIW, I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the universal “Everyone understands what I meant, what’s the problem?” question.

    There is an easy answer, in the limited scope of my classes: the language of statistics is ‘foreign’ to the students and certainly not included in their typical texting notation: attempts to fit it in, or make new abbreviations on the fly, always fail.

    The best I can muster is, “Yes, but it usually makes you somewhat less understandable.” Though for me, the biggest reason is, “I find it personally revolting on an aesthetic level.” But I could say that about Hank Williams Jr. too…”

    Harsh. 🙂

    … and would never dream of using them in a piece of formal writing.

    That comment is the key for me. If I am supposed to be preparing students for “professional” work, whether graduate school or other, I need to ensure at the least that they have been exposed to the definitions, terms, notations, and language use they will encounter as they use statistics. Ideally they leave with more than exposure: they leave with a reasonable command of the material. If these abbreviations are allowed I’m failing at my job, IMO. 🙂

  10. #10 darwinsdog
    January 13, 2011

    Emily Dickinson was quite simply the greatest master of language I have ever encountered. Her grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, rhyme scheme, vocabulary, imagery.. were highly idiosyncratic. She had zero reverence for conventionalities, for accepted ways and forms, for petty trivialities. As her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Dickinson has it, Emily sat “in the light of her own fire.” Thoreau would certainly have said that she marched to the beat of a “different drummer.” Hence, predictably, Andrew Lang, a British writer, criticized Dickinson’s verse, saying that

    “..if poetry is to exist at all, it really must have form and grammar, and must rhyme when it professes to rhyme. The wisdom of the ages and the nature of man insist on so much.”

    And again, the poet and novelist Thomas Bailey Aldrich dismissed Dickinson’s work:

    “It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson … But the incoherence and formlessness of her — versicles are fatal … an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar.”

    Emily Dickinson is rightly regarded as an absolute genius but who has ever heard of Lang or Aldrich today? Both of these smug gentlemen are long out of print and largely forgotten. Criticism of the unconventional texting style & self-expression of young people today strikes me as being about as self-righteous and petty as Lang & Aldrich’s carping. Could it be that convention & mediocrity are jealous of originality & genius?

  11. #11 Jeff
    January 13, 2011

    Of the multiple hundreds of comments posted on Dean’s Corner, this may well be the most thoughtful and insightful. Thank you so much. Perhaps you are correct that this alternative form of expression represents high creativity. I do not know. I was simply posing the question.

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