Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The other day at breakfast a visiting American student expressed her impatience with the way the British sign their texts – and the occasional email – with an x. ‘What is that about?’ she said, wrinkling her nose. When I arrived two years ago I was equally mystified. A new friend lent me my first mobile and I embarked on a perilous voyage through the murky waters of British texting. When I received a message with an x, I blinked. Are we twelve? I wondered. Packed inside that x was dolphins and fairies and ponies and best friend bracelets and necklaces and desperate attempts to symbolize feelings in early attempts at love letters. It made me think of a high-voiced schoolgirl a la Baby Spice. British women seem to use it more than British men, though L said he used it with his male friends. (They are, however, very posh.) What’s more, I received texts and emails from near-strangers with x’s on them. It was obviously no deep sign of affection, just an encrypted gesture. Before I knew it, I ventured an x in return as a sociological experiment. I was speaking their language. Within days, it had become a habit. My message felt naked without an x. This is what scaremongers fear about text trends: meaningless linguistic corruptions suddenly becoming fraught with implications. If you send a message with an x to someone but don’t receive one back, what does it mean? If you are annoyed at your correspondent, can it be sensed with that small omission? What happens when you double or triple the x’s? Is that an increase in affection, in well-wishing, in persuasion? I have no answers. Nor can I explain why I add an x in my texts, aside from the (mislaid?) feeling that I am communicating textual energy, warmth, or well-meaning. In the meantime, I have become attached to the process, defensive of the x. It seems to me a rite of passage.