A male friend with a new job in a mostly female workplace confessed a problem: “My co-workers think I’m rude in e-mails. They say I’m short with them.” He then showed me a one-word e-mail: “Thanks.” He was literally being short with them. “Add vowels,” I instructed, drawing from a vast knowledge of girls-night-out e-mail chains. Thaaanks! The extra letters acknowledge that, though his message only requires six letters, his care is worth at least eight. Short utterances can look lonely on a big, blank screen; extra letters fill the void and sound friendlier in your head.
Female “word elongation” is the topic of an Atlantic article and an academic study this week. “When people talk, they use intonation in a number of varied and subtle ways,” a linguist told the Atlantic’s Jen Doll. “There’s a lot of emotional nuance that can be conveyed that you can’t do in writing.” Accordingly, I have identified five types of keystroke repetition, and the emotionally nuanced variations therein.
1. The Kindness of Word-Stretchers
Perhaps because it is associated with young women — or perhaps because it is playful — word elongation disarms. Thus, when asking a favor or making a demand, extra letters soften the blow. “I reeeally need that memo by 2 p.m., can you skip lunch?”
Subcategories: Apologetic Os (soooo sorry); Pleading Es (pleeeease); Reluctant interruptions (buuut, wellll).
2. The Passive-Aggressive Repeat
Politeness, like nutmeg, is toxic in large doses. A few extra As in “thaaanks” is polite, but too many in the wrong context suggests sarcasm. Cruel word-elongaters take advantage of this principle, often pairing passive-aggressive word elongation with bemused punctuation repetition. “You gave me hand sanitizer for Valentine’s Day? Thankss …”
Subcategories: Sarcastic affirmation (riiiight); Means-the-opposite vowels (sorryyy, well excuuuuse me).
3. The Iterative Intensifier
How do you scream on the Internet? WITH CAPS LOCK is one option. Keystroke repetition is another. In the example of my male friend’s work e-mails, “Thaaanks!” replaces “Thanks so much.” Extra vowels replace intensifiers like “very.”
Subcategories: Baleful Os (nooo); Hyperbolic disbelief (whaaat); Keening (waaahhh).
4. The Sexiness of Length
As illustrated in the endlessly reblogged chart above, letter replication is sexy. This is mostly because of the association with drunk people. (Though drunkenness is not actually sexy, drunks are known to vocalize and act on sexual desires, creating halo-effect sexiness for their booty-call texting patterns.) At the end of a word, letter repetition suggests seductive murmuring or vocal-fried Britney Spears voice.
Subcategories: Booty-call drawl (heyyyy); Seductive sing-song (can’t wait for tonightttt); Cybersex utterances (oh ohh fuuck ohhh OH GODDD YYYES).
5. The Playfulness of Repetition
Like clapping hands, banging “Chopsticks” on a piano, and turning people’s names into songs (Stella Stella Bo Bella Banana Fanna Fo Fella), keystroke repetition is fun. Holding down shift+1 and watching your screen fill with !!!!!!!!!!!!! is simply satisfying. It’s the repetitive joy of popping bubble wrap, the glee of shouting, and the spatial luxury of lying across two seats on an airplane just because you can.
Subcategories: Gleeful Es (wheeeee); Celebratory vowels (yayyyyy); Nonsense emoticon intensifiers ( :-((((( ).