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Talk Mode

/tȯk mōd/

n. A feature supported by UNIX, ITS, and some other OSes that allows two or more logged-in users to set up a real-time online conversation. It combines the immediacy of talking with all the precision (and verbosity) that written language entails. It is difficult to communicate inflection, though conventions have arisen for some of these (see the section on writing style in the Prependices for details).

Talk mode has a special set of jargon words, used to save typing, which are not used orally. Some of these are identical to (and probably derived from) Morse-code jargon used by ham-radio amateurs since the 1920s.

  • BCNU
    be seeing you
  • BTW
    by the way
  • BYE?
    are you ready to unlink? (this is the standard way to end a talk-mode conversation; the other person types 'BYE' to confirm, or else continues the conversation)
  • CUL
    see you later
  • ENQ?
    are you busy? (expects 'ACK' or 'NAK' in return)
  • FOO?
    are you there? (often used on unexpected links, meaning also "Sorry if I butted in ..." (linker) or "What's up?" (linkee))
  • FYI
    for your information
  • FYA
    for your amusement
  • GA
    go ahead (used when two people have tried to type simultaneously; this cedes the right to type to the other)
    grumble (expresses disquiet or disagreement)
    hello? (an instance of the '-P' convention)
  • JAM
    just a minute (equivalent to 'SEC...')
  • MIN
    same as 'JAM'
  • NIL
    no (see NIL)
  • O
    over to you
  • OO
    over and out
  • /
    another form of "over to you" (from x/y as "x over y")
  • \
    lambda (used in discussing LISPy things)
  • OBTW
    oh, by the way
  • R U THERE?
    are you there?
  • SEC
    wait a second (sometimes written 'SEC...')
  • T
    yes (see the main entry for T)
  • TNX
  • TNX 1.0E6
    thanks a million (humorous)
  • TNXE6
    another for of "thanks a million"
  • WRT
    with regard to, or with respect to.
  • WTF
    the universal interrogative particle; WTF knows what it means?
  • WTH
    what the hell?
  • <double newline>
    When the typing party has finished, he/she types two newlines to signal that he/she is done; this leaves a blank line between 'speeches' in the conversation, making it easier to reread the preceding text.
  • <name>:
    When three or more terminals are linked, it is conventional for each typist to prepend his/her login name or handle and a colon (or a hyphen) to each line to indicate who is typing (some conferencing facilities do this automatically). The login name is often shortened to a unique prefix (possibly a single letter) during a very long conversation.
  • /\/\/\
    A giggle or chuckle. On a MUD, this usually means 'earthquake fault'.

Most of the above sub-jargon is used at both Stanford and MIT. Several of these expressions are also common in email, esp. FYI, FYA, BTW, BCNU, WTF, and CUL. A few other abbreviations have been reported from commercial networks, such as GEnie and CompuServe, where online 'live' chat including more than two people is common and usually involves a more 'social' context, notably the following:

  • <g>
  • <gr&d>
    grinning, running, and ducking
  • BBL
    be back later
  • BRB
    be right back
  • HHOJ
    ha ha only joking
  • HHOK
    ha ha only kidding
  • IMHO
    in my humble opinion (see IMHO)
  • LOL
    laughing out loud
  • ROTF
    rolling on the floor
    rolling on the floor laughing
  • AFK
    away from keyboard
  • b4
  • CU l8tr
    see you later
  • MORF
    male or female?
  • TTFN
    ta-ta for now
  • OIC
    oh, I see
  • rehi
    hello again

Most of these are not used at universities or in the UNIX world, though ROTF and TTFN have gained some currency there and IMHO is common; conversely, most of the people who know these are unfamiliar with FOO?, BCNU, HELLOP, NIL, and T.

The MUD community uses a mixture of USENET/Internet emoticons, a few of the more natural of the old-style talk-mode abbrevs, and some of the 'social' list above; specifically, MUD respondents report use of BBL, BRB, LOL, b4, BTW, WTF, TTFN, and WTH. The use of 'rehi' is also common; in fact, mudders are fond of re- compounds and will frequently 'rehug' or 'rebonk' (see bonk/oif) people. The word 're' by itself is taken as 'regreet'. In general, though, MUDders express a preference for typing things out in full rather than using abbreviations; this may be due to the relative youth of the MUD cultures, which tend to include many touch typists and to assume high-speed links. The following uses specific to MUDs are reported:

  • UOK?
    are you OK?
  • THX
    thanks (mutant of 'TNX'; clearly this comes in batches of 1138 (the Lucasian K)).
  • CU l8er
    see you later (mutant of 'CU l8tr')
  • OTT
    over the top (excessive, uncalled for)

Some BIFFisms (notably the variant spelling 'd00d') appear to be passing into wider use among some subgroups of MUDders.

One final note on talk mode style: neophytes, when in talk mode, often seem to think they must produce letter-perfect prose because they are typing rather than speaking. This is not the best approach. It can be very frustrating to wait while your partner pauses to think of a word, or repeatedly makes the same spelling error and backs up to fix it. It is usually best just to leave typographical errors behind and plunge forward, unless severe confusion may result; in that case it is often fastest just to type "xxx" and start over from before the mistake.

See also hakspek, emoticon, bonk/oif.