All the excitement of instant messaging is subsumed under this rather ugly and misleading little Anglicism. The woeful Duden Fremdwörterbuch (8th edition) offers this inadequate definition: über Tastatur u. Bildschirm elektronisch im Internet kommunizieren. Perhaps dictionary makers do not go online.

Internet chat began as a service called Internet Relay Chat, abbreviated to IRC, and its common current incarnations include Windows Live Messenger and Skype Chat.

Whereas naked chat in English in ambiguous - it could mean any kind of casual conversation in a real or virtual space - there is no ambiguity about chatten, which is online, text-based and synchronous, and does not include non-synchronous E-mail, mailing lists or online form filling. In this sense, chatten should be seen as an abbreviation of a longer, compound expression in English (online chat or internet chat). Failing to restore the compound form where the context requires is a pitfall in German-English translation.

The Duden has not only netted chatten, but also der Chat, die Chatgroup, die Chatline, der Chatroom, der Chatter and die Chatterin. Unaccountably (it puzzles native speakers too), the Duden offers a different vowel for der Chat from that prescribed in the other words.

Personally, I find this word ugly and weak in German. It doesn't sound funny or cocksure, as it does in English. Sometimes people move house to a wrong neighbourhood that does not suit them, and chatten does not sound at home in German. Its first consonant does not fit the German flow and the word is too short and indistinct for its new neighbourhood.

Chatten is spelled with a double -t- and inflected, and its derivatives agglomerate into larger words.

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