The text message celebrates its birthday - Business Works
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The text message celebrates its birthday

Nick Parker, Creative Director, The Writer The text message is 20 years old this week: happy birthday the text! To celebrate, Nick Parker, Creative Director at The Writer, offers you a selection box of text-related facts, fictions and opinions to pick and chew on.

Here at The Writer, we find few things more tedious than listening to people mithering about how texting and twitter are destroying the English language (and tearing apart the fabric of society along the way). I am going to discuss why texting is actually good for language.

We love the text. We love it so much, we get people in our workshops to rewrite entire reports in text message form. We do it because we think writing constraints almost always lead to good things and the traditional 160-character limit of the text message is no exception. Texts, tweets, haikus: they all force you to get to the point quickly and say only what you need to say. The language we use in texts is almost always going to be natural and conversational, using everyday words and phrases.

And if you combine clear, everyday language with getting to the point quickly youve got the basis for effective writing.

When did they go from being called SMS to text messages?

Theres a story possibly apocryphal that text usage exploded in this country the moment Orange stopped calling them 'SMS' and started calling them 'texts'. Why? Because 'SMS' is cold and technical it doesnt mean anything to you unless you know what it stands for. Whereas 'text message' is clear and descriptive.

The Cupertino effect

Office workers across the country are familiar with the time-stealing effects of websites like, which collate the silliest predictive text suggestions around.

But theres a name for when your phone corrects what youre saying to something funny or inappropriate: its called the Cupertino effect, thus named because early versions of Microsoft Word would automatically correct the word 'cooperation' (with no hyphen) to Cupertino, the Californian city where Apple has its headquarters.

And some text message facts

  • The first text was sent on 3 December 1992 by Neil Papworth, who wished Richard Jarvis, a colleague at Vodafone, 'Merry Christmas' via an SMS sent from a computer
  • The commercial launch of SMS was not until 1995
  • The first recorded monthly text message total was 5.4 million in April 1998
  • Today it is estimated that around 7 trillion text messages are sent every year which amounts to more than 200,000 per second
  • Amongst the most prolific texters are US teenagers, who send an average of 60 texts a day, according to the Pew Research Centre
  • Unsolicited texts telling you to claim for mis-sold PPI insurance are now considered the number one minor irritant by 75% of the adult UK population. (We made this one up.)

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