Q: What are chat acronyms?
A: Chat acronyms are combinations of letters (and sometimes numbers) that represent common phrases. Typically, they are comprised of the initials of each word. For example, "By the way" can be abbreviated as "BTW." The letters "HTH" stand for "Hope this helps!"
Why would I want to use chat acronyms?
Acronyms make it easy to type common phrases using significantly less characters. While some may view chat acronyms as nothing more than a lazy approach to communicating, they allow you to communicate more quickly. For example, chat acronyms may be helpful when typing a quick question in an online chat session or when texting a response to someone on your phone. In text messaging, acronyms can reduce the number of characters you need to use for each message, which may even save you money!
The downside of using acronyms is that not everyone may understand what you are saying. (Fortunately, you can look up meanings of unknown acronyms at ChatSlang.com.) If you want to make sure your message is getting across, it may be best to only use common acronyms, such as those with a Popularity Score of 4 or 5 on this website. A list of these acronyms is available on the Common Acronyms page.
Of course, some acronyms, such as "POS" (Parent over shoulder), were created with the intention of being secretive. If you're a parent who wants to know what your kids are saying, be sure to view the Parents' Checklist, which contains a list of acronyms that are important for parents to know.
Shouldn't chat acronyms be called chat initialisms?
Technically, yes. The definition of an acronym is a word formed from the initials of other words. Some examples include "scuba," "laser," and "radar." An initialism, on the other hand, consists of initial letters that do not create an actual word (meaning they are pronounced separately). Most chat acronyms would fall into this category.
However, because most people are more familiar with the term "acronym" than "initialism," the phrase "chat acronym" has become far more commonplace than "chat initialism." Therefore, what was initially a grammatically incorrect phrase has become the standard way of describing initialisms used in online chat. Therefore, either phrase ("chat acronyms" or "chat initialisms") is acceptable.
Updated: October 12, 2011