The abbreviations "sb" and "sth"

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I have noticed that non-native speakers on this forum often use the letters "sb" when they mean "somebody" and "sth" when they mean "something".

I am a very well-educated, well-travelled, 50-year-old native speaker, and the first time I ever saw these abbreviations was here. Upon seeing them, I had no idea what "sb" or "sth" were supposed to mean until I saw an explanation on this board as well.

Here, then, are my questions:

1) Are non-native speakers of English aware that "sb" and "sth" are NOT abbreviations commonly used in English by native speakers for "somebody" or "something", and that there are many native speakers who would have no idea what these letters are supposed to mean?

2) Where do these odd and unattractive abbreviations come from? Are they "textspeak", like writing "4" instead of for and "u" instead of you? Are they based on the practices of some foreign language? Does anyone know their origin? (And for that matter, how we can get rid of them?)
 
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I believe that these are regularly used by language students, but not by normal people.
    So I consider them to be unacceptable in these forums - just as chatspeak is unacceptable.
    As with chatspeak, moderators can't spot all examples.
     

    kelt

    Senior Member
    Czech Republic, Czech
    I agree with panjandrum - they are used for learning. I use them very often when writing down phrases and their typical usage.

    There are some examples of their cognates in Spanish: alg (algo), algn (algún) and German: etw (etwas), jmnd (jemand).

    But I would never use them for any other purpose.

    GreenWhiteBlue, you say that these abbreviations are not commonly known to native speakers - are there any at all? Or you just don't use any abbreviations for these words?
     

    Musical Chairs

    Senior Member
    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    Hmm, I have seen "sum1" and "sumthin(g)" used most but more and more people are getting annoyed by such chatspeak. It's common with younger teenagers.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I have noticed that non-native speakers on this forum often use the letters "sb" when they mean "somebody" and "sth" when they mean "something".

    2) Where do these odd and unattractive abbreviations come from? Are they "textspeak", like writing "4" instead of for and "u" instead of you? Are they based on the practices of some foreign language? Does anyone know their origin? (And for that matter, how we can get rid of them?)

    You also find abbreviations like this in bilingual dictionaries, as a shorthand to explain grammatical constructions. A Latin dictionary, for instance, uses indefinate pronouns in appropriate cases, instead of writing out: e.g," to give; with thing given in the accusative, the person to whom it's given in the dative." My German dictionary does something similar.

    However, much as I appreciate the format in dictionaries, I agree that they are annoying here.

    I suspect that you are correct: people who see them in their dictionaries don't realize that the use is specific to that context. Would it be possible to add these abbreviations to the no text-speak rule?

    (I see that Kelt has made a similar comment, but I'll post this anyway.)
     

    jonmaz

    Senior Member
    English-Australia
    I totally agree with GreenWhiteBlue and have had a similar experience. I am not so supportive of panjandrum's thoughts on the abnormality of language students!:D
     

    ayupshiplad

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    I'm really surprised that you've never seen these abbreviations until you came on the forums. Presumably you are interested in language and foreign languages if you visit the forums, which would suggest that you would be used to grammar and the normal abbreviations found in dictionaries?

    I wouldn't classify it as 'chat-speak'. Chat-speak is soo chavvy and I would never use it, but if I'm writing (on the net or on paper) I will almost always use grammar-related abbreviations. More examples are 'qlqn' (quelqu'un) and qlch (quelquechose) from French. In English, I've also seen 's.o' for someone by the way, though admittedly that is only in a few dictionaries.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I'm really surprised that you've never seen these abbreviations until you came on the forums. Presumably you are interested in language and foreign languages if you visit the forums, which would suggest that you would be used to grammar and the normal abbreviations found in dictionaries?

    I wouldn't classify it as 'chat-speak'. Chat-speak is soo chavvy and I would never use it, but if I'm writing (on the net or on paper) I will almost always use grammar-related abbreviations. More examples are 'qlqn' (quelqu'un) and qlch (quelquechose) from French. In English, I've also seen 's.o' for someone by the way, though admittedly that is only in a few dictionaries.

