What: “why typing like this is sometimes okay,” a fascinating examination of how digital communication has evolved language.
Who: Ever-curious, popular YouTube explainer guy Tom Scott.
Why we care: I can’t remember when it started, but at some point I internalized the idea that not including an exclamation point at the end of certain text messages meant that you’re mad at someone. It was possibly the first time my wife asked “Are you mad at me?” when I responded to a request with an apparently unemphatic “Okay.” Now I fling those exclamation marks around with abandon to let everybody know that not only will I meet them at Sweetgreen at 1:30 p.m., I am friggin’ stoked about it. Somehow, I never really examined this tendency of mine and likely many other people, or what it might mean, at least not until I watched “why typing like this is sometimes okay.”
The latest entry in YouTuber Tom Scott’s The Language Files series, his first in four years, takes a look at the nuances in digital communication and how they’ve widely come to be accepted as the norm. Scott starts off by explaining that while capitalization can help make paragraphs easier to read, it doesn’t serve the same function in digital messaging, a medium made for brevity. While it’s long been established that all-caps conveys shouting, less has been said about what all-lower-case is supposed to mean. According to Scott, it can either communicate a laid-back attitude or deadpan humor, but it’s not a matter of laziness, since it actually takes work to do all lower case.
“In fact, the rise of deliberate lowercasing for stylistic effect coincides with the rise of auto-capitalization on smartphones,” Scott says.
Elsewhere in the video, he looks into why we repeat characters in texts (e.g., “hiiii”), why we use question marks not to ask questions but to express uncertainty, and why we deliberately avoid question marks to denote rhetorical questions. All in all, it’s a convincing case that there’s a lot more nuance in how and why we infuse tone into digital communication than most people mocking millennials might have ever considered.
Watch the full video below.