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The word “great,” abbreviated “gr8.” is part of a large number of Internet chat slang words that have been modified from regular English to fit new uses in new technologies. By abbreviating the word into a smaller set of characters, it becomes easier to type or input the text into a mobile device or through another similar interface.
The word gr8 is part of a more specific category of Internet chat slang words where a relatively short word becomes even shorter through this kind of alphanumeric substitution. It is interesting to look at these particular abbreviations in the context of modern technologies like mobile devices, text messaging platforms and Internet chat rooms.
The idea here is that the five-letter word “great” becomes a three-letter abbreviation. Other five-letter words are often treated the same way; for instance, later becomes “l8r.”
One of the first moves toward these kinds of abbreviations happened when the technology industry invented the first mobile devices that could send short text messages. These devices had a numeric keypad instead of the touchscreen keyboard that is now standard on modern smartphones, so users had to hit keys multiple times to produce one letter. It was easy to see how turning a five-letter word into a three-letter word would have a beneficial impact.
As technology advanced, these keypads were largely replaced by full keyboards on digital touchscreens. So now, there is not as much burden on users, but people still use the smaller abbreviated words to save time. Even though smartphones have modern digital keyboards, they can be tougher for people to type on than a full laptop or desktop computer keyboard, so abbreviating words and terms can still save a lot of effort.