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3rd Oct 2018

The Loaded ‘K’ - Decoding the Intentions Behind Texting



One letter. Perhaps a loaded meaning?

When texting first came about, receiving a text message containing just this letter might not have meant much to you. You likely understood that this was a shortened version of “OK,” and didn’t think much more about it. This was especially true when texting had to be done by tapping out each letter individually using the number pad; abbreviations were to be expected.

But today, this text of just one letter can have many meanings. And it seems that most of us see those meanings as negative.

According to the first page of Google results about ‘texting K’, society views receiving this message as akin to a one-letter insult. It’s seen as something that we send when we’re mad, frustrated, or otherwise want to put an end to a conversation. “K” is rude, dismissive, or cold. While some of us might still view “K” unattached to a nefarious meaning, it appears that the vast majority of us are well aware of its reputation.

Has it become common knowledge that “K” is laden with subtext? Does a response of “K”---despite its lack of containing actual words---send a very clear message indeed?

How Did We Come to K?

There’s little doubt that our communication style has changed over the past couple of decades. The Internet has had a tremendous impact on language, from creating new words to turning our common language into shorthand and acronyms (LOL, WTG, TTYL, GTG, just to name a few).

Texting and instant messaging have eliminated the need for some words and phrases entirely, and many keyboards even supply our ideas for us, offering possible next words for our sentences using predictive text. This is helpful and efficient, yes, but does it cause us to put less thought into the words we’re using? By suggesting what word to use next, are our phones are subtly guiding our thought? It might be a stretch to say that our phones are affecting our agency when it comes to language, but these devices, without a doubt, do have an odd power over us.

In fact, our entire systems of communicating have been altered because of constant connections, causing our face-to-face interactions to suffer. We’ve all been at a restaurant where we’ve seen whole tables silently staring at their phones. Maybe we’ve even been one of the guilty parties. While this may be less common with the older generations, more accustomed to a lively conversation culture at mealtimes, there’s no doubt that we collectively suffer from various levels of device addiction and it’s impacting our interpersonal relationships.

Does this mean that young people aren’t learning to socialise as well as they did in the past? Are social cues and manners being missed out on because of our digital culture? What about social skills and emotional intelligence?

Some psychology experts say that yes, texting culture can be problematic, citing the younger generations’ reluctance to make phone calls as well as their discomfort with in-person interactions. It’s possible that texting as our primary communication medium could be failing to teach kids how to interact fully in society, lowering their self-confidence, self-sufficiency, and their ability to deal with conflicts.

Even if an individual is not one to shy away from conflict, handling the conflict over text messaging can be a poor approach. The lack of body language and other cues can lengthen the duration of the disagreement, and can also result in each person not being able to fully and accurately express themselves. Some of us, after all, aren’t great at writing. Text arguing is also unlikely to lead to a satisfactory resolution.

So where does “K” come into the picture? It’s possible that sending this single letter, perhaps with an adamantly placed full stop next to it, is responsible for starting your last argument. Whether or not that’s true, it’s apparent that the letter “K” can tell us a lot about the state of our communication in the digital era.

Has all of our time spent communicating through text lead to this pessimistic interpretation of “K”? The shortening of our words and sentences; the absence of context and social cues. Somehow, the common consensus has become that this one-letter text has an unsavoury motivation behind it. Despite the fact that we’ve accepted the changing nature of language and the introduction of shorthands to our conversations, perhaps we still recognise that a lack of communication can seem cold.

Because that’s what the issue with “K” is all about, isn’t it? It’s not what’s being said, but what’s not being said that bothers us. By responding with only one letter, our texting buddy isn’t giving us much to work with, and that can say it all. It’s like the digital version of the silent treatment.

The Social Norms of Texting

If texting is the norm, we should embrace it, and we certainly seem to have done so.

But because we’ve turned to texting as our primary means of communication (77% of 18-22 year olds say they prefer to communicate via text) it means that we’re going to have to step up our game accordingly. Texting suddenly becomes more serious and more important. If you’re not going to be doing most of your conversing face-to-face, texting has to become a satisfactory alternative. It’s got to serve as a substitute for verbal cues, body language, tone of voice, and more. Interestingly, it may never come close, try as we might.

Professor Albert Mehrabian shared that we communicate on different levels: 58% is accomplished via body language, 35% through our vocal pitch, emphasis, and tone, and just 7% by the words of the message. If we’re relying on text messages to be our main method of communication, we’re likely doing ourselves a great disservice, and certainly opening our conversations up to quarrels and misunderstandings.

