The art of decoding a text

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Photo by Veronica Belmont.

The English language is a cruel, cruel beast. Steeped in metaphor and riddled with idioms, it can sometimes be an excruciating task to choose so much as a greeting to use. People will look at your “hey” and wonder to themselves why you didn’t choose “hello” or “yo” or some other word to express the beginning of an interaction. And, while I can only speak for myself, sometimes you fall victim to this practice too. A seemingly innocuous statement of “it’d be nice to see you” recently sent me into full-on detective mode, questioning every single angle implied by wanting to see me. It’s tricky.  But there are some ways you can avoid worrying too much about what’s been said.

First up, everyone speaks in their own way. You and your best friends may share certain words and phrases, but they might not be as prone to calling things “boss” as you are. A person’s idiolect, as it’s called, is a beautiful thing, and before you can work out the subtle nuances of their messages to you, you have to work out how they talk to everyone in general. So don’t fly off the handle if they only use two “x”s when you use three; it’s just how they are.

That said, should the number of “x”s suddenly change, then you might need to start worrying. A decline of three kisses to one is evidence that you’ve done something wrong, while a sharp increase in kisses could mean anything. Maybe they’ve got a guilty conscience? Or maybe they really do just miss you as much as they say? Either way, further investigation may be required. No kisses at all is a tricky one; either something’s really up or they’ve just forgotten to include them. I have fallen foul to this numerous times, which is why I don’t bother with kisses anymore; it saves a lot of credit not having to send a separate kisses-only text.

Punctuation is another key area to look at when you’re eyeing up texts suspiciously. The full stop, for example, has taken on a terrifying new purpose in the digital age. Since a lot of people now don’t bother with them, anyone who does use them suddenly comes across as serious and maybe angry. Compare “I’m at the park!” with “I’m at the park.” The former implies frolics, but the latter is probably going to lead to one hell of a falling out. Question marks are usually fairly straightforward, but when you’re presented with two or more of them, such as in “what??”, the mood shifts dramatically. If a smiley face follows it, then it’s excitement. If not, then you’re probably about to argue. Either way, the next time you speak could get interesting.

At the end of the day, though, if I were to offer one tip to follow above all the others, it’s this: communicate. If you don’t understand what a person is trying to say, ask for clarification. Don’t sit in your room fretting because the person you like has used a comma in place of a full stop or something equally small and probably meaningless. Nuance and subtlety is a great linguistic resource for everyone, but there are times when you just need to swallow your pride and be upfront about it. Either that, or throw too many kisses and question marks into your next text and freak them out. It’s so easy to mess with people with only a few grammatical changes.