Texting has taken over the world.
In fact, in 2021, mobile users in the United States sent about 2 trillion text messages.
It makes sense—texting is immediate, personal, quick, easy, and widely accessible. (According to Pew Research, 97% of Americans own a cell phone.)
But texting can be confusing, and miscommunication can run rampant if you’re not careful.
Whether validly or not, people sometimes overanalyze even the minute aspects of your texts, such as punctuation marks.
So it’s important to know the nuances of texting and how your communication is coming across to the people you’re trying to reach. (Especially if you’re a business wanting to reach and speak to customers or prospects.)
Plus, you want to be able to make sense of texting nuances when people are trying to communicate with you.
Let’s get into it then!
Some of this may seem obvious to some readers, but for others, it can be hard to keep up with all the different terms, expressions, slang, and lingo.
So here we’ll go over different questions you may have about a few different elements of “text speak,” so you can understand what things actually mean.
The infamous “…” (otherwise known as an ellipsis).
Despite being just a few periods on a screen, those 3 simple dots can pack a punch of implied or inferred meaning (sometimes unintentionally).
Generally speaking, when it comes to texting, the ellipsis means something is unfinished, left up in the air, or uncertain.
Consider the nuances of answering a question with “Yes” vs. answering a question with “Yes…”
The 1st (without any punctuation) comes across as a neutral answer to a question. But the 2nd comes across with more of an uncertainty attached to it—like there’s a reluctance or an unfinished thought.
In fact, that’s the word I’d use to sum up how the “…” can come across: unfinished. There’s something incomplete about the thought.
Sometimes this incompleteness is completed in the rest of the message. For example:
Yes… but I don’t think that’s the right direction to go.
In other cases, the incompleteness is just left, well, incomplete.
Now, of course, many of us are not overly analytical when it comes to these kinds of things, so we may not intend any of that. But some of us are, so it’s important to be aware of how you may be coming across.
In general, avoid the “…” unless you want to intentionally convey an idea of uncertainty or “unfinished business.”
Confused by some of the abbreviation slang you see in texting and social media?
Don’t be embarrassed.
There are so many texting abbreviations out there that no one can possibly know what they all mean.
Admittedly, some are pretty universal…
The meaning of others may be more elusive to some, particularly, if you’re not on social media or haven’t been on the texting bandwagon for very long…
When in doubt, you can always check out an online abbreviation library.
You may be surprised (or maybe not) to find that including a period at the end of your sentences can communicate subtle nuances in text messages.
(Yes, simply including proper punctuation can carry a tone you perhaps don’t mean to convey!)
It’s become conventional within text messages to not include a period at the end. So when you do include a period, it can come across as intentionally meaning to convey bluntness or even frustration.
Consider the difference between the following…
I thought you were going to the store
I thought you were going to the store.
Do you see how a simple period at the end contains a subtle shift in tone? It almost sounds more accusatory whereas the first comes across as more of a statement of fact.
Again, as the one sending the messages, you may have no intentions of your period coming across in any negative way. (You're just wanting to follow your grammar rules!)
And maybe people shouldn’t be so overly analytical.
But in general, it’s best to leave off the period at the end of your text messages, just so there’s no unneeded misunderstanding.
Have you ever seen ^^ in your text interactions?
What in the world does it mean?
^^ doesn’t actually seem to mean anything particular in and of itself, but when paired with certain other emoticon markings such as (^^) or ^^; it is meant to convey joyful eyes. The visual can be more clearly seen if you don’t put the 2 “^” signs right next to each other and include something in between that represents a mouth. For example:
So if you want to come across as “happy,” you could try adding some of those emoticon markings into your text message.
“\m/” is another emoticon you may see from time to time.
This one is meant to convey “rock on”—as in, the “horns, metal salute” sign.
Someone could use this to mean they’re really excited about something. Or someone could use this in the context of an actual rock concert!
We’ve talked about emoticons a little in the last couple of points, but let’s get into them a bit more.
Though emojis and GIFs are now the kings of the textual expression roost, emoticons are still a thing.
Remember when emoticons were popular? Before emojis existed, you weren’t able to put a cute smiley face like this 🙂—instead, you had to create the effect using punctuation marks like this :).
While :) is easy to figure out, below are some other popular emotions you can look out for (and maybe use yourself if the need arises).
Kaomoji is a style of emoticons affiliated with Japan. These emoticons are more elaborate than classic emoticons, using several textual characters to form visual elements similar to an emoji (which also originated in Japan).
Here are some examples:
Of course, classic emoticons are simpler:
You can also include the “nose” as a part of your emoticon:
You gotta love ‘em.
Everyone knows that with texting, it’s difficult to convey emotion. With in-person interaction, you can see someone’s facial expression. You can hear their tone of voice. You can see their body language.
With texting, on the other hand, all you have is a string of text content. (And, unlike email, it’s typically not very long either.)
That’s why people use emojis. People love emojis. (If I’m honest, I probably use them a bit too much!)
As mentioned, while early texting primarily used emoticons like :) to help convey tone and emotion, emojis stepped up and started dominating the scene long ago.
While the meaning of some emojis is obvious (for example, 🙂 or 🙁), the meaning of others can be a but more ambiguous.
That’s where a tool like Emojipedia can be helpful—it has an explanation for just about every emoji under the sun.
Here are some examples of a few of the more common ones:
When it comes to personal text messages, you’re probably safe using emojis in most contexts (though obviously there could be exceptions).
When it comes to the business world… it depends. According to one report by SurveyMonkey, younger professionals are more likely to be accepting of (and using) emojis in the workplace, while older professionals will generally find them inappropriate. And by the same report, many people across the board don’t find them appropriate to use with customers and prospects.
It really all comes down to knowing who it is you’re communicating with, so that you can make the best judgment call about how they will respond.
There’s your crash course on various texting idiosyncrasies!
Texting can sometimes seem a bit like programming code, but with practice, it’s not too hard to get the hang of it.
By decoding common texting lingo like "smh," "^^," ":/," and "\m/," you'll be better equipped to navigate the world of texting and stay connected with your friends, family, colleagues, and customers effectively.
…And you can always consult online resources if in doubt!
In sum, it’s best to:
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