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Photo: kamshots, Feature photo: Eileen Smith

English speakers are not alone in using netspeak to create number-filled, abbreviated, and strangely-spelled messages for speed, efficiency and making messages impenetrable to others.

When I moved abroad to Chile, I landed in the middle of “txtng cntrl;” the nation currently has more cellphones than people. With cell-to-cell calling rates of more than fifty cents a minute on a prepaid phone, many cell-phone using Chileans are master texters.

And while you may (like me) not favor the secret-agent/word game quality of the abreviaturas, if you want to communicate with people on chats, forums and/or SMS in Spanish and need to descifrar what people are saying, you’re likely to need at least an elementary handle on of some of these terms.

Here are examples of 20 commonly-used expressions throughout the Spanish-texting world, with a more detailed explanation of the rules that underlie their formation, so you can decode them as you go along si quieres, if you like. Many phrases can be spelled in a variety of different ways, depending on individual texters and which rules are applied.

Netspeak in Spanish: The Basics
English Spanish Netspeak
Because / why? Porque / por qué? pq / pq? OR xq / xq?
For Por x
LOL (sound of laughter) jajaja / jejeje / jijiji
Kisses Besos / besitos muak / muac / bs / besi2 / bx
Also, me too También tb
Greetings / farewell Saludos salu2
Please Por favor porfi / porfis
Good evening Buenas noches bnx
No comment Sin comentario 5comentario
Doesn’t matter / Makes no difference Da igual d=
Wait a sec Espera pera
Do you smoke? Fumas? fu+?
Never Jamás ja+
What’s up? Que tál? ktal
Who Quién? kn
For Para pa
Thanks Gracias grax
Then, so Entonces ntnc / tonces
Call Llamo ymo
Bye Chau xau
How to Form Spanish Netspeak

After several years of mostly unintentional study, I’ve come up with the following eight somewhat flexible rules that describe how Spanish SMS is formed. They may be applied in isolation, in tandem or to such a great degree that only careful parsing will reveal just what is going on behind the SMS letter-salad.

1. Letter Disappearance

The most commonly dropped letters are the initial “e” or “es” or the “d” found between vowels.

Examples: estoy → toy / toi, espera → pera, todo → too

Ojo, recién pintado, Photo: Eileen Smith

2. Letter Replacement

The most common letter replacements are the hard “c” and “q,” which become “k,” “y” is replaced with “i,” and “ch” becomes “x.”

Examples: quiero → kiero, quién → kien, eschuca → kuxa (double letter replacement AND letter disappearance).

3. Siglas – Initials

This is similar to the English-based AFAIK (as far as I know) or IMHO (in my humble opinion). The first letter of each word in a well-known phrase or syllable in an often-used word is used instead of the whole word/syllable.

Examples: te quiero mucho → tqm / tkm, te amo mucho → tam, también → tb

4. Rebus – Letters that “Say” Their Names

Here there is a play on the fact that in addition to a sound (or two), each letter has a “name,” also seen in English with the letter b used to connote “be.” Once you know the names of the letter in Spanish, this one becomes fairly easy.

Examples: bebé → bb, eres → rs, encontrar → ncontrar, cadena → kdena

5. Numbers & Symbols

This is similar to the rebus above, where numbers are pronounced and mathematical functions are called by their names: x = por, + = mas, and – = menos.

Examples: saludos → salu2, recién → re100, besitos → bsit2, porque → xq, al menos → al-, demasiado → de+sia2

6. U Dominance

The combinations bu or gu lose their initial consonant, and leave you with a u sound, written as a w.

Examples: bueno → weno, buena → wena, guapo → wapo, guapa → wapa

7. Inclusivity

Spanish is a gendered language, where the male form of a word is used when both males and females are present. Some people will use the arroba (@ sign) to replace the final vowel, so it is both an “o” and an “a” to show inclusivity.

Examples: amigos/amigas → amig@s, todos/todas → tod@s

Note store name. Photo: Eileen Smith

8. English Loans

This is the use Spanish phonetic spelling to communicate English words. Sometimes when you just can’t make out what something means, you have to say it out loud to yourself, pronouncing each letter like it would be said in Spanish, to see if you can make sense out of it.

In the following common examples you’ll find a greeting, birthday wishes, an apology and a request if you can decipher them: jelou, japibirdei, sorri, plis.

The rules above are often applied in combination, which can make the whole thing quite nreda2 (enredado, tangled/confusing). But if you keep just a few basic expressions in mind, you should be able to hold your own, for a few minutes anyway. Qs3! Que estrés!

If you’re interested in learning more Spanish Netspeak, the most complete online dictionary (entirely in Spanish) is a compliation and public-sourced site at diccionariosms.com.

If the whole thing is giving you a ‘jakeka,’ you can try soothing the pain with the definitive authority on “proper” Spanish, the Real Academia Española. I’ll be there in un minuto.

Community Connection

Matador has recently launched an all Spanish site that includes original features as well as translations of some of the network’s most popular articles. Check it out here: Matador en Español.

