If you haven't sent a text or an email with letters repeated for emphasis -- "hiiiiiiiiii," "oh nooooooooo," and "wait whaaaaaaat?" all come to mind -- then, odds are, you've received one at some point.
"Word lengthening," achieved by reduplicating letters in texts, instant messages and emails, is a growing phenomenon, The Atlantic reports. And, as was the case with several other linguistic trends, including the ubiquity of the word "like" and that creaky-sounding "vocal fry" register in speech, young women are responsible for bringing it to the rest of the population. (You're welcome!)
Linguist Michael Erard explained to The Atlantic that people may duplicate letters in an effort to compensate for the lack of vocal cues when they're writing as opposed to speaking.
“When people talk, they use intonation in a number of varied and subtle ways,” Erard told The Atlantic. “There’s a lot of emotional nuance that can be conveyed that you can’t do in writing.”
New York Magazine's The Cut argued that those extra letters can serve multiple purposes, including making you sound friendlier or making it easier to get what you want without coming off as demanding.
"Perhaps because it is associated with young women — or perhaps because it is playful — word elongation disarms," argued The Cut. "Thus, when asking a favor or making a demand, extra letters soften the blow. "I reeeally need that memo by 2 p.m., can you skip lunch?"
Other times, The Cut explained, the extra letters or punctuation can help to express negative emotions or sarcasm. For example: "You gave me hand sanitizer for Valentine's Day? Thankss ..." or "Sorrryy."
Indeed, as The New York Times reported last year, the linguistic styles that young women adopt are far from arbitrary and tend to serve a purpose.
“A lot of these really flamboyant things you hear are cute, and girls are supposed to be cute,” Penny Eckert, a linguistics professor from Stanford University told the Times. “But they’re not just using them because they’re girls. They’re using them to achieve some kind of interactional and stylistic end.”
To illustrate this point, the Times notes that studies have shown how "uptalk" -- elevating one's tone at the end of a sentence so it sounds more like a question than a statement -- can be used as one way to dominate a listener.
A study of Texas sorority sisters that dates back to the 1990s found that uptalk was used primarily by the seniors when speaking to their underlings, and that the questioning-tone had nothing to do with expressing uncertainty.
When a sociologist from William and Mary recently examined the ways in which men and women made use of uptalk on "Jeopardy!" he found that men used it more when they were behind in the game and that women used it more when they were ahead. The professor concluded that the women's use of uptalk when they were performing was a sign that they were apologizing for their success. Orrrrr were they?