A Multilingual Thx-giving
How we say “thx” (in that abbreviated, internet-y sort of way) in different languages
It all started with a simple question: how do you say “thx” in other languages? Not “thanks” or “thank you” but “thx”. The internet, slang-y way of writing “thanks.”
Yes, “thx” existed before the internet. I have memories of writing “thx” in postcards and sticky notes, but these days, I mainly see it written in electronic communications on the web. Even if the word didn’t come from the internet, it’s definitely quite common on the internet now.
I’d known about the Spanish grax (for gracias) for a while but was curious about others and started asking around. The results? Well, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, we thought we’d share a completely unscientific list, based on an assortment of emails, tweets and surveys:
The letter x signifies abbreviation in many languages, Spanish included. So instead of gracias we have grax. Others have noted that grcs is a thing too.
(h/t Andrés Monroy and Esmit Pérez)
Short for valeu (and not the other Portuguese way of saying thanks, obrigado), this is common amongst Brazilian Portuguese speakers online.
(h/t Meedan colleague Caio Almeida)
In the great tradition of Verlan, a French form of wordplay bearing similarities to the English Pig Latin, merci gets mixed around into cimer.
(h/t Marie Martraire)
Short for kamsa-hamnida, kamsa is often written in Roman letters, rather than Korean script, and added onto an English post. Like “thx”, it’s a shortened written form that’s often spoken aloud in more casual contexts.
(h/t Yina Kim)
This is short for teşekkürler, so it’s a much shorter abbreviation — saves a lot of keystrokes, surely! And when you’re tweeting in Turkish, that’s 8 characters back from your 140 limit.
(h/t Zeynep Tufekci)
Hold up — isn’t the German word for gratitude danke? According to some friends on Twitter, “thx” is quite common, because many Germans also speak English. But never fear, fans of short German words also have dank.
Luganda is one of the official languages of Uganda, and the Luganda word webale is already a shortened form of “thank you”, pronounced webale nyo.
(h/t Mwesigwa Daniel)
English: thx, tks, ty
There are a number of ways to abbreviate “thanks” on the web, and the above are just a few. As Gus Andrew pointed out, “ty” tends to be more common on World of Warcraft, likely due to the game’s demands of quick input and keyboard dexterity, plus the fact that the letters t and y are right next to each other.
(h/t Gus Andrews)
There’s no “thx” in Arabic or Mandarin either, actually, but I’ll get back to that in a sec. But first we need to dive into a basic question: why abbreviate “thx” (and not “thanks”) at all?
So why do we say “thx” anyway?
The most obvious reason is that in a texting culture, it’s a lot easier to tap out “Thx” with our thumbs, especially on an alphanumeric keypad. But what about now? Does it really help us? There’s not a chasm of difference between “thx” and “thanks” on a QWERTY keyboard. Twitter’s 140 character limit certainly would reward a “thx” over a “thanks”, but most media sites allow us to use as many characters as we want.
The casualness is probably part of this. The internet being a more casual medium than, say, a formal printed business letter, we are more likely to use a casual form of expression. It’s the difference between “hey whats up” and “Hello, how are you today?” Most of the web is very casual, and thx fits right in.
We can dive into this a bit more. As my colleague Chris Blow asked, why “thx” and not “tks”? “Tks” did have some uptake a little while back but “thx” seems a lot more popular. Both of these abbreviations are probably legible thanks (er, pun not intended) to cognitive science: it’s very easy for us to understand jumbled words from context.
But why “thx” over “tks”? My guess is that x is such a common convention for abbreviation in English — think of “xoxo”, “Xmas” and the x variable in algebra — that it makes a more natural ending for “thanks”. And though th is two letters, it’s a good example of a phoneme, a single sound; the t in “tks” doesn’t communicate the th sound overtly.
We might think of words like “thx”, “grax” and “cimer” as part of an internet sociolect. A sociolect is a way of speaking that’s bound by culture group or social ties This is distinct from a dialect, which is a variant of a language bound by geographic origin. There was a recent article on The Atlantic that pointed at a few sociolects on the web, from Jejenese to Leetspeak:
Like lolspeak, other Internet sociolects tend to start as a game or a kind of insider-y one-upmanship, then snowball in complexity. As semi-illegible versions of an official language, they can act as a private code for anyone trying to write furtively — hackers, activists, spammers, teenagers. But according to Susan Herring, a linguist at Indiana University at Bloomington, they have another important function: they can generate words that spill into the broader lexicon.
“Thx” isn’t quite a furtive word, but it might not be understood outside certain circles. “Thx” might be obvious to you if you’re a native speaker, but its obscurity is easier to understand with a foreign language. For instance, you might learn “teşekkürler” in Turkish class and “merci” in French class. But if you’re still navigating the Turkish-speaking and French-speaking internets, you might get lost when seeing “tşkr” and “cimer” tweeted at you for the very first time.
So words like “thx”, which are popular on the web (even if they didn’t originate on the web), might be grouped into a larger internet sociolect that most advanced speakers of the language might recognize. Like “lol” and the (: emoticon, these are popular forms of expression online and are commonly understood for anyone who’s spent a sufficient amount of time on the conversational web for that language.
Is there really no “thx” in Arabic and Mandarin?
So I promised you a look at Arabic and Mandarin. These are some of the most widely used languages on the web, with a variety of internet-specific uses of language, and they’re also very different from English in grammar, script and vocabulary. And interestingly enough, they don’t have strong examples of abbreviation for “thx”. Some of that seems to be related to input methods.
Arabic online can be written in Arabic script or in Arabizi, a popular romanization method on the web with roots in the fact that Arabic input hasn’t always been available on mobile phones, or it was too cumbersome to input. The Arabic words for thanks, شكراً (pronounced “shukran”, is just 4 characters, which makes it acceptably short when typed in Arabic script. That’s just one character more than “thx”, really, and the same number of characters as “grax” and “tşkr”.
But if you’re typing in Arabizi, “shukran” (in Roman letters) is 6 characters long, and we start to enter the “too long” territory for an abbreviated word. To save space, Arabic-speaking users often opt for typing “thx” or similar when using romanized Arabic online.
In Mandarin, 谢谢 (romanized as xiexie and pronounced “syeh-syeh”) is often written online the same way it’s written in more formal communications. This might be surprising, especially if you know just how many neologisms Chinese netizens develop everyday (warning: link NSFW).
Then I started thinking about how xiexie would be typed out on a computer or phone. With many pinyin input systems, the word could simply be typed as xx, and the input system knows contextually that you probably mean xiexie (see the image above for a good example of this—an entire sentence typed with just the first letters of each word!). So the input is abbreviated while the expression is not.
But never fear, there are other ways to say “thx”, but with different emotional connotations. My favorite is 跪谢 (guixie), which you won’t find in a dictionary but perhaps can be translated as “kneeling thanks”. It’s sarcastic, as you might guess.
As folks around the United States gather around tables to give thanks, they might also be texting and tweeting their friends and family, saying “thx” for being there. And given the cultural and linguistic diversity of this country, they might also be shouting out a few instances of “grax”, “cimer”, “kamsa”, “shukran”, and “xiexie”
Now, dear reader, I ask: how do you say “thx” in a language you speak? Why do you think that saying is popular? Feel free to leave a comment or post your own reply.