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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 14:32 GMT
Is txt mightier than the word?
Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene
Is text messaging infecting or liberating the English language? Judge for yourself, as we rewrite classic texts in txt.

When a 13-year-old Scottish girl handed in an essay written in text message shorthand, she explained to her flabbergasted teacher that it was easier than standard English.

She wrote: "My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc." (In translation: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's a great place.")

The girl's teacher - who asked not to be named - was not impressed, saying: "I could not believe what I was seeing. The page was riddled with hieroglyphics, many of which I simply could not translate."

Text messaging, e-mail and computer spell-checks have long been blamed for declining standards of spelling and grammar. A publisher of a new dictionary warned last Friday of a "degree of crisis" in university students' written English.

Man typing a text message
"pRting is sch swEt srw"
Despite the advent of predictive text, which completes words as you write them, and even the launch of next generation mobile networks, it seems that the simple texting skills people have learnt in the last three or four years will be around for a while yet.

But could the anonymous Scottish schoolgirl be right? Could txt take over more of our expression because addicts simply find it easier than normal writing? And could this mean the liberation of our use of language?

Already, text message shortcuts have been adopted by those keen to get their point across in as little space as possible, be it advertising copy, poetry or Biblical passages.

Even Shakespeare - famously inconsistent in his own spelling - might succumb. Is it a great travesty to render his more famous passages in text message shorthand?

  • 2b or not 2b thats ?
  • a @(---`---`--- by any otha name wd sml swEt
  • rm rm w4Ru rm?
  • 1nc mr un2 T brech dr frnds 1nc mr

The Lord's Prayer, for instance, could be thought of as somewhat stuffy even in its updated version, so the satirical Christian online magazine Ship of Fools ran a competition to rewrite it in 160 characters or less - the length of a mobile phone text message.

The winner, Matthew Campbell of York University, condensed it thus: "dad@hvn, ur spshl. we want wot u want &urth2b like hvn. giv us food & 4giv r sins lyk we 4giv uvaz. don't test us! save us! bcos we kno ur boss, ur tuf & ur cool 4 eva! ok?"

It may be just a coincidence, but when invited to pick a classic text to read together for World Book Day this Thursday, BBC News Online readers voted for the slimmest volume on the list - Heart of Darkness, a dark but short read at a mere 96 pages.

Rewritten in txt, Joseph Conrad's tome would be shorter still. Its opening line "The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest" might be condensed to "T Neli, a crzng yal, swng 2 hr anchr wout a fluta of T sails and was @ rest."

Surely such treatment would make epics such as Tolstoy's War and Peace - at present a whooping 1,400+ pages - into a handy pocket-sized read.

But linguistics expert Dr Joan Beal doubts such a tome will grace the nation's bookshelves any time soon. "The only books I can envisage written in text message shorthand would be aimed at the teenage market, if at all. For it would rather spoil the pleasure of reading, having to work out all those abbreviations."


Send us your suggestions for classic texts, titles or quotations that could be translated into text message shorthand. Include the original if you can.

w8ing 4 go .
Waiting for Godot
C George, UK

twz d bst of x, twz d wst of x
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities
Denise, Finland

Gsus ;-(
Mark Lanigan, UK

zen & T @ f m2 cycl mn10nc
Paul, UK

Isn't this similar to a rhyme we put into each others' autograph books? (Remember those?) YY UR, YY UB, ICUR YY4me
Too wise you are, too wise you be, I see you are, too wise for me
Caroline Young, England

With SINCERE apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
0.5a leag 0.5a leag
0.5a leag onwrd
All in T valy o Dth
Rd T 600
"^ T LB!
"Chrg 4T gns" he sd
In2 T valy o Dth
Rd T 600

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Alistair Braden, UK [who sent us all six verses in txt]

Surely Hamlet would better be phrased "2b/-2b=?"
Tim Knipe, England

LEmntry, my dEr wtson.
Ross Manning, UK

ggggUK4gg
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!
Russ, UK

2 rds dvrgd ina wd & i, i took th 1 les travld by & tht hs mde al th difernc
"Two roads diverged in a wood and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference"
Robert Frost

Keith, UK

Txt me Ishmael!
Paul Nicholson, UK

1 fing ws cr10, d wht k10 hd hd 0 2 do wivit:-twas d blk k10's flt ntrly
One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it:-It was the black kitten's fault entirely. Alice Through the Looking Glass
Will, Spain

4scr + 7a ugo r 4fthrs brt 4th on this cn10nt a nu nAshn cnCvd in lbRT + ddc8d 2 th prop tht (evRE1) r crE8d =
aka: "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Jeni, Canada

(/)pnc from HHkrs GYd 2T glxE
"Don't panic" from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Steve Prentice, Canada

1st amgst =
That Archer Classic First Amongst Equals)
Nick S, England

4 Im a br f v ltl brn & lng wds bthr me
For I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me
AA Milne/Winnie the Pooh

Tom, UK

<> <> <> r 4fr.
Diamonds are forever.
Leonard, England

God Save The Queen (for Microsoft Word and Outlook Express Users)
Gd CTRL-S r gr8sh Qun.
Long liv r nobl Qun.
Gd CTRL-S th. Qun!
ALT-S hr vktr ES,
Hp E & glr ES,
Lng 2 rain ovR S;
Gd CTRL-S th. Qun!

Camille, Australia

2b || !2b (even more cryptographic version of To be or not to be in the internet language Java)
Lazaros Filippidis, London

*
Asterix
T Craig, UK

j0 |]00|], \/\/|-|475 |_||'? 3'/3 |?0X0|? |]15 94/\/\3.
Translation: Hey dude, what's up? I am awesome at this game.
This "Language" called L33T (pronounced Leet), which in a way, is a form of TXT. It basically consists of substituting other characters for each letter. The above was "true L33T". Basic l33t would include phrases such as "f00b" (fool), "0wnz0r" (own, as in I own this game), "sux0r" (suck), "r0x0r" (rock, as in "I rock"), "b4k4" (idiot or fool), and "w00t" (basically stands for 'woo', the sound you would make when you have just fragged somebody in a game or such). It is generally used by those referred to as "computer geeks" or "gamers", when they either converse with each other, or wish to not let someone else know what they are saying.
Zach, US

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