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  • October 22, 2014

Word Play - Ladue News: Tangential Thinker

Word Play

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:44 am, Fri Jan 10, 2014.

Everything about modern living is efficiency- and comfort-focused. We went from starched collars and powdered wigs to three-piece suits and jeans and tees. As far as etiquette goes, there are certain formalities that seem to be standing the test of time. Please and Thank you seem to have marched into the information age unscathed. That being said, the rules applying to form of conveyance have relaxed considerably. Texting is de rigueur…for everything.

Forget about a thank-you note, you can text a break up, a condolence or an excuse: Sorry to miss the ceremony—car trouble. The beauty here is that there is no room to delve. How serious was the alleged car trouble? Was there car trouble at all? Texting was not created to encourage conversation or fuel debate. Message sent, end of discussion. I think we should see other ppl (sad face); or Can’t make it tonight, sorry; or I’m out for the Chi trip, you guys have fun. Now I will say the little qualifiers at the end of the text are meant to take the sting out of the message and are typically female add-ons. Regardless of a mitigating frowny face or half-hearted apology, texts tend to elicit a certain amount of hostility.

I have a friend who’s so enthusiastic in her texting I worry when the message is direct. I constantly fret when a text reply is one word: fine. What are they saying? Are they mad? If they really meant ‘fine,’ they would have said, That’s fine or Great. Even ‘OK’ is considered hostile. The non-aggressive alternative is ‘k’ or ‘kk.’ Capital letters are hostile and, because we tend to interpret things negatively, apparently so is a period.

Yes, a period is considered ‘angry texting.’ So, let’s take a step back for a moment and examine a seemingly innocuous exchange:

R you coming tonight?

Yes.

OK. 6?

Fine.

On the surface, what appears to be a relatively benign text stream between friends is actually fraught with latent menace. For starters, the query verb, ‘R’. Just ‘You coming tonight?’ is far less aggressive. The ‘R’ seems to imply the recipient of the text has been unreliable in the past: Are you coming tonight, as opposed to the last time when you didn’t show up. Next, there’s the question mark. Calm down. It’s not what you think. Unless you think it’s the text equivalent of flipping someone the bird. Then it’s exactly what you think. I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. I want to ask a question but a question mark conveys malice. The answer to asking the question is this: ??? Three question marks are playful and friendly, and a clear indication of the lighthearted discourse to ensue. No question mark is OK, too, but leaves room for confusion.

Moving on to the reply: ‘Yes.’ I’m sure the person initiating the text is thinking, Why not just throw a brick through my window? ‘Yes.’ Wow. Now there’s nothing to do about the initial cap. The iPhone capitalizes automatically and, well, making the adjustment is frankly too much work. The formal punctuated one-word reply—that’s bad. Any of the following are preferable and non-confrontational : ya, yep, yeah, yup, y.

What started as a simple Q&A has become a mine field of antagonism. Who knew such an efficient form of communication could create such blow back? Here’s a thought: Why don’t we have a conversation? It’s hard to misinterpret words as they are coming from someone’s mouth. If there’s hostility present, it’s there for a reason. Plus, when we talk to each other, there’s no punctuation. Period.

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