The Grammarphobia Blog

Textual criticism

Q: What’s the proper word for sending a text via the phone? The statement “he texted me” sounds funny. I usually say “he sent me a text message.” Can you clear this up?

A: As of now, the current editions of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) don’t recognize “text” as a verb. But I’ll bet it won’t be long before they do. [Note: See the update at the end of this post.]

The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, in their online draft additions to the dictionary, include “text” as a verb meaning to send a text message. The earliest citation is from an Internet newsgroup (alt.cellular.gsm) posting in 1998: “We still keep in touch…‘texting’ each other jokes, quotes, stories, questions, etc.”

Interestingly, the word “text” was used as a verb back in the 16th and 17th centuries. In those days it meant to write in text-hand (the large, formal handwriting used in books) or to cite texts. One of the earliest published references in the OED is from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: “Yea, and text underneath, ‘Here dwells Benedick the married man!’”

The expression “he was texting me” somehow sounds better to my ears than “he texted me,” but I’d hold off using “text” as a verb until it actually shows up in dictionaries or is more commonly used. Your best choice for now is to continue saying what you’re saying: “He sent me a text message.”

Update, July 8, 2013:

In the six years since this post was written, the verb “text” has become a household word, along with the past tense “texted.” The most recent editions of American Heritage and Merriam-Webster’s both recognize the verb.

American Heritage (5th ed.) has two definitions for the transitive use: “(1) To send a text message to: She texted me when she arrived at the airport. (2) To communicate by text message: He texted that he would be late.”

And AH has one definition for the intransitive use: “To key or send text messages: She was texting in class and missed what was said.”

The dictionary lists the past tense as “texted” and the present participle as “texting.”

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