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The Language of the Internet

Many words and symbols are used almost exclusively on the Internet, in chat rooms, e-mails, instant messaging communications, etc. Two important types that you are likely to encounter are smileys and abbreviations (acronyms and initialisms).


More correctly termed emoticons, smileys are little graphics composed of a few letters or punctuation characters used to convey emotion (hence emoticon). They are used extensively both in e-mails and online chat rooms.

Baffled by what they mean? Or just interested in enlarging your smiley repertoire? Visit the Smiley Dictionary for fun emoticons.

Abbreviations: Acronyms and Initialisms

The concept of an acronym is certainly not specific to the Internet, but there is a huge number of acronyms which are used only online. Before we go any further, let us define the term acronym. It is an abbreviation formed by taking the initial letters of words in a name or phrase. For example NATO is an acronym (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). Acronyms are pronounced as if they were a word in their own right. But if the initials are spelled out one by one (as in ASAP; As Soon As Possible) the result is called an Initialism.

In addition to these everyday acronyms and initialisms, there are hundreds used online, mainly in e-mails and chat rooms. We are not referring to technical computer acronyms like RAM, ASCII, and CPU; generally they are far more colloquial in meaning. Examples include IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), BFN (Bye For Now), and AFAICT (As Far As I Can Tell).

Our online acronym and initialism dictionary is a handy guide to dozens of abbreviations you are likely to encounter on the Internet.


Visit our online wordplay book store where you will find books about smileys, acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations, and Internet terminology in the Internet Language: Smileys & Net Lingua section.

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