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Textual intimacies, Faux Pas, and Truncative Devices.


My colleague Jenny Kennedy and I are starting a project to look at what we term “truncative devices”.

For now, I loosely define “truncative devices” as digital linguistic mechanisms of prematurely ending conversations or ejecting oneself from a communicative exchange.

Think: ending Twitter/Facebook/social media comment threads and conversations with

reactive affordances such as hearts (RIP star) or likes,

pictograms such as stickers or emoji,

keystrokes such as emoticons or fullstops,

or catchphrases such as “cool story bro” or “that’s nice hunny”.

We’ll be building on Jenny’s work on sharing (see Conceptual Boundaries of Sharing) and my work on intimacy (see Communicative <3 Intimacies).

At the Digital Intimate Publics Symposium in Brisbane last month, Jenny presented a fantastic paper on over-sharing.

One of her examples cited “cool story bro” (see Know Your MemeGoogleSlate, Urban Dictionary) to “shut down” sharing, or shape what kinds of sharing is “appropriate”.

She says that over-sharing is a “necessary process of seeking reciprocity”, and “mutually protective social mechanism” in which speakers recognize risks and vulnerability.

Today, The Age published an article, “Ending texts with a full stop is terrible, study confirms“, based on an academic study, “Texting insincerely: The role of the period in text messaging(paywalled, sigh – and h/t to Jenny for the link).

The study found that “[w]hen the exchanges appeared as text messages, the responses that ended with a period were rated as less sincere than those that did not end with a period. No such difference was found for handwritten notes.”

The Age reporter, Rachel Feltman, writes that “the text message full stop has taken on a life of its own. It is no longer just the correct way to end a sentence. It’s an act of psychological warfare against your friends.”

This politics of the fullstopping reminded me of a vignette I love to share whenever I present my work on Influencers.

In my physical and digital fieldwork with Influencers in Singapore, one of the most memorable incidents was what I like to call my “k.” faux pas.

And according to the wisdomsss of Google, Reddit, Yahoo, and 9GAG, the “k.” struggle is very real.

During the early stages of my fieldwork in 2012, an Influencer asked if I was upset with her because I had responded to her text message with a mere “k.”.

She had found it difficult to situate my emotional state – her words: “I didn’t know if you were angry or if you just donʼt use smileys”.

Apparently I had not included any emoji/emoticons to signal my mood to her.

She also explained to me that “k.” with a period appeared curt and less palatable than its variants, “ok”, “okay”, “ok.”, and “okay.”.

It would have been preferred if I had responded with an emoticon, such as in “okay :)”, but better still if I had taken the effort to scroll through my keyboard to insert an emoji instead, as in “okay ⊗”.

My texting faux pas underscored the tacit communicative norms Influencers seemed to collectively enact, but to which I was not (yet) privy.

Despite having previously established good rapport with my informants, this incident caused me to lapse into a temporary frame of unfamiliarity and strangeness.

I became even more aware of how anthropologists “make the familiar strange by their presence and questioning” (Malefyt & Morais 2012: 75), and how my accidental disruption of an otherwise mundane routine uncovered implicit communicative norms and rituals that facilitated social relations among my informants.

From then, I was careful to construct my textual responses conscientiously, noting that they signify “affective discourse” (Zappavigna 2012: 71), beginning with an emoji keyboard app I immediately downloaded to my smartphone.

Do you know of any other “truncative devices”? Please tell us while we begin to explore such everyday vernacular :)


You know how anthropologists list the second, third, fourth languages they speak on their CVs? (PS: my friend, the polyglot goddess, Gaby David can speak 8 languages?!)

And you know how programmers list C+, Python and Java on their CVs?

I feel like I should have the license to add “Fluid in emoji and emoticon” on my CV.


Malefyt, Timothy de Waal, and Robert J. Morais. 2012. Advertising and anthropology: Ethnographic practice and cultural perspectives. London: Berg.

Zappavigna, Michele. 2012. The discourse of Twitter and social media. London: Continuum.

1 reply »

  1. i like the idea of “truncative devices”. short one word answers even without the period can be truncative. emoji icons used on its own can be truncative too, albeit it softens the “end of conversation” tone. of course, context and relationship level should be taken into consideration. also, noting the age, gender and background of the individual on the other side. i’ve also observed that it is useful to observe one’s patterns of typing (vis a vis patterns of speech) and so decipher whether he/she is being cold, angry or just busy when using “truncative devices” — perhaps it’s about learning to “listen”, only visually. other complications could be manifested in the individual’s own insecurities etc.

    on the other hand, i’m wondering about consistency of typing across various platforms, now that messaging also takes place via the Web, where there (for Whatsapp and FB Messenger at least that I know of) is no auto-correct nor auto-captialisation functions. take my comment here, for example. i’m typing this on the web and am too lazy to use the shift key for all my “i”s and start of sentences. yet for certain proper nouns i am using capital letters for differentiation. habit from word processing documents that auto capitalise “i”s and start of sentences? idk, mayhaps!

    oh, and – personally i do not text informally with someone whom i have a professional relationship with, hence more use of proper English (grammar punctuation etc). code-switching, to a large extent. this helps me continue to posit myself as someone who is of “peer level” and so *can* be taken seriously, even if i am younger (which is extremely common in my field).

    it’s a new kind of literacy. literacy 2.0?

Beep here.

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