FBI discovers Twitter-speak, starts a dictionary

U.S. government investigators have compiled an 83-page list of Twitter shorthand, including some acronyms we bet you've never used.

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The FBI's account page on Twitter. Twitter/FBI

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is building its own Rosetta Stone -- not so we can all translate other languages, but to help its agents understand Twitter.

In what smacks of a very characteristic move by the U.S. federal government's perennial criminal investigative division, the FBI has begun cataloging "Twitter Shorthand," or all those weird acronyms used on the Internet. So far, it's 83 pages long and has "about 2,800 entries," which the FBI claims agents "should find useful in your work or for keeping up with your children and/or grandchildren."

The list was apparently released as part of a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request on the website MuckRock. A user on the site, Jason Smathers, requested all documents the FBI provides to its staff of 35,344 to help interpret or understand "leetspeak," or the obfuscated form of communication mixing acronyms, letters and numbers into the jumble of missives that make up the Internet.

What the site got back was definitive proof the FBI is on it.

This is the second time this month the U.S. government has given Internet users a reason to chuckle. The first came from the Central Intelligence Agency, which began broadcasting on Twitter on June 6 with the message: "We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet."

What's interesting is that the FBI is referencing Twitter in particular, considering Internet slang was around for more than a decade before the site's launch in 2006. Of course, Twitter's unique feature -- requiring users to send messages in 140 characters or less -- may have inspired the FBI to finally begin tracking this language. Though it's worth noting the document does reference Facebook and MySpace as well.

The FBI is of course not the first to begin cataloging Internet slang. For many years, there have been loosely kept lists on sites like Urban Dictionary, noslang and Wiktionary, a project by the same group that manages Wikipedia.

The FBI's entries run from the banal to the bizarre. There's pedestrian terms such as IIRC (if I recall correctly), KISS (keep it simple, stupid) and TLDR (too long; didn't read).

Then, there are weirder ones. Here's a random sampling:

  • BTDGTGTTSAWIO: Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wore it out
  • PEBKAC: Problem exists between keyboard and chair (this one's often said among IT support staff)
  • DWISNWID: Do what I say, not what I do
  • OTTOMH: Off the top of my head
  • IDUNNO: I don't know
  • QWERTYUIOP: bored

Perhaps they should add WKTWSC (who knew they were so clever?)

Representatives for the FBI in San Francisco did not immediately respond to a VM requesting comment. Hopefully they'll CML8R.

About the author

Ian Sherr is an executive editor for the west coast at CNET News. He writes about social networking and manages coverage of video games, Internet giants, cybersecurity, the sharing economy, e-commerce and wearable tech. Previously, he wrote about Apple, the PC industry and video games at The Wall Street Journal. He's also written for Reuters and the Agence France-Presse, among others. He's a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, though he knows what real weather feels like too.

 

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