Author: Jillian Broome
Nominator: Forest Stuart
Course: LING 1000 Language in U.S. Society, Fall 2021
Everybody says stupid things to their friends–things that only you and your friends can make sense of. To an outsider, it is nonsense. Among friends, it is founded in logic. All the images in this are screenshots of text conversations between myself and Farren Adler, a student at Oregon State University, and one of my closest friends. I was able to take note of a number of unique linguistic conventions that we had established, deliberately or not, in our conversations. I hope that by sharing these I can encourage others to look more closely at their own everyday conversations and maybe share a few jokes along the way.
The addition or substitution of the letter 'm' into words that do not contain it, particularly words describing the weather, is common, and despite this conversation occurring over text, I can assure that both of us are guilty of pronouncing this verbally. Pronouncing rainy as raym-nee /ɹeɪmni/ or windy as wim-dee /wɪmdi/ extends the time it takes to physically say the word and conveys a sense of tiredness and familiarity. In our context, this is used to indicate a general commentary rather than a serious discussion. Additionally, it is my fault that we discovered at least one rule to this insertion: attempting to add an 'm' to the word coffee (“comffee”) produces something very similar to the word comfy /kɑmfi/ and creates confusion requiring clarification. Thus, words subject to this insertion must not bear a resemblance to other, preexisting words.
The deletion of vowels, particularly long vowels, has an opposite effect in physically shortening the word. Changing scream to screm /skɹɛm/ makes it much more difficult to draw out the vowel, allowing it to come across cuter and less harsh by comparison.
Mc- is a morpheme exclusive to one particular setting thanks to the copyright McDonald's holds. In legal battles over this copyright, the morpheme was defined as "'basic, convenient, inexpensive, and standardized'" (Shuy, 2002, p. 98). For our purposes, Farren and I agreed that the addition of mc- to words in casual conversation is often not to change the meaning, but rather to improve the overall rhythm of the sentence, such as through consonance (mcfuckin'). In this regard, the definition of mc- as a morpheme to indicate convenience and standardization is rather fitting.
Tone tags are one of many examples of evolving internet language to cross the barriers of text-based conversation that prevent communicative clarity. However, while these are a widespread convention, indicators of tone can be extremely nuanced within a smaller circle. In these particular text conversations, ::) rather than :) began as a Halloween joke and came to be an indicator for degree of amusement:
The additional eyes indicate a longer pause, and, therefore, a sense of smugness in the above. In adopting this convention, both of us began to view a regular smiley face :) as short and clipped, and two sets of eyes became our standard practice ::).
While keysmashes are a standard convention in online communication, I personally struggle to make aesthetically pleasing keysmashes and often have to try multiple times:
As a result of adopting this and using agatha as a standard indication of amusement, the use of a "proper" keysmash now indicates a higher degree of amusement as it takes more effort to type out.
Across all of these conversational conventions, there is perhaps one that has most affected the daily lives of myself and Farren. If somebody were to ask "How are you?," most people would reply with a common courtesy response of "fine" or "good," as these are generally expected responses; for Farren and I, "fine" and "good" are not our default responses:
Used almost exclusively in an ironic manner, and with long forgotten origins, "thriving" is our automatic response–ingrained in our common speech to the point that we use it with people who do not understand it as a joke and, therefore, assume it to be genuine. This has led to more than one harried explanation.
The conversations that I have with my friend are the result of a cumulative seven years of inside jokes. Without the context built over that time, they become incredibly warped to outsiders. For Farren and I, they are intrinsic to how we speak. However, this type of language manipulation among close groups is not exclusive to me, nor to my friends. That "all living languages change is not a matter of faith or opinion or aesthetics, but observable fact" (Lippi-Green, 2012, p. 7). The examples above only scratch the surface of how I communicate with my friend, but by revealing these conversations, I hope that others can gain a different understanding of how they speak to one another every single day and the nuance that lies beneath the words.
Header image credit to Farren Adler and Jillian Broome
IPA chart with sounds. (2022). International Phonetic Alphabet. https://www.internationalphoneticalphabet.org/ipa-sounds/ipa-chart-with-...
Lippi-Green, R. (2012). English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Sacks, H. (1984). On doing "being ordinary".
Shuy, R. (2002). Linguistic battles in trademark disputes, 95-109. Palgrave MacMillan. http://www.rogershuy.com/pdf/McDonald%27s%20case%20chap.pdf
ToPhonetics. (2022). https://tophonetics.com/