Language Learning

 

  • beth

    Great article!!! I lived in Chile for about a year and still talk to my friends online. This is a very comprehensive article and I can’t think of a single thing to add. Good job!

    • http://www.bearshapedsphere.blogspot.com Bearshapedsphere (Eileen Smith)

      Thanks Beth! Glad it stands up to scrutiny! Hope your Chilean friends are duly impressed with your chat abbreviations, sounds like you earned them!

  • Kathy

    This is really interesting! I’m passing it along to friends with better Spanish than mine that will really enjoy reading it. I also think it would be a fun thing to introduce in Spanish language classes. Thanks for sharing these tidbits!

    • http://bearshapedsphere.blogspot.com/ Eileen Smith

      Glad you like it, Kathy. It’s not that I suggest actually using these shortcuts everywhere, but they can be fun, I suppose, and I’m more of a descriptivist than prescriptivist. The “wet paint” sign I shot a picture of at one of the main bus stations, so it is in use in the real world!

  • Dane

    Man, I took spanish for three years but I never learned something that would be so practical if I ever lived in a spanish country! This was a really cool article, Eileen.

  • http://matadornights.com Kate Sedgwick

    Ja ja ja ja ja! Salu2, Eileen. Bien hecho. Especialmente me gusta, “japibirdei.”

  • http://www.cachandochile.com Margaret

    Wena wena! Me encantó!
    ¡Slu2!

  • http://brinkofsomethingelse.com Camden Luxford

    Sweet, Eileen, thanks! Always brings me down to earth about my spanish when I’m trying to decipher texts – they never seem to use any form of punctuation in Peruvian texts either, stream of consciousness plus all kinds of weird abbreviations makes life difficult.

  • http://www.bearshapedsphere.blogspot.com Bearshapedsphere (Eileen Smith)

    Delighted to hear it’s a hit. What made me want to write it was actually realizing I couldn’t find this info anywhere else. That and that I just can’t stop thinking about language pretty much ever.

    Enjoy!

  • http://chinaexposure.blogspot.com/ monika

    Love it! I will use this to text to my friends from Mexico.

  • http://sparkpunk.com Zak

    Wow, this is fascinating :) Quick texts like this are second-nature in English, but the thought hadn’t yet occured to me that each language has its own evolving text-speak. Great read, and thanks for the tips!!

  • http://www.achickwithbaggage.com Abbey Hesser

    This is fantastic! Haha, there are so many of these that I found out the hard way. Especially when Spanish people try to spell English phrases. One of my personal favorites is the “japibirdei” and I got an “ayluffu” one time too. That one really cracked me up.

    • Heather Carreiro

      Alright a guess from a non-Spanish speaker – are those “Happy Birthday” and “I love you”?

  • http://olivaresbound.blogspot.com Cat

    I teach high school in Spain at a small-town high school. You can imagine my alarm when I wrote XOXO on the board and the students laughed.

    X, in addition to por and para, is also the “ch” sound, so noche becomes noxe. Chocho (xoxo in long form), is a slang term for a body part. Oops.

  • http://bearshapedsphere.blogspot.com/ Eileen Smith

    Cat, you win! that is hilarious. Sorry you had to learn it like that, but those kind of lessons are QUITE unforgettable!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    These also work in chat programs (that’s where I use them the most). Great job! Well worth a RT :)

    • Heather Carreiro

      Thanks Benny!

  • Brighid

    This cracked me up. Even after a few years of messages from friends in Spain, Ecuador, and Guatemala I still have no idea what they’re saying half the time between regional slang, phonetic English and complete omission of vowels! It’s fun to decipher though. One of my favorites is “100pre” for “siempre.”

  • Sara

    I had an amazing Spanish immersion experience in Puerto Rico. I get close to the culture and history of Puerto Rico and South America. Thanks to the GoSpanish School, I was able to visit beautiful places such as El Yunque Rainforest, Culebra Island and Fajardo Bioluminescent Bay etc. San Juan is an extremely secure place. The best part is, if you are American, you enter Puerto Rico as a domestic traveler because is a self- governing commonwealth in association with the United States, so no visas or fees are need.The programs in the school allowed me to progress at my own pace. If you are looking for an unforgettable experience, recommend GoSpanishpr in San Juan, Puerto Rico! (gospanishpr.com)

  • Hanna

    lol, Spanish language Immersion is one of the best things I have done. My experience was in Puerto Rico (a paradise in the Caribbean) where people is amazing. I did a two weeks program with Gospanishpr, while taking surfing classes. Buenísimo!

  • Anitaanderson1988

    I’ve been planning to do some community immersion to further enhance my Spanish. I am thinking of bringing in this program: http://learnspanishprograms.org/Reviews/Tell-Me-More-Spanish-Course-Review.html to help me out on my immersion. Do you think that it is a good idea to bring with me this language program? 

  • MàĦbǿùla Tâ Ḿilaṋo

    cool words really helped me thanx chau gracias.

  • T2

    Hey what does it mean in Spanish if someone texts ‘wauu’ ?

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