Ben Zimmer of Visual Thesaurus has a post on some very early examples of what we think of as text-speak. He says that Allen Walker Read, in the course of his investigation of the origin of “OK,” proved that it “had emerged out of a kind of ‘abbreviation play’ that was popular in the U.S. in the 1830s — OK originally stood for ‘all correct’ intentionally misspelled as ‘oll korrect'”:
Even before KTJ of UTK (Katie Jay of Utica, or Uticay) came on the scene in the United States, England had LNG of Q (Ellen Gee of Kew) and MLE K of UL (Emily Kay of Ewell), who starred in two tragicomic verses published in 1828 in the London-based New Monthly Magazine. You can read “Dirge, to the Memory of Miss Ellen Gee of Kew” here, and “Elegy to the Memory of Miss Emily Kay (Cousin to Miss Ellen Gee of Kew)” here. These verses (the second one in particular) traveled far and wide, appearing in newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. They very well may have played a role in the American fad for silly abbreviations that gave rise to OK.
Zimmer reprints “Elegy to the Memory of Miss Emily Kay,” with a “decrypted and annotated rendering” which can be very useful (it’s not immediately obvious that “How soon so DR a creature may DK,/ And only leave behind XUVE!” means “How soon so dear a creature may decay,/ And only leave behind exuviae!”). And at the end he has a surprise:
But wait! Could this verse style have been an American invention after all? On the American Dialect Society mailing list, Joel S. Berson provides an example that uses many of the same types of abbreviation play, published in U.S. newspapers in 1813 — a full fifteen years before Miss LNG and Miss MLE K. The hunt continues…
The 1813 example begins “Come listen to my DT, all those that lovers B;/ Attune your hearts to PT, and read my LEG.”