There goes the English language.
A look at this phenomenon, from the AP:
“ILY!” Susan Maushart’s 16-year-old daughter often calls out over her shoulder as she leaves the house. Sure, actual words would be better. But Mom knows not to complain.
“A mother of teenagers is pathetically grateful for an ‘I love you’ no matter what form it takes,” she observes.
Then there are the various forms of “LOL” that her teens use in regular parlance – it’s become a conjugable verb by now. And of course, there’s the saltier acronym used by son Bill: “WTF, Mom?!” But before you judge, note that former VP candidate Sarah Palin just used that one in a TV interview. And CNN’s Anderson Cooper used it on his show the other night.
Acronyms have been around for years. But with the advent of text and Twitter-language, it certainly feels like we’re speaking in groups of capital letters a lot more. It’s a question that intrigues linguists and other language aficionados – even though they’ll tell you they have absolutely no concrete research on it.
“It’s fascinating,” says Scott Kiesling, a socio-linguist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “What’s interesting to me as a linguist is figuring out which words get picked up, and why. What is it that makes OMG and WTF and LOL so useful that they spread from the written to the spoken form?”
One possibility, Kiesling proposes, is that some of these acronyms actually become a whole new thought, expressing something different than the words that form them. For example: “You wouldn’t say, ‘OMG, that person just jumped off a cliff,’” he explains. “But you’d say, ‘OMG, do you see those red pants that person is wearing?’”
Which brings us to WTF, an acronym that needs no translation. When Palin used the expression recently in a Fox News interview – twice in two sentences, actually – some pundits were a little shocked. (Palin was playing on the president’s “Win the Future” message in his State of the Union speech.)
“That’s going to be a tough one for her to come back from and explain,” remarked conservative commentator Pat Buchanan on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Host Joe Scarborough simply shook his head and said: “Not very presidential.”