In one of the opening episodes of the HBO series The Newsroom, a young intern is tasked with sending flowers to a staff member who recently lost a loved one. Her boss confronts her about the message she had included with the flowers: “So sorry for your loss. LOL????”
“I thought it meant ‘Lots of Love,'” the intern explains apologetically. Mind you, one would think a Millennial would be more well versed in the latest slang: textspeak. Since the invention of texting in the 1990s, the popularity of communicating by cellphone text has exploded. In fact, my kids will rarely answer if I call their cellphones. But they will answer right away if I text them. And no, they are not unable to speak because they are in the Situation Room dealing with a crisis in the Middle East.
Along with the convenience of texting came the inevitable abbreviations that make texting quicker – but also more confusing. I’ve had to ask people (mostly my kids) the meaning of such shorthand as “LMK,” “IDK,” and “SMH.” Textspeak has started to feel like a special lingo for the young – with nuances we old fogeys can barely grasp.
For instance, I was unaware that if a person texted me an invitation to do something and I simply responded, “Sure,” that would mean that I was only begrudgingly willing to do so. Similarly, in an attempt to seem cooler than I actually am, I once answered my daughter’s request with a simple “K” for “okay.” Little did I know that just typing “K” implied that I was mad at her. Ditto for using “…” as an ellipsis for one’s thoughts.
Who knew that simple abbreviations and punctuation use (or the lack thereof) could carry such emotional weight in communication? I find myself peppering my texts with hundreds of exclamation points like an overly peppy high school cheerleader passing notes in English class – rather than the sober-minded woman who qualifies for the senior citizen discount at the movie theater.
Emoji use is also fraught with the potential for misunderstandings. Is that a smile or a grimace on that round yellow face? Should I use this winking emoji, or will that come off as flirting? What if I accidentally select the vomiting or poop emoji and send it to a friend?
For millennia, the younger generation has found ways of separating itself from the older one. They develop unique tastes in music and fashion. And they create their own special language to bond with their tribe while remaining opaque to the elders they are leaving in the dust.
The problem is that we Baby Boomers still think of ourselves as the younger generation. We try to stay young with our skinny jeans and skinny lattes. And we will continue to butcher the new language of the young – textspeak – as long as we have the use of our opposable thumbs and our everlasting urge to be: