OMG. Hieroglyphic text-speak is slipping into homework.

A national look at middle- and high-schoolers found that two-thirds of students have accidentally used instant-messaging style in their academic work, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

A quarter admitted they have used smiley faces and other emoticons in their papers. Half confessed to informal punctuation and grammar, and four in 10 take typing shortcuts such as "LOL" to express "laughing out loud."

Can NE1 say "Big fat F"?

"Now the teachable moment for parents and teachers is to talk about what makes informal writing and what makes formal writing - and what's appropriate in each of those spheres," said Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at the Pew project.

Lenhart said she "isn't worried" about this generation. "This is what I would term a new slang," she said. "We've always had slang. This is different only in that the language comes out of text instead of spoken language, which is how most of our slang has emerged in the past."

The findings don't surprise local students and teachers, who say that instant messaging has become the primary form of communication for a generation weaned on BlackBerry and Motorola Razr phones. They often don't realize what comes out when they let their fingers do the talking.

"I'll forget I'm writing a formal paper. I'll replace 'for' with the number 4," said Vivek Musinipally, a senior at San Jose's Leland High School who is bound for the University of California-Berkeley. "It'll just come out by itself without me thinking about it. But when I proofread, I laugh when I see it."

Yet the trend toward more casual writing in what should be serious academic missives doesn't exactly have parents or teachers ROTFL - rolling on the floor laughing.

In the new Pew report, in which 700 teens and their parents were interviewed, the majority of the adults said writing skills are more important now than they were a generation ago.

But many students don't double-check their writing. Others do not see any problem with the phrases that they IM every day.

Teachers are less than thrilled.

Michelle Balmeo, the journalism adviser at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, said her students - primarily juniors - have had it ingrained in them not to use acronyms in their formal papers. But their e-mails to her are usually loaded with slang.

"I've gotten e-mail from kids where I'm like: I have no idea what that kid just said," she said. When one included the term IMO, or "in my opinion" in a message, she thought the student was referring to emo - a genre of rock 'n' roll popular with teens.

Brian Barr, an English instructor at California High School in San Ramon, got fed up with terms like "BC" or "because" popping up in student papers. "It's laziness," he said.

So he pinned a large poster to his classroom wall that reads "No fast-food English" and points out phrases that are unacceptable in school papers. Things like 4, 2, &, R, U, but also non-words or bad words like "sucks" and "wanna."

"That's not really IMing," Barr said, "that's just bad English."


Contact Julie Sevrens Lyons at jlyons@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5989.