By putting so much attention on text, we naturally have to place our energies there as well. This means that we’re learning about how to text properly. In the words of this article: “good texting is all about showing effort.” So we have to become good texters. This means going beyond “K” in our replies. But it means more than that. First, let’s talk about how to deal with the text messages we receive.

How Do We Learn to Decode Texts?

It’s important to know what is genuinely expected when texting. An actual texting etiquette has grown around the phenomenon of text messaging, and being at least a bit knowledgeable of this can be helpful when navigating this communication method.

This can show you, for instance, that “K” is commonly regarded in an unfavourable light. Or it might help you avoid using WTF in the wrong context.

But no matter what the popular understandings are of ‘text speak’ the only way to really know what someone means through their text is to ask them. When in doubt, ask for clarification.

Barring a straightforward query, here are a few other ways you can feel more confident in decoding your text messages.

Discovering someone’s text patterns

We all have patterns. Deviations from these patterns can signal that something is amiss, though it also can be a one-off incident. For example, some people are heavy users of Emojis in their text conversations. Emojis are a great way to add an emotional context to a text. They can show genuine amusement 😂, indicate anger 😡, or help enhance a romantic message to your significant other ❤️😘. When this person suddenly has an absence of emojis, you’re likely to notice, and it’s possible that this could mean something is wrong.

Frequent texting with friends and family tends to reveal their common patterns. This is very important in helping you know what to expect. You’ll start to learn the subtleties of the way they communicate with you and this will help permeate your conversations with more genuine meaning and connection.

Recognise that not everything has a ‘deeper meaning’

Sometimes we assume that dialogue always has an underlying meaning, but often this isn’t the case. Plus, we are likely to add our own perspectives and unconscious biases to the messages we receive as well. This means that we imbue words with a ‘hidden’ meaning that may or not be there.

It can be helpful when in doubt, to take words at face value. Sometimes ‘K’ really does mean “Okay.”

Giving them the benefit of the doubt

Receive your texts with the belief that the sender has good intentions.

We’d like to think that most of us wouldn’t text “K” with the purpose of offence or insult. But no matter who is on the other end of that message, it’s kind to afford them the benefit of the doubt.

You never can be entirely sure what is happening in someone’s life. They may have texted a short message such as “K” because they were in a hurry. Maybe they were about to get on the road and drive somewhere. Perhaps they are a parent and the kids are going wild around them. Rather than rudely ignore you, they attempt to respond as quickly as possible. All they can manage is one letter, but their intentions are innocent.

Believing that others’ intentions are most often good is key, helping us live more harmoniously and possibly avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Consider the emotional meaning behind words themselves

If in doubt about the meaning behind a text, consider examining the content itself. The words that your friend, family member, coworker, or partner has chosen reveal a great deal about their intent. This can be more clarifying when it comes to intention than any ‘secret subtext.’ Look closely at the word choice and consider what the true definition of a word signals or what the word choice most logically indicates.

Being a Good Texter

Now that we’ve learned about how to be a good text receiver or ‘listener,’ let’s turn our focus to our own communication habits. How can we be sure we’re sending messages that are accurate, polite, and clearly demonstrate our authentic intentions and emotions?

It’s good to get into positive texting habits. This means:

Responding in a timely manner

Get in the habit of not leaving your messages on ‘Read.’ Just as with other correspondence, it is respectful of the other person’s time and energy to provide a prompt response. This habit will help you to avoid misunderstandings as well as encourage others to be more expedient in their reply times, too.

It is best to respond when you are able to send a thoughtful response and only do so when time allows. (Remember, never text when driving.) A timely reply is appreciated but safety always comes first.

Paying attention to your punctuation

Sometimes “K” seems most displeasing when paired with a full stop. This can add an element of finality to a message (and perhaps unnecessarily to a one-letter text). But punctuation is very important in writing and dialogue, so why not give it a little extra attention in your texting habits?

If you can be thoughtful and purposeful about when you include the appropriate punctuation (exclamation points welcome) it can help better convey your meaning to the recipient.

Going the extra mile to be clear with your meaning

Sometimes, a bit more effort put into a text can make all the difference. In fact, often “K” may not be a snarky message, but simply a lazy one. To steer clear of confusion with the intent of your messages, use more words; be sure you get your point across completely. Explain twice if you have to, and don’t be afraid to use full sentences with proper grammar. And at the very least, if you have to use ‘K’ why not add a jovial emoji to soften your message?

These little text ‘rules’ very well might be the way we keep our standards of communication at their proper heights.

After all, if we’re going to be a society of texters, it behoves us to remain active, engaged texters that say what we mean---without cutting corners.


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