Is it rude to say okay?

O.K. is rudeNovember 27, 2019 @ 3:32 pm · Filed by Mark Liberman under Language change, Words words words« previous post | next post »Caity Weaver, "Typing These Two Letters Will S

Is it rude to say okay?

O.K. is rude

November 27, 2019 @ 3:32 pm · Filed by Mark Liberman under Language change, Words words words

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Caity Weaver, "Typing These Two Letters Will Scare Your Young Co-Workers: Everything was O.K. until you wrote 'O.K.'", NYT 11/21/2019, starts with a note from someone in Queens:

I am a Gen X-er who generally speaks proper English and am a digital native. (Hey, kids: We built these tools that you claim as your own.) When I respond to a text or email with O.K., I mean just that: O.K. As in: I hear you, I understand, I agree, I will do that. If I reply with K, Im just being more informal.

However, I have been informed by my Millennial and Gen Z co-workers that the new thing Im supposed to type is kk. To write O.K. or K, they tell me, is to be passive-aggressive or imply that I would like the recipient to drop dead. To which I am tempted to respond, Believe me, if I want you to drop dead  youll know.

I find kk loathsome. Are my co-workers being overly sensitive, or am I not acknowledging the nuance of modern communication? I would really like to settle this debate once and for all. O.K.?

Ms. Weaver's reponse:

Kk.

Unfortunately, the hot and precocious young people who memed you this are dead right.

You reply to an email with O.K.: For the briefest twinkling, I think Rude.

You reply to an email with K: For one terrible millisecond, I think (sobbing and feeling attacked), Hes acting like hes the only one whos stressed out!

You reply to an email with kk: I think O.K.

This is a kind of meaning-drift that I don't think we've discussed before  and one that I don't understand yet.

We've had several posts about "semantic bleaching", which is a natural result of information theory combined with some plausible assumptions about language production and perception  but this evolution of "O.K." is more like "pragmatic staining".

The "euphemism treadmill" moves words in a negative direction, but there's no euphemism involved here.

This is a bit like the interpretation of periods as aggressive or portentous  but there's an obvious explanation for that, in that the sender might have chosen to leave the final punctuation out, and therefore their choice to add it must be given some interpretation, by the Gricean Maxim of Quantity.

But "kk" is exactly the same length as "ok"  the discussion doesn't suggest that "O.K." has a different tone than "OK" or "ok".

So some new process is involved. Maybe it's a random drift towards the ironic or grudging end of "O.K." usage? If so, are there other current examples of similar movement?

Anyhow this adds an extra edge to the "OK boomer" insult.

November 27, 2019 @ 3:32 pm · Filed by Mark Liberman under Language change, Words words words

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