35 Text Abbreviations You Should Know (and How to Use Them)

Knowing the meaning of these terms will keep anyone with a phone, social media, or even just web access from being constantly confused in the digital world!

OMG! IMO, texting abbreviations are the GOAT! If you have absolutely no idea what that means, it might be time to brush up on your texting abbreviations. These collections of letters, short for a single word or group of words, are so common in texting that many have migrated into spoken conversations. And they’ve moved beyond text conversations, becoming widespread in social media captions and comments too. If you’re pairing these texting abbreviations with a GIF, find out what GIF stands for.

Why do we use abbreviations when we text?

It seems impossible to imagine texting without abbreviations today, but how did abbreviations become such a massive part of texting lingo? Well, in the days before smartphones, and even before keyboard phones, texters were working with a limited number of characters—160, to be exact—and before “unlimited” plans became the law of the land, each text cost money to send. Plus, typing just with thumbs isn’t quite the speedy process that typing on a traditional keyboard is. Not to mention, before keyboard phones, you had to press the number corresponding with the letter you wanted—enough times for that letter to appear. Needless to say, typing full words was cumbersome, and it became customary to shorten words and phrases. And, of course, abbreviating is just convenient in general, and is certainly not exclusive to texting—just look at all these common abbreviation and acronym examples.

text message exchange using OMG, LOL, and YOLO abbreviationsrd.com

Classic texting abbreviations

1. LOL

This is perhaps the most ubiquitous texting acronym. Short for “laughing out loud,” “LOL” is now used to express even the mildest amusement. You can respond “LOL!!” perhaps paired with one of these popular emojis when your friend tells you a hilarious story, but you can also just say something like, “I forgot to have breakfast today, LOL.” It’s something of a catch-all reaction. Another note: “LOL” does not stand for “lots of love.” In the early days when texting abbreviations became mainstream, plenty of people made this LOL-worthy mistake.

2. OMG

The abbreviation “OMG,” for “oh my God” (or gosh, or goodness, or your expression of choice) vastly predates texting. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary tracked its earliest recorded use to a letter written in 1917! Today, you’ll see it used in sentences like, “OMG, can you believe how hot it is today?!” It’s a pretty catch-all exclamation or reaction.

3. IDK

“IDK” is perhaps the theme of this article, because it literally means “I don’t know,” which is exactly how you felt about all these text abbreviations before you learned what they stood for. Next time you get a text from your kid asking where their favorite shirt is, reply with “IDK, ask your mother/father/sibling.”

4. JK

“JK” means “just kidding.” Use it to indicate that you’re, well, kidding—but use it with care. Posting a scathing backhanded compliment and then quickly adding a “JK!!!” really doesn’t do much to soften the blow. Make sure that the audience of your “JK” is on board with your sense of humor. This common abbreviation is often paired with another: “JK, LOL” is a dismissive, sometimes self-deprecating combo of texting abbreviations that you’ll often see. “I aced my math test today!!! JK LOL it was rough.”

5. ROFL

You’re most likely not literally “rolling on the floor laughing” when you use this abbreviation, but it’s still a bit stronger an indicator of mirth than “LOL.” Usually, it’s a standalone response to something funny. Add exclamation points and laugh/crying face emojis as you please.

6. YOLO

Short for “you only live once,” “YOLO” is a rallying cry for living life to the fullest and all that that entails, especially in the social media sphere. Ordering a pizza when you “should” be ordering a salad? YOLO! Going bungee jumping for the first time? YOLO! It can encourage other people’s doing of such things or commemorate your own doing of them. The popularity of “YOLO” peaked around the early 2010s, and today, you’re more likely to see this texting acronym used with a hint of sarcasm (or more than a hint, for that matter) than with full-flung earnestness.

7. HMU

“Hit me up” is an expression that might even need further explanation once you know what the letters stand for. Rather than referring to physical violence, “hit me up” simply means “contact me” or “call me.” It dates back to the days of pagers in the 1990s, when people would send phone numbers to each other via one-way message. The pager would light up and/or make noise to indicate that you’d been “hit up.” The phrase was all over the ’90s hip-hop sphere, and it stuck around when texting abbreviations began to dominate: “HMU” became the prevailing way to say it in the late 2000s. While pagers are extinct, the abbreviation certainly is not, and has evolved into the shortened “HMU.” What about another abbreviation you probably use all the time without realizing: Does the “I” in “iPhone” stand for something?

text message exchange using BTW, BC, LMK, NBD, and TY abbreviationsrd.com

Basic texting abbreviations

8. BC

In texting terms, the second and third letters of the alphabet don’t refer to the time “before Christ.” “BC” is short for “because.” Often, texting abbreviations like these won’t even be capitalized. You might see something like “Wanted to see how you were doing bc I haven’t heard from you in a while.”