    I don't believe I've ever seen a general English-language dictionary which uses the abbreviations sb and sth. I've just taken a look at the online Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and Encarta dictionaries and they write the words out in full when they occur in a definition.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Okay, so I am the only one here who hasn't seen these alien things on this forum yet?

    I don't like any kind of chatspeak, but I really don't see any possible way to get rid of any of them.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    I have noticed that non-native speakers on this forum often use the letters "sb" when they mean "somebody" and "sth" when they mean "something".
    Thank heavens we don't see this with much frequency.

    I am a very well-educated, well-travelled, 50-year-old native speaker, and the first time I ever saw these abbreviations was here. Upon seeing them, I had no idea what "sb" or "sth" were supposed to mean until I saw an explanation on this board as well.
    Ditto, except that I have a few more years as a native speaker.

    Here, then, are my questions:

    1) Are non-native speakers of English aware that "sb" and "sth" are NOT abbreviations commonly used in English by native speakers for "somebody" or "something", and that there are many native speakers who would have no idea what these letters are supposed to mean?

    2) Where do these odd and unattractive abbreviations come from? Are they "textspeak", like writing "4" instead of for and "u" instead of you? Are they based on the practices of some foreign language? Does anyone know their origin? (And for that matter, how we can get rid of them?)

    These are not chat abbreviations. They are found with distressing frequency in translators' dictionaries. They are not standard English language forms, and should not be used in these forums.

    Many non-native students of English are used to seeing these abbreviations in texts and dictionaries, and do not know that they are non-standard. It looks as if we have some educating to do. Please report posts with such %^&#$@*&, and the moderators will PM the writers with guidance.
     

    Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    I don't know about other forums, but, like nichec, I don't recall seeing on the EO these abbreviations - maybe I'm so used to them I don't notice them anymore.

    True, in my high-school notebook you'd often see sth and sbdy (never sb). I learnt on this forum that some native speakers aren't familiar with them, and this came as a surprise.

    But I wonder, GWB, what sort of abbreviations did u use in school?
     

    imagination

    New Member
    Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbian, Bosnian
    I'm really surprised that native speakers haven't seen these abbreviations untill now.

    Yes, I also saw them in the dictionaries although I think I wouldn't use them in my writing.....
     

    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    One more native-speaker here who had never seen this until I joined this forum. Frankly, I just assumed that it was "chat-speak" and found myself being quite taken aback that this appeared to be acceptable. I'm glad to hear otherwise but I'm voting for abolishing the horrid things!:D
     

    imagination

    New Member
    Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbian, Bosnian
    I agree Dimcl........We have to do something (not sth) to persuade people not to use it anymore...;)
     

    Rivendell

    Senior Member
    Spanish / Spain
    Hi,

    I have not only seen but also used 'sth', 'so' or 'sb'. When you are taking notes at school and the teacher is speaking fast, that's the only way to catch up with him. In the same way I have used 'qqn' in French or 'jmd' and 'etw' in German.

    However I haven't used them either in the forum or in any other situations apart from school.

    Most of you say you've never seen them before... well, it's funny, because as a Spanish speaker, I had never seen 'alg' or 'algn' until I read Kelt's post!!
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    These are not chat abbreviations.
    They may not have originated in the realm of chat, but they are certainly not rare in online conversations and such. I know this because I always shudder internally whenever a friend uses them online, and this is unfortunately something that happens quite frequently. I never really noticed whether those that used them were native speakers or not, but I'll pay more attention next time.
     

