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ConfucisIM and IMuttering: The new language of IM

With instant messaging now used commonly in the workplace, colleagues are conjuring colloquialisms to describe a number of unique situations spawned by IM use.

NRpryz IMz b%mN.

If you can figure out that sentence, then you're probably one of the many corporate instant messaging users creating new abbreviations, words and slang phrases. Not only is the slang meant to speed up communication, but also to label the new tasks that come with conducting business behind a screen name.

In fact, a new English vocabulary subset is taking shape -- tailored for this ever-growing business communications medium -- as workplace instant messaging (IM) becomes as common as picking up the phone or sending an e-mail.

Words of wisdom

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According to Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC, the worldwide market for enterprise IM applications is expected to grow from roughly 20 million total seat licenses in 2002 to more than 80 million in 2008.

Correspondingly, IM-related situations are generating new words and catch-phrases to coin IM's currently unnamed characteristics. recently asked readers for the words they had developed to label five common experiences that take place during the regular course of work-related IM usage. Responses included:

  • E-mailing a person at the same time as you're having an IM conversation with them: e-dundancy or multi-asking.
  • Minimizing your IM window when your boss walks by: minIMize or unstant messaging.
  • Repeatedly erasing an IM text box because you change your mind about what you want to say: IMdecisive or IMuttering.
  • Talking to someone who disappears from the IM conversation: AOL-WOL.
  • Typing in the wrong IM window when you have more than one conversation going: AlzIMers or confucisIM.

    Andrew Quirke, corporate account manager at Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW Corp., said he has a case of AlzIMers all too often.

    "I am notorious for typing text in the wrong IM window," Quirke said. "Most victims of this are very understanding -- I have to assume that they have made the same mistake themselves."

    For more information

    Download our PalmReader doc on IM terms and presence technology.

    Check out our white paper on mobile instant messaging.

    This shared experience is what morphs an unofficial term into the official English language vocabulary.

    Tom Pitoniak, assistant editor with Merriam-Webster Inc., said the Springfield, Mass.-based language reference publisher collects word and phrase usage evidence. As the evidence passes a prominent threshold, the editorial staff welcomes it into the English language.

    "Linguistic subgroups develop around new things, and it grows a great currency amongst the people that use it most often," Pitoniak said. "We take note of it when it grows out of that circle and into the New York Times, Newsweek or something to that effect."

    Ralph Ellis, manufacturing engineer at Wilmington, Mass.-based MKS Instruments Inc., said he is annoyed by the lack of widely recognized terms for IM-related situations.

    Ellis said he responded to the survey because he wanted to help "change the world" by developing official IM terminologies.

    Pitoniak said IM verbiage is difficult to detect and track because of its undocumented nature. But, he said, there has been a noted surge in IM-related jargon in the past decade.

    Editor's note: The opening line reads, "Enterprise IM is booming."

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