April 19, 2016

SUSSER | Texting Etiquette

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 The English language is brimming with obscure and unique grammar rules. It can be confusing to decide when and where to use a comma, whether to use an em dash or parenthesis — I always opt for the em dash — or even when a sentence is beginning to run-on. Having students learn to write in a concise, grammatically correct manner is clearly a priority for Cornell; we all plodded through two semesters of burdensome, time-consuming writing seminars as freshmen, or, like Intro to Bowling, possibly put it off until senior year. But within the texting universe, it seems like there is an unspoken etiquette. That is not to say that each “texter” doesn’t havetheir own unique, idiosyncratic set of tendencies, which can ultimately be reflective of their personality (or how they want others to perceive them).

Texting is a dynamic, evolving form of communication. When looking at the evolution of the modern text, the instant messenger was a major predecessor for our generation. As impressionable middle schoolers, AIM introduced us to this shorthand and all the unique abbreviations that accompany it. While we may not be informing others that we are “jc’ing,” we certainly have such shallow conversations within our subconscious when communicating through text. Some shortcuts now seem immature and nonsensical. I can’t think of a good reason why a person would replace “cool” with “kool,” other than some weird proclivity for the letter k, or if they feel strongly that misspelling is a “cool” thing to do. But “lol” is still very much thriving — as a nice lighthearted pause within the text — as is “omg”, which I would say has, and always will be a more feminine style acronym. But proceed with caution. An overuse of “lol,” “lmao” or “omg” can be interpreted as a sign of immaturity.

Like fine wine, the maturation process generates some complexity. The older we get, the more exposure we get to varied styles of text, or interpretations of how exactly an “adult” should text. The wake of the acronym/AIM culture left an obscure and imprecise set of rules for the tech-savvy millennial. When to opt for informalities is now a matter of personal preference, even within emails. Prior to the rise of the computer, written communication was simple. Send a letter, write it in English and sign your name.

Now, everyone has their own go-to emojis and gifs to garnish a conversation. Exclamation points, while historically a matter of contention — Elaine breaks up with a boyfriend in Seinfeld for not using an exclamation point when relaying a message about a birth — can easily be replaced by emojis to specify the specific emotion one wants to convey. In short, there’s a lot of choices to make and a lot of opportunity to scrutinize. Do you capitalize proper nouns or “I”? Oftentimes, that seems to be overly formal. When it comes to formality though, semicolons take the cake. I barely even know how to use semicolons in an academic setting. When someone sends me a semicolon through text, I’m usually baffled and try to use it as an impromptu lesson on its appropriate usage. There isn’t any shortage of ways to convey a message to someone, so, to me, using a semicolon is like going to Dunbar’s (RIP) in a tuxedo. It’s just not the time or place.

Where does that leave us in terms of ability to write in a formal manner? There have been some studies on the influence of texting and it seems relatively inconclusive. Some feel that texting is closer, in practice, to talking rather than writing. Its instantaneous nature generates quick exchanges akin to a normal conversation, as opposed to the meditative and formal act of writing. Others are concerned that school age kids will no longer be able to distinguish computer-mediated conversation from formal English, and increasingly incorporate such grammatical tendencies in their school assignments. But I tend to think that with computers there will never again be a truly standardized method to such communication. We must grapple with such shortfalls and embrace our unique texting personalities.   

Philip Susser is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at pss226@cornell.edu. An Ithaca State of Mind appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester.

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