One of the problems with texting is the lack of a sarcasm signifier. Sarcasm does not translate well over text, even among friends who know each other well enough to read the messages in the voices of the senders. But when you spend enough time with someone in person, and get a sense of their personality, and they get a sense of yours, you can begin to communicate more easily in text, with the sarcasm understood either implicitly or by personalized indicators.

And I’ve found that this difficulty is not limited to texting. Email can also fall prey to the lack of a common shorthand of understanding. When my husband first began to engage in email with his sister, he used what has been his habitual indicator for an expression, which is to put stars around a word to indicate a feeling, e.g. *smile* or *wink*. She was really confused for the first couple of exchanges, but (I think) she caught on eventually.

Intentions are another thing that don’t translate well on typed text. Even in a hand-written letter, I’d be better able to convey some intentionality, some hint of personality, when I’m being ironic or hyperbolic or when I’m trying to be more serious or vulnerable. Face to face, of course, would be ideal, but it is not always possible to meet and thoroughly get to know someone before electronic correspondence commences.

Most of my work emails, for this reason, are extremely formal. There are a very few people that I communicate with by email or chat in a casual manner, when I’m at work. Otherwise, it is all about formal language, following the template offered by a technical communications class of making clear what it is I intend for the email to do. If I am presenting a series of choices, then bullet points will invariably make an appearance. If I am asking a question or making a request, then I will absolutely include the word “please.”

And if I’m not at work, then who knows what’s going to come out in an email! With the formality, I consider somewhat how the email will be received. If I know the person, but not well, then I would rather that they consider me stuffy than sloppy, thorough rather than difficult to understand. In personal correspondence, I tend to both over and under think my words. There is no template, no habit of phrases and usages, and, frankly, I just don’t have that much personal correspondence anymore. I am absolutely horrible about keeping up with anyone. Posting on Facebook is pretty much how I let family and friends know I’m still alive out here in Idaho.

It’s not that I don’t like them (most of them – let’s see, how to make that clearly a joking sort of reference? There’s the 😉 but that messes up with the parenthetical, so how about the *wink* but that might not translate well on a mobile device, so, there’s always jk, but I abhor shorthand that doesn’t stand for something in Latin…), it’s just that I have waited too long, and I no longer know how to start conversations with people I haven’t seen in years. Or it’s just that I’m pretty sure there are some people who are still mad at me for something, but I can’t remember what. Or I’m just not in the habit of writing correspondence anymore.

I’m going to write up a cheat sheet. It will be included as a signature in all my personal emails, just like my work email has a signature including my business information. It will contain such helpful hints as: 
  • Italics mean sarcasm. 
  • Bold means loud, but not yelling. 
  • All caps is yelling. 
  • ** around a verb is an expression that I am making. 
  • >< around an expression is hyperbole. 
  • <> around an expression is understatement. 
  • “” around a single word or short phrase, when an actual quote is not being made, indicate a word label that is not quite correct, but I don’t know a better way to phrase it.
  • !!!!! – An excess of exclamation marks means this email account has been hacked – unless they are in italics.

Then, when I’m completely misunderstood, I’ll just point to the documentation and ask why they didn’t read it (“Did you see the memo about this?” – just not the same written down!). Because that works so well at work…

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