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.

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