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BTW LOL: A Bad Trend, Or A-OK?

The text messages on Margarete Stettner's cell phone are filled with shortcuts - like "G2G" for "got to go" and "LOL" instead of "laugh out loud." Even when she isn't using her phone, the lingo sometimes makes its way into what she writes.

"It does affect, sometimes, how I do my schoolwork," the 13-year-old from Hartland, Wis., said as she shopped in a mall, where cellular phones are as common as low-cut jeans. "Instead of a Y-O-U, I put a U."

That alarms some linguists, who worry that the proliferation of text messaging - where cell phone users type and send short messages to other phones or computers - will enforce sloppy, undisciplined habits among American youths.

Other experts, though, don't think the abbreviations will leave their mark on standard English.

In June 2001, wireless phone users sent 30 million text messages in the United States, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, an industry trade organization. By June 2002, that number had increased to nearly 1 billion.

The method is most popular among teenagers, according to Upoc Inc., a New York-based firm that helps users of mobile devices share information on everything from the rapper Bow Wow to celebrity sightings. A study by Upoc in 2001 found 43 percent of cellular phone users ages 12 to 17 used text messaging, compared with 25 percent of those 30 to 34.

Those teenagers, hampered by limited space and the difficulty of writing words on numeric phone keypads, helped create the text-messaging lingo.

Words were abbreviated ("WL" for "will") and common phrases became acronyms ("by the way" turned into "BTW").

There are even dictionaries to sort out the meaning of, say, "AFAIK" ("As far as I know").

"SOL" can mean "sooner or later" or "sadly out of luck," but if you're unclear on which was meant, simply message back a "W" (what?) or "PXT" (please explain that) for a clarification.

Jesse Sheidlower, principal editor of the U.S. office of the Oxford English Dictionary, said text messaging is going through the natural progression of language.

Much text-messaging lingo was first used in instant-messaging programs on personal computers, and some phrases, such as "SWAK" for "sealed with a kiss," have been used for decades, Sheidlower said.

As text messengers discover and share new abbreviations and acronyms, the language becomes familiar to a growing population of cell phone users. And as more people use the lingo for text messaging, Sheidlower said, it is more likely to spill into speech or writing.

That worries American University linguistics professor Naomi Baron, who said text messaging is another example of a trend in written communication.

"So much of American society has become sloppy or laissez faire about the mechanics of writing," Baron said.

Problems arise when people use the casual language in other forms of written communication, such as e-mail, in which the sender may not receive the message for some time, or writings in which the reader may not even know the author, she said.

But other linguists said a simpler, more relaxed vernacular is acceptable for talking or text messaging.

"Language and languages change," said Carolyn Adger, director of the Language in Society Division of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington. "Innovating with language isn't dangerous."

And besides, Adger said, text messaging, like e-mail and instant messaging, is making it easier for people to communicate.

"I think that all of this stuff is really wonderful, because it's expanding the writing skills of people," she said.

Text messaging hardly appears to have hurt written language in Europe, where 10 billion text messages are sent each month, said Charles Golvin, senior analyst with Forrester Research.

In fact, as more adults began using text messaging in Britain and Germany, the lingo fell out of favor, said Alex Bergs, a visiting linguistics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Even teenagers use the language for only a while, he said.

One teen in Milwaukee, college student Jeremy Rankin, spends quite a bit of time using wireless devices in his job at a cell phone store. The 18-year-old admits he sometimes finds himself abbreviating when he types.

"I might do it by accident, but I don't think that's a problem as far as school papers go," he said. "I proofread my stuff."

By Melissa Trujillo