New York Times report on Aaron Hernandez opens window into this moment in texting

I apologize for writing about him for the fourth time, but I obviously find the Aaron Hernandez saga fascinating, so please bear with me. The New York Times published an article earlier this evening detailing a big chunk of the evidence compiled against the former Patriots TE. Not having taken Evidence, I have no real interest in evaluating the merits of the case. Instead, I want to talk about a cultural milestone buried in the article:

The police report said that Hernandez first texted Lloyd at 9:05 p.m. Perhaps referring to Hernandez’s rented Chevy Suburban that Lloyd was seen driving near his home a day earlier, the text read, “I’m coming to grab that tonight u gon b around I need dat and we could step for a little again.”

At 10 p.m., Lloyd texted to Hernandez, “Aite idk anything goin on.”

Aite is slang for “all right” and idk is an acronym for “I don’t know.”

Henandez replied, “I’ll figure it out ill hit u on the way.”

Police said Lloyd’s final text to Hernandez was at 12:22 a.m., “We still on.”

I remember when certain adult relatives who shall remain nameless began texting — you probably do too. It was, predictably, a mess: Mangled words here. Extra spaces there. Numbers thrown in seemingly for variety. And since this was back in the era of T-9, a rash of word choice that just plain made no sense. (I learned to start typing the out-of-place words myself in an effort to see what T-9 might have overwritten.) Receiving such texts was one big exercise in damnyouautocorrect before there was anything called autocorrect — or “iPhone” — but with all the typing done by raccoons.

And those were just some issues with sending. On the receiving end, my dear relatives shared a seeming inability to decipher basic chatspeak — “words” like “u” and “r” would often be met with “?”. ttyl? No chance. But while it was tempting to pick on those beloved family members and suggest their struggles were the consequence of advancing age, a funny thing happened: they learned. As time went on, the list of words and acronyms they needed help with slowly dwindled. I clearly remember the first time one of them send me a text substituting “u” for “you”. And just five days ago, another one learned that “ftr” means for the record.

And so it seems the New York Times noticed that progress. Words the copy editors thought would need translation: Aite and idk. More importantly, words the editors didn’t think begged explanation: gon, b, dat, step, goin. If you were looking to locate texting in popular culture, here was evidence that we collectively stand somewhere between “gon” and “aite”. And, it should be noted, the Times average readership is relatively young: the Pew survey I just cited — which examined 24 news sources — ranked the youthfulness of audience as follows: Colbert Report, Daily Show, New York Times, twenty-one others. If you have trouble counting, that puts it at #3 overall, and #1 among actual news outlets.

Hell, I don’t even know what step means in this context (and that makes me worry I’m getting old). “Step” out? Dance? Something tells me that’s not it, though “dance” would jive with my favorite theory so far:

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