Recently in the Online communication Category

slow clap

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The thing I find fascinating about the phrase “slow clap” is that it's used to refer to two different things that are near-opposites in meaning.

On the one hand, there's what TV Tropes calls the Slow Clap, wherein someone starts clapping slowly, the whole crowd gradually joins in as the pace quickens, and it ends with wild applause from everyone.

On the other hand, there's what TV Tropes calls Sarcastic Clapping, wherein someone (usually one person) claps slowly and sarcastically.

TV Tropes gives the two things different names, but the illustrative quote at the beginning of the Sarcastic Clapping entry uses the phrase “slow clap.”

Urban Dictionary demonstrates the same contrasting usages of the term.

This wouldn't normally be particularly notable. There are lots of things that are said or done sarcastically to mean the opposite of the surface meaning.

But the reason I'm posting about it, and posting here in my words/language blog rather than elsewhere, is that recently I've seen the phrase used fairly often on the Internet. And it's often unclear which of the two meanings the writer intends.

I usually see it in a comment on a blog entry or similar posting. The entirety of the comment is usually “Slow clap” or “Slow. Clap.”

I suspect that in most such cases, the commenter doesn't realize that there are two opposite things that the comment could mean. And to be fair, in some cases it's pretty clear; for example, if someone posts about some wonderful awesome thing that someone has done, then probably a “slow clap” comment indicates actual applause rather than sarcastic applause.

I suppose this is arguably just one more example, among thousands, of the difficulties of detecting sarcasm in written communication. But it seems different to me.

Perhaps because in movies and TV shows, if a single person does a slow clap, it's almost always the sarcastic kind. So if one commenter writes “slow clap,” the mental image I get is not of a crowd of people starting to applaud slowly and then picking up the tempo.

Also, the reason that the positive kind of slow clap starts out slow is generally that the audience is (for example) hesitant or chagrined or uncertain, or sometimes embarrassed on the applaudee's behalf. So it's not the “slow” part of it that's an accolade. So it seems odd to me to say “slow clap” rather than just “applause” in a comment that's intended to be positive; the slow clap tends to suggest to me that the clappers start out with some reservations. Otherwise it would be just a regular clap.

Anyway, I'm not trying to be prescriptivist about this; clearly, people do use the written phrase “slow clap” to indicate approval. So this entry isn't meant to criticize that usage, but rather to document it, because it surprised me when I started seeing it.

Obscene intensifiers (probably NSFW)

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Today's xkcd comic strip shows a graph of frequency of usage, for a variety of adjectives, of the intensifiers “fucking” and “as shit.”

It's a cute graph, and some of the adjectives are kind of entertaining. I like the phrase “fucking apropos,” for example.

However, a lot of the instances of the phrases in question don't actually consist of intensifiers modifying adjectives at all—especially the instances of “fucking,” because there are a great many random-word spam pages containing that word in which it isn't used as an intensifier.

[A day after publishing this entry, I rephrased the above sentence for clarity, and added a couple of mentions of adverbs below.]

For example, try doing a Google search for ["fucking stochastic" -xkcd]. (The “-xkcd” part is to skip all the instances that were created today in response to the comic.) That search currently tells me there are about 28 results, which is presumably the number Munroe used for the comic. But in fact, if you click through to page 2, you see only 16 results.

Of those sixteen, eight (including all six on the second page of results) are porn spam pages that happen to have the words “fucking” and “stochastic” next to each other. (Including the amusing phrase “fucking stochastic frontier models with spatial component.”)

Two more results are for the phrase “XANAX is that fucking stochastic” on a Xanax spam page.

And five are for phrases in which “fucking” doesn't modify “stochastic” (that is, where it's an adjective rather than an adverb): “Fucking stochastic shite”, “FUCKING STOCHASTIC PROCESSES” (2 identical instances), “Fucking stochastic life-support system” (2 identical instances).

So it turns out that before this comic, there was actually only one instance on the entire web of “fucking stochastic” in which “fucking” modified “stochastic”:

The times, they are achanging, but whither and how, that is beginning to look fucking stochastic.

I imagine similar things are true of other “fucking” items on the list, but I'll stop now.

I realize that I'm partly nitpicking the comic's phrasing; does it really matter whether “fucking” is modifying an adjective or just appears in the same phrase with the adjective? The numbers are interesting either way.

But I'm also disagreeing with the comic's methodology, because the word “fucking” appears on so many web pages that I think the noise will drown out the signal for a lot of the less common adjectives, resulting in the numbers not really giving useful information about how real people use language.

