Text Message Decoder and the Myth of Miscommunication

I am a product of my generation – Generation Y.  Among many other things, we are characterized by our relationship to technology (obviously) and have lived through several breakthroughs in interpersonal communication: the birth and growth of social media, e-mail as an essential mode of business correspondence, and text messaging.

Bringing us ever closer.

Bringing us ever closer.

Oh, texting. How we watched you grow from a little T-9 SMS application to such a pervasive pastime that QWERTY keyboards became a standard feature on most cellphones.  My friends, siblings, and I have a comprehensive understanding of text message communication because we’ve been doing it since middle school (Sorry Mrs. Cleary) which is why I am so sick of reading articles about texting causing miscommunication.  My generation knows how to communicate more effectively through text messages than we are given credit for, and I aim to prove it.

The following may seem like common sense to many people my age, which I hope will emphasize my point.


My first example dissects “hey,” a standard greeting with more than one layer of meaning depending on the number of y’s at the end.  (I’m not even kidding.  It may seem like I’m digging too far into minutia of all this, but trust me.)

  • “hey” is a simple way to establish contact.
  • “heyy” demonstrates more enthusiasm, and perhaps an affection for the recipient.
  • “heyyy” is sometimes used in booty-calls (booty-texts?) and definitely communicates attraction.
  • “heyyyy” translates directly to “I’m intoxicated.”

I do not make the rules, I only abide by them. (This is general knowledge, as evidenced by the fact that I am not the first person to map this out.)


I do not know when it was decided that “:)” stood for a smile, or happiness, or amusement, but ever since than simple combinations of available characters have been used to demonstrate specific feelings or reactions.



I have read that text messaging lacks emotion, which is untrue in my experience.  The type of emoticon one uses to respond to a message or punctuate their own says a lot about the idea being exchanged.  For example:

“I’m leaving now:”
I’m leaving now : D
I’m leaving now : (
I’m leaving now >: (

All of these have a different meaning, and the possibilities are endless.  Emoticons go beyond mimicking the characteristics of a face, for example including ” ❤ ” which resembles a heart and stands for the emotion of love, variations of which include ” <333 ” and ” </3 ” depending on what the sender wishes to say.  Recently, texting with emoticons has been made even easier by applications like Emoji for iPhone that include numerous tiny graphics to enhance your messages.

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 12.06.17 PM

On a somewhat related note, it has been said that texting emoticons is far more acceptable among women than men.  Writing from a women’s perspective, I cannot confirm or deny this except to say that I use emoticons often without thinking twice about it.  However, I have a male friend who ends every text with a wink face, communicating to me that everything he says has a hidden layer of creepy.


I will admit that I have received some random combinations of letters that force me to search Google for a translation but most are widely understood, especially among close groups of friends. (I touch on something like this in my Wordplay post.)  Like emoticons, they enhance the message and communicate a more specific meaning.  (Consider “lol,” “omg,” and “jk;” “fam,” “fab,” and “fave;” “totes,” “obvs,” and “probs;” etc, etc, etc.)  Apart from the words and phrases the abbreviations themselves stand for, they can be used in certain context to demonstrate irony. For example, if I were to write something like, omg i’m like totes excited for the beibs lolz, the receiver would recognize that I am being sarcastic (maybs?).



Everybody knows what “k.” means.  The unnecessary use of the period in this case has a message of it’s own: “Don’t even bother saying anything else because I’m mad and this [insert expletive] conversation is over for me.”  Punctuation is loaded with connotation because it can be otherwise unnecessary, especially in the case of one-word or otherwise brief messages.  Punctuation can also stand alone. “?” can mean, “I’m confused. Elaborate.” “!” communicates excitement or surprise, etc.

Do Not Underestimate the Texters

If miscommunication occurs during a text correspondence, it is no fault of our own.  Damn You, Autocorrect! (in addition to being hilarious) is a perfect example of how text replacement software functions fail us on a regular basis, but my original point stands.

Through subtle nuances in spelling and format, people communicate a vast range of ideas and emotion in their text messages.  No one person sat down and drew up a set of rules for texting efficiently, and yet these rules are generally understood by people who grew up using this medium of communication.  Just because you do not necessarily understand a text exchange between two people (I’m talking to you, outdated communication experts) does not mean that they don’t.

whatevs lol. byee
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.


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