9. THX/TY/TYSM

“THX” might remind ’80s and ’90s kids of that bizarrely intense, loud movie intro, which showed the logo for the THX Ltd. audiovisual company. But in a text, it’s simply short for “thanks,” with the X representing the sound at the end of the word. Even more common than “THX” is “TY” or “ty,” which means “thank you.” And finally, you’ll see “TYSM” or “tysm” (“thank you so much”) quite frequently as well.

10. NP/YW

The logical response to “ty,” “YW” or “yw” means “you’re welcome.” In a similar vein, “NP” or “np” means “no problem.” “NP,” though, can respond to an apology just as well as thanks: “I’m going to be a few minutes late tonight!” “NP.”

11. NBD

You’ve definitely seen this one all over the Internet and via text, but what does it even mean? Well, wonder no more: It’s short for “no big deal.” It’s one of the most commonly used text abbreviations and fits just about everywhere. You can use it earnestly, as in “Don’t worry about being a few minutes late, it’s NBD!”…or not so earnestly. Next time someone says they can’t make it to your party, you can text back “NBD”—even if you’re silently fuming. Even if you’re a pro at texting abbreviations, do you know how to use these iPhone hacks?

12. BTW

This is one that people say out loud in real life in addition to just texting it. “BTW” is short for “by the way.” You’d use it just like you’d use the expression in real life—to introduce a new topic of conversation. “BTW, I saw you went to the beach yesterday—it looked amazing!!” When people say it out loud, they might say “B-T-dubbs.” After all, if you’re going to abbreviate, abbreviate, right?! “W” is a three-syllable letter—as long as the entire original phrase!

13. LMK

This one translates to “let me know,” and is useful in all sorts of situations for nudging or putting the ball in someone’s court. Trying to plan a group event when one person doesn’t know if they’ll be able to make it? Just tell them “LMK when you know”—and hopefully they will in good time.

14. ILY

“ILY” or “ily” is short for “I love you.” This is, needless to say, a pretty casual way to say those words, so maybe avoid saying them for the first time (or even second, or third) to your significant other in this way. And, depending on her general fondness for and knowledge of texting abbreviations, perhaps avoid texting your grandma “ILY.” You can certainly sign off with a longtime significant other, good friend, or family member you text with all the time with “ILY,” though. As a real casual variation, you might even just see “LY” (or “ly”).

15. OMW

If you’re still blow-drying your hair but were supposed to be at dinner ten minutes ago, try texting your significant other something like “OMW, see you soon.” OMW means “on my way” and is often used when you’re not even really on your way…but will be soon.

16. NVM

Two words, three letters: “NVM” is short for “never mind.” You’d use it much in the same way you use the phrase in real life: “What was that restaurant we went to last week???” *five minutes later* “NVM, I found it!”

17. IRL

This is a great one because it’s often a relationship builder. It means “in real life” (as opposed to online or over the phone), and is great for saying things like “Would love to see you soon IRL!” We’re probably sending a lot of texts like this lately as things start to open up post-lockdown! Just be sure you’re not committing one of these annoying text habits when you reply with this.

18. ETA

Who has time to text out “estimated time of arrival”?! In fact, you’ll certainly hear this abbreviation spoken out loud quite a bit, too. You’re just as likely to hear “Looking forward to seeing you tonight, what’s your ETA?” out loud as you are to see it in a text.

19. TMI

This is another one that’s quite popular beyond just the realm of texting. When’s the last time you heard someone say all three words, “too much information”? If your friend of a friend shares every last detail of their bout of food poisoning on the socials, the simple three-letter response “TMI!” says it all. Another way you’ll see this, including in person, is when someone prefaces a story with “This might be TMI, but…” to give listeners a heads-up and perhaps make them expect something worse than what they’re actually going to say.

text message exchange using ICYMI and IRL abbreviationsrd.com

Social media abbreviations

20. GOAT

This texting acronym doesn’t have anything to do with four-legged horned mammals. “GOAT,” almost always preceded by “the,” means “greatest of all time.” An acronym that’s been all over social media, “GOAT” can be used to praise a friend (“Did you see Michelle’s fitness routine? She’s the GOAT!”) or a superstar in a particular field (“Saw the GOAT himself, John Williams, conduct an orchestra last night!”). BTW, while most of these are texting abbreviations or initialisms, “GOAT” is a texting acronym—what’s the difference between abbreviation vs. acronym vs. initialism?

21. TFW

If you see someone posting a funny image of a cat lounging with sunglasses captioned something like “TFW you’re off of work for a long weekend,” know that it’s one of the funny text abbreviations that people are using these days. It translates to “that feel/feeling when,” and it’s most commonly used in association with visual images that represent how someone is feeling, like these work-from-home memes. Try using it with a smiling selfie like “TFW dinner came out even better than I imagined.”