Then again, the whole idea of using Google results numbers to calculate linguistic answers is a little dubious. (For example, notice how the number went from 24 to 16 when I went from page 1 to page 2; and notice that nearly half of the results were effectively duplicates.)

(I posted a slightly different version of this entry as a comment in the xkcd forum, then realized it would make a good entry here.)

Added later: a comment about adverbs from a friend made me realize that this would be a simpler way of saying much of what I said above:

Munroe is assuming that, in all instances of “fucking stochastic” on the web, “fucking” is an adverb. But in fact, there's only one instance where it's actually an adverb; in all the other instances, it's either an adjective or part of a random collection of words.

Complimentary close

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Quite a while back, I read a story (perhaps in the New Yorker or some such?) in which one character would write letters to another, and would sign off with this:

S.L.S.O.C.Y.K.

The story explained that the initials stood for "So Long, Sweet One; Consider Yourself Kissed."

I found that charming. I tried using it as a signoff in letters to certain people, but they never found it nearly as charming as I did. (Though it did spark a response from someone I'm not sure would want to be named here so I'll leave it anonymous: LYMTACS (pronounced "lime tacks"), for "Love You More Than Acronyms Can Say.")

. . . I must digress from signoffs for a moment to talk about related acronyms. I've heard of envelopes on which people have written SWAK, for "Sealed With a Kiss"; a friend of mine once wrote, on an envelope to me, "Sealed with a lick, 'cause a kiss won't stick," which made me laugh. A quick web search suggests that that's sometimes abbreviated SWALCAKWS.

Anyway. The signoff bit in a letter, just before the signature, is known as the complimentary close. I have always been fond of old-style formal complimentary closes, such as "I am, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant," especially when "obedient" is abbreviated to "obt." I've also seen abbreviations of a whole phrase, such as "yours, etc" or (as noted in Wikipedia) "I am, etc." An abbreviation for that phrase that I haven't seen before, as shown in that Wikipedia article, is "YOS."

There are lots of other common closes, of course. In English, many of them revolve around the words "yours" or "best" or "regards," though words like "sincerely" also figure prominently; also "love."

And in less formal notes to certain people, one might use a phrase like "kisses" or "xo."

Was thinking about this stuff this evening, and noticed that I'd never posted anything about SLSOCYK; in fact, a quick web search suggests that nobody has ever posted anything about that valediction. If any of you happen to know the title or author of the story that used the phrase, let me know.

Regardless (now there's a signoff), I'm now curious about what kinds of complimentary closes other people use. Do y'all use them at all? (I realize they're not common in email, but I do use them in some email contexts.) If so, which ones do you use?

Online laughter

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Not long ago, I was chatting online with a friend, and something made me laugh, and I realized I wasn't sure how to type that.

I often use heh or hah! or hee! these days (in ascending order of hilarity) to indicate brief and/or relatively mild amusement, but this was real laughing-out-loud. Which suggests an obvious answer, but I tend to associate LOL (and ROFL, and variations on those) with people new to online interaction. (I realize that's an unfair connotation; I have various friends who happily use those terms and who've been online for years, and it doesn't bother me when they use them. But it feels weird to me to use those terms myself.)

I sometimes see people write hehehe, but that doesn't work for laughter for me. It reads to me somewhere between heh heh heh and hee hee hee, both of which have connotations for me of particular kinds of laughter (respectively: a sort of sniggering chuckle, and a kind of titter) that aren't what I was looking for; and somehow the spelling hehehe, however it's meant to be pronounced, bugs me anyway.

Various of my friends sometimes write ahahaha; I like that, and it clearly conveys a particular tone to me, so I tried typing it, and immediately regretted it. It looks perfectly natural when my friends write it, but perfectly weird when I do. Possibly that's just a matter of practice, but partly it's that I don't feel like I laugh like that.

I suppose there's always mwa-ha-ha and its sibling bwa-ha-ha, but those are really only useful for a specific kind of laughter.

Most of the time, I just go with smileys. One smiley might indicate brief amusement or a smile; two is more amusement or a brief laugh; three or more generally means I was laughing out loud.

But that's not entirely satisfying either—and the friend I was chatting with in this particular instance doesn't like emoticons.

Probably my best bet would've been something like *laughs* (or ::laughs:: or /me laughs or *laugh* or various other variations). Which I somehow didn't think of, but will probably use next time.

But now I'm curious. What do y'all type in online contexts to indicate laughter? What connotations do various forms have for you?

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Online communication category.

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