lifestyle

Why are grown women typing like thiiiiiiiiiiiiis?

by KAHLA PRESTON

Over the past few years, something peculiar has happened to the English language.

People everywhere have released themselves from a very strict alphabet diet and are now bingeing on vowels and consonants at every opportunity. Take one look at the Facebook profile or text messages of anybody under 25 – admittedly it’s women and girls – and you’ll see them peppered with phrases like “I loveee youuu” and “Omggg that’s amazinggg”.

Huh?

When I was a teenager, abbreviating words to within an inch of their life was all the rage – giving rise to phrases like “cya l8r” and “lol”. These days, it’s all about lengtheningggg and stretchinggg words, emoticons and even acronyms. It’s like typographic Pilates.

But it’s not only teenager girls getting in on the act – weirdly, this style has also trickled into the texts and emails of fully-grown, functional adult women. Sometimes even in professional contexts. Where once signing off an email or text with “thanks” was sufficiently cordial, it now looks cold compared to “thaaanks”.

Linguist Michael Erard told The Atlantic that word lengthening, also referred to as expressive lengthening, stems from a desire to incorporate verbal speech in digital communication. “When people talk, they use intonation in a number of varied and subtle ways … There’s a lot of emotional nuance that can be conveyed that you can’t do in writing.”

Studies of text communication also links the use of word lengtheners to vocal fry – a linguistic habit of dragging words out in the back of one’s throat, a common tic among young women Zooey Deschanel’s slight drawl? That’s vocal fry.

This slightly crass guide might help you decipher that text you just received.

Word lengthening is by no means a new concept, but it’s certainly more present now than ever before (and arguably is used far, far too often).

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Grammar nerds are probably recoiling in horror right now. Don’t worry, I am too. But it seems this style is here to stay, so it’s worth trying to understand how and why it’s used.

According to Maureen O’Connor at The Cut there are five main types of keystroke repetition, each with different nuances attached to them:

1.  The Kindness of Word-Stretchers

Perhaps because it is associated with young women — or perhaps because it is playful — word elongation disarms.

This makes it ideal for asking a favour, demanding something or pointing out a contrary point of view. “Wellll… I disagree” reads as far less aggressive than “Well I disagree”, even if the latter is not intended in a combative way.

2. The Passive-Aggressive Repeat
Politeness, like nutmeg, is toxic in large doses. A few extra As in “thaaanks” is polite, but too many in the wrong context suggests sarcasm.

This works especially well when paired with ellipses. “Riiiiight…” or “Okayyy then…” is the written equivalent of raised eyebrows or a sarcastic affirmation.

3. The Iterative Intensifier
How do you scream on the Internet? WITH CAPS LOCK is one option. Keystroke repetition is another.

A well placed “whaaattt?” or “amazingggg” turns even the simplest story into a dramatic saga. No wonder teenagers love it, right?

4. The Sexiness of Length
[L]etter replication is sexy. This is mostly because of the association with drunk people.

Think about it – if you were going to attempt seduction by text, you’d be more likely to open with “Heyyyy” rather than a polite “Hi there”. Unless you were English, in which case you would probably pull it off. (See: Hugh Grant)

The final reason? It’s just a little bit fun. It’s silly and often nonsensical and completely unnecessary, but a few extra letters here and there can jazz up an otherwise bland block of text.

While seeing “Omgggg” splattered all over Facebook statuses makes me cringe inwardly (lengthening an acronym makes NO SENSE, people), I’m guilty of the odd “eeeep!” or “huzzaaaah!” every now and then. Even grammar nerds need a bit of fun, after all.

Do you ever write liiike thisss? Is word lengthening only appropriate in friend-to-friend communication?

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