22. DM

Have you heard someone say they were “sliding into someone’s DMs” and thought, “Sliding into their what now?” “DM” is short for “direct message.” More directly related to social media than to texting, DMs refer to the private messaging option on apps like Twitter and Instagram. Since it suggests taking the conversation out of the more public, visible sphere, it often has flirtatious implications. It can also be a verb: “DM me to learn more about texting abbreviations.”

23. FOMO

FOMO means “fear of missing out.” “FOMO” is what you feel when you see your BFFs (that’s “best friends forever,” or so you thought, apparently) out partying, and you weren’t invited (or simply couldn’t make it). While “#FOMO” can be a facetious comment on a post like that, it’s also recognized as a genuine mental health issue in our social media-driven age.

24. ICYMI

This one might’ve confused you on Facebook or Instagram, but it’s a pretty useful text abbreviation to have handy as it just means “in case you missed it.” It’s great for uploading photos after the fact, like a photo from a relative’s wedding that you forgot to post the day of or a family photo from years ago. Try uploading a recent photo of a life event with the hashtag “#ICYMI.” It’ll also often be in the caption or subject of “old” news stories or emails (read: from a day ago). Learn more about how to use ICYMI.

25. FTW

FTW means “for the win,” and is a slangy, upbeat way of celebrating something via social media commentary. It doesn’t need to literally refer to winning—it can just celebrate a triumphant moment. Imagine yourself taking your first SCUBA lesson and posting a photo of a successful dive with the caption, “Diving lessons FTW!” You can also use it for subtler occasions—if your friend shuts down a trollish commenter, declare, “[your friend’s name] FTW!”

26. TLDR

“TLDR” means “too long, didn’t read,” and is a common response to long-winded, rambling opinion pieces. Next time your co-worker uploads a six-paragraph status about the condition of her daily reports, try commenting “TLDR, but I hope you get it all done!” Writers also often try to get ahead of “TLDR,” too. In more formal, journalistic writing, or in a lengthy, original social media post, you may see “TLDR,” often formatted as “TL;DR,” followed by a quick summary so that the inevitable speedy scrollers can still get the gist.

text exchange using TBH and SMH abbreviationsrd.com

Opinionated texting abbreviations

27. FWIW

Consider FWIW one of the most snarky-but-still-polite text abbreviations out there, because it’s a great opener, translating to “for what it’s worth.” It’s a kinder way of preambling a strong opinion and can be used in situations like, “FWIW, I never liked your boyfriend anyway.” Here’s more about how to use FWIW.

28. TBH

This is the twin sister of FWIW, yet another way to politely (or not so politely!) preface a strong or possibly offensive opinion. It means “to be honest.” Try using it when your aunt texts the family group chat asking who wants to eat tuna casserole at her house tonight. “TBH, tuna casserole is not my fave.” Still, we can’t guarantee that text abbreviations will soften the blow. Know the times texting is better than calling.

29. SMH

“SMH” means “shaking my head,” which is what we’re all doing at least half the time we scroll through our Facebook newsfeeds and see crazy political rants from long-lost relatives. FWIW (eh?), it’s…not often used kindly and carries an air of condescension. If you’re going to use SMH, keep your audience in mind. Next time you see your cousin upload a muffin-baking video that ruins Grandma’s recipe, you can definitely comment “You’re not supposed to put that much baking powder in the bowl—SMH” if your cuz is the type to take it in stride.

30. IIRC

IIRC stands for “if I recall correctly” and is the social media equivalent of you bringing receipts. It’s a little argumentative, but useful when you need to say things like, “IIRC, you promised me so much more. Here’s a screenshot to prove it.” These are the 10 group texting etiquette rules everyone should follow.

31. IMO/IMHO

Another one that can cause the recipient to brace themselves, “IMO” means “in my opinion.” The strength/controversy of that opinion can vary vastly, though. You can certainly use this one innocuously in pop culture debates: “IMO, Thanos’s plan was better in Infinity War than in Endgame.” “IMHO” is a variation meaning “in my humble opinion.” With the addition of almost-always-sarcastic humility, “IMHO” is usually a little edgier, as it were. Now that you know these text abbreviations, make sure to brush up on proper texting etiquette too.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.
Bryce Gruber
Bryce Gruber covers gift ideas, shopping, and e-commerce at RD.com, although you've likely seen her work across a variety of women's lifestyle and parenting topics at TheLuxurySpot.com, Bravo, Parents.com, Martha Stewart, and on your TV screen through national talk shows including The Tamron Hall Show. She lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley with her five small children. Find her on social media at @brycegruber.

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