    Harry Batt

    Senior Member
    USA English
    <<God forbid any of these become standardized; that would bring them a step closer to inclusion in formal writing and accepted grammar.>> Abbreviations such as sh, sth, btw are a product of email correspondence. And they are only the tip of ungrammatical icebergs. Bibliothet's fear is well taken if you consider that capitalization and the Dodo are keeping company. GWB's concern is specific. What can be done about it on WRC? Well, something practical would be a good start. The rules could be simplified for the English forum. If I took a poll what would be the percentage of non-native subscribers who read the rules? Native subscribrers? How about a quiz? With questions like, When are you allowed to use abbreviations on the forum? A. Never B. When . . .C. Only if . . .
    And I believe that all of the Private Messages should be signed S.W.A.K.

    For the unromantics Sealed With A Kiss.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Out of curiousity I had a look at the first thirty examples of the use of sb in the title of an English Only thread. Only one of these was posted by a native English speaker. In many of them, the only use of the abbreviation was in the thread title - the question used the full form.

    It is clear from the examples and from what I know of those who have posted them that these particular abbreviations are not considered chatspeak - they are standard within their particular learning context. They are evidently used in teaching materials as well as by students.

    Ahem, cough, cough, clearing of throat.
    They are also used on some excellent and highly-respected dictionaries.
    For example, the WordReference dictionaries :p
    Look up either sb or sth in French, Italian or Spanish for examples.
     

    ayupshiplad

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    Ahem, cough, cough, clearing of throat.
    They are also used on some excellent and highly-respected dictionaries.
    For example, the WordReference dictionaries :p
    Look up either sb or sth in French, Italian or Spanish for examples.

    Hahahahaha. Legendary. I agree though, I think they're perfectly acceptable in their academic contexts, especially when writing down new vocabularly.
     

    kenny4528

    Senior Member
    Mandarin, Taiwan
    Ok, I admit, as a learner of English, that I had used sb or sth here unintentionally.

    Longman Contemporary English Dictionary

    Short forms -
    adv adjective
    n noun
    ...............
    sb someone
    sth something


    I have no idea what they are put into chat-speak group. In my mind, I used them for the sake of convenience. Thanks to GreenWhiteBlue, I now know how much native-speaker dislike/hate this term, and I would not use it as abbreviation anymore unless to myself.:)
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I've seen them in discussions about grammar and language usage to some extent before coming here; they are used in an otherwise extremely good Japanese grammar that I have. I really dislike them, because, no matter how many times I see them, they still do not "speak" the word they are abbreviating, and I find sentences including them difficult to understand and think about.

    They have been bothering me for a while, and I'm glad it's just not me, and that there is support for their obliteration by the moderators.
     

    Macunaíma

    Senior Member
    português, Brasil
    The Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary uses them, and so does the Cambrige Advanced Learners'. The Cambridge Advanced Grammar in Use uses them profusely. I understand that native speakers dislike them, but I don't see why some abbreviations should be forbidden, on the grounds of being "annoying", and others allowed? I have seen lots and lots of BTW's and another abbreviation I don't quite remember (never bothered to learn what it means): HMO, MMHO... something like that, usually found at the beginning of paragraphs.

    Well, my view is: love them or hate them, sth and sb are definitely NOT non-standard abbreviations. They are largely used in reputable English teaching materials, such as those I mentioned above. This forum is meant for English teaching/ learning, isn't it? I see no point in WR moderators being more strict than the editors of the Oxford University Press in language matters.
     

    Piotr_WRF

    Senior Member
    Polish, German
    I think these abbreviations are perfectly fine when used in a dictionary or when explaining how to use a verb (i.e. whether it takes a direct or indirect object).
     

    Hotu Matua

    Senior Member
    México, español
    These abbreviations are not horrible things!
    They appear at almost every page in dictionaries. And these dictionaries are our link to English. We learn through them. They are like good pals, like friends, like part of our family. They are sacred books for us, learners.
    Dictionaries represent an authoritative source. Don't they? I always supposed that native speakers had invented these abbreviations. And not just ordinary native speakers, but educated speakers willing to share the beauties of their language and preparing dictionaries for us, learners.
    Is there sth missing here? Can sb show some empathy?;)
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I would venture to guess that the main reason a bilingual dictionary (because I don't think I've ever seen them used in an English-only dictionary) would use such abbreviations would be to save space, i.e. money. Imagine just how many times, especially in a dictionary rich with examples, you find the words "somebody" and "something." Basically every example. Cutting out those letters saves lots of money.

