My grandmother’s manuscript book, circa 1910, manages to combine drills in handwriting with fun facts in grammar. Not only has the aesthetics of writing changed. Everything has changed. But it’s far from a lawless frontier out there. There are plenty of new rules; it’s just that I hadn’t noticed. When did it become impolite, for example, to finish a sentence with a full stop?

I know that text messaging is in a genus all of its own, but it’s still strange to me that ending the last sentence of a text in the traditional manner is now considered borderline aggressive. And that’s not all. The opening gambit of ‘Hi (insert name)’ is increasingly followed by an exclamation mark, rather than a comma. I’ve always been wary of the exclamation mark, as it can too easily look overdone. Yet, I’m learning to throw them around like confetti – in text messages, at least.

It’s not that I’m opposed to changes in communication methods. I’m all for a well chosen emoji. And I’ve embraced spelling shortcuts that would previously have made me cringe (if u know what I mean). But there is an inconsistency to all this. On the one hand, we’re going for efficiency and speed, and on the other hand, there is no limit to the embellishments required to show we are not feeling actively hostile ☺.

My niece sent me a text the other day to say she was on her way to my place. Initially I typed OK. My smartphone helpfully offered the option of a thumbs-up, which I selected, thinking it would convey a lighthearted mood. When she arrived, I mentioned that I found text etiquette bewildering.

‘I’ve noticed,’ she said. ‘You and Dad both reply with a one-word answer.’

‘But what about the thumbs-up?’

She shrugged. It obviously wasn’t enough. A few XXs might have helped, which incidentally should be in lower case. And speaking of XXs, who qualifies to receive one? And how often? Not to mention hearts. Smartphones seem to have an opinion on all this, constantly interrupting with an array of options prompted by key words. Recently, in a text to the tiler, I mentioned how much I love the new bathroom tiles. Before I knew it, I’d selected puckered red lips and sent it, necessitating a follow up text with a lame explanation.

So now when I text my niece, I finish off with several rows of XXs, hearts and a random cowboy hat or maybe a pink squid to cover my bases.

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

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