MAGNIFY Magazine | Digital Dialects: the language of love
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Digital Dialects: the language of love

‘Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.’ F Scott Fitzgerald.

If only such instructions were so easy to obey. We know it’s a bit goofy, but if it makes the message less stark, less intense, why not? Writing a speculative application, asking a favour, or most excruciatingly, trying to move a relationship out of the friend-zone sometimes requires an exclamation mark to lighten the tone.  And why stop at one? You get over-excited, you press send too soon and realise you’ve overstepped the mark between friendly and too keen. Writing a simple text message to organise a date becomes a minefield of possible readings that could challenge the most complex literary texts. Why don’t they teach this in grammar lessons at school?  You should have listened to Fitzgerald. He knows a thing or two about romantic tragedies, about words and love.

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, here are five ways that punctuation can make or break your love life:

1. Everything in moderation.

Fitzgerald was a little harsh on the poor little exclamation mark. Surely a simple ‘Hey!’ is fine if you don’t want to sound like an ice queen? But then if it becomes ‘Hey! How’s it going? Let’s hang out soon!!’ it starts to get a little less clear, a little shrill even. And I suppose it’s best not to concentrate them after one word. ‘Hey!!!’ is simply terrifying, like being woken up by a troupe of rabbits on pogo sticks. Calm down. You wouldn’t scream your way through a date, and there won’t be a date if you do so by text.

2. Maintain natural facial expressions. : ) vs ; )

Emoticons, smilies, emojis: they’re not for everyone, but they serve a purpose. In the real world a smile is a natural way of showing pleasure, but flash too many on screen and they take on the role of a nervous laugh.

If, unlike me, you are gifted enough to perform this nimble flick of the eye, a wink tells a person you are pretty interested.  When it comes across the bar from a complete stranger, it is therefore pretty sleazy. Online, it is often the equivalent of saying ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge.’ I have to admit I am guilty of using both of these digital hieroglyphs at times, but never simultaneously, as I fear I’ll come across like a Cheshire cat with a twitch.

3. Ask the right sort of questions.

‘Hey, did you watch the last episode of GIRLS?’ is a question you could ask anyone. It doesn’t really scream fireworks and passion. Nor does, ‘Hey, did you watch the last episode of GIRLS!?’ but at least it invites a reaction. Perhaps if Fitzgerald were alive today, he’d add a caveat and say exclamation marks provide an excellent way to enhance a mundane question and inject some life into small talk.

4. Soften it with a ‘x.’

By text, we’re all pretty European in our greetings, handing kisses out more freely than we do in the flesh. Kisses are nice and gentle, except when autocorrect makes the use of a full stop at the end of a text difficult: ‘See you soon. x’ sends as ‘See you soon. X’, which always looks more aggressive than intended, like crossing two fingers to stave off danger.

5. Leave it unsaid

Three dots that say ‘to be continued.’ Naturally suggestive, ellipses are coy and beguiling. They allow the other person to fill in the gaps. They are enchanting… Except when used too heavily when they start to acquire a sinister edge… like a smile held for a few moments too long…

The worst thing about these little dots is that they are ready to expose us at any minute. Now, it’s no longer a secret that we spend so long composing our messages. With a sneaky ‘…’ Facebook, iMessage, Skype and What’s App can assure the recipient that we’re still typing even though it’s been half an hour and they’re still waiting…

Why has it taken three days to reply? All they asked was ‘How are you?’ It’s impossible to win. The only way out is to stop over-thinking and simply speak. Perhaps that’s why technology will never make up for real human contact.

Unless you’re this guy.

Written by Yosola Olorunshola