    Webster's Italian-English dictionary uses sb and sth, as well as qc ("qualcosa") and qn ("qualcuno").

    So I think it's perfectly fine to do so in a bilingual dictionary, and by now I'm used to it. (I'll mention that I saw them in my dictionaries before I ever ended up here.) Plus, most importantly for me, it makes the dictionary less cluttered.

    BUT, that said, WRF is a horse of a different feather. It is not small pocket dictionary; it can afford a few extra letters without compromising order and cleaniless...you won't have reprint the dictionary and squint your eyes if we all spell out our words. Oh, and it's free to type as much as you want (within moderated limits, of course). :D


    brian
     
    I always supposed that native speakers had invented these abbreviations. And not just ordinary native speakers, but educated speakers willing to share the beauties of their language and preparing dictionaries for us, learners.

    It is because there are educated speakers here who are willing to share the beauties of English that you are being told that these abbreviations are NOT standard among native speakers, that they are NOT in common use by native speakers, and they are NOT readily understood by native speakers. If one wishes to use them, one may -- just as one may try to address English speakers by writing in Spanish. However, if one wants to write clear and idiomatic English that will be recognized as such and understood readily by native English speakers, one will neither write in Spanish, nor use these abbreviations.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Why not type out everything, then!? Including that WRF.
    Because as Panj has already mentioned, only a limited number of accepted abbreviations are allowed here. Why? Because we try to keep these forums up to a certain scholarly standard. Something like "WRF" is an acronym, meaning that it's a universally accepted shortening of company, business, website, etc. Acronyms and abbreviations are different. There are certain universally accepted abbreviations too, such as e.g. and i.e. Imagine seeing this in an published article:

    There have been recent discussions regarding NASA's plans to send s.o. to Jupiter for important astronomical study, e.g. a study of the composition of its gases.

    No one, I think, reading this sentence would think twice about the use of "NASA" or the use of "e.g."; but upon seeing "s.o." I can't help but keel over in pain and disbelief...

    I'm not saying every single post has to be newspaper-article/journal-quality written. But as linguists and language learners, we strive for something of the type.
     

    Macunaíma

    Senior Member
    português, Brasil
    Ok. The point, however, is: English learners are quite familiar with these abbreviations. They appear in every English teaching material, even those by the best authors and publishers. This forum is used, mostly, by learners of English who use it as a means of exchanging their knowledge and helping each other, with the invaluable help from native speakers, of course. If most users in this forum are familiar with sth and sb and immediately identify it, what on earth can be wrong with it being accepted? There are all sort of things and all sort of behaviours that one will find unacceptable in a plural place like a forum, and you have a right to dislike sth/sb, but saying that they are not standard is not being honest -bear in mind that this is a forum visited mostly English learners who are as familiar with them as they are with prepositions. See it for yourself. If they are not in the sticky as permitted abbreviations, I suggest they should be included. If you decide not to include it, at least be as honest as not to call it non-standard. It would be nicer to say: "we don't like it, and we are boss."
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Macunaíma said:
    Ok. The point, however, is: English learners are quite familiar with these abbreviations. They appear in every English teaching material, even those by the best authors and publishers.
    Our point is that the environment you describe is completely artificial. Outside the closed hothouse world of the English learner, the abbreviations you are so fond of are completely alien. Read the rest of the thread.

    In these forums we are all expected to write using standard language forms - you should recognise that statement. It is very clear from the comments on this thread that those who are directly involved in the forum and in responding to the questions asked here find these particular abbreviations to be non-standard and unacceptable.
     
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