The conclusion — that using “OK” is apt to be considered rude or dismissive by younger people was a total surprise to me. In fact, I thought this first article was a joke. So I’m including two articles. Maybe they’re both kidding, but I doubt it.
Of course I’m vastly amused by the “While I thought everyone knew this by now,” comment. If there’s one thing that we all need to keep in mind is that we largely spend time with people like ourselves, not those who are not. Maybe the writer’s friends all “know” this new approach to online etiquette, others of us are living in a totally different world where online speech is still close to written text.
Altho I am very, very slowly beginning to incorporate the occasional exclamation mark, doing so feels like I’m being Kute or cartoonish. So O.K.! is extra key strokes and buffoonish. And “kk” makes me think of the Ku Klux Klan. Perhaps I’m going to have to count on the infamous Gen X and Milennial readers for a bit of understanding that not everybody lives in their world. Perhaps we can meet in the middle?
If someone asks you a question online or over text, do not respond with “OK.” or “Yes.” You might use “sure” or “yep” without punctuation; you should probably add an exclamation mark. Otherwise you might sound passive aggressive, dismissive, or angry. There’s a good reason for this.
While I thought everyone knew this by now, at least one New York Times reader needed to be told. Advice columnist Caity Weaver (emeritus of our former sister site Gawker) explained that replying with “O.K.” or “K” could come across as rude, and recommended “kk” or “O.K.!” But why?
In person, when you want to say something politely, you say it less efficiently. You “make an extra effort,” says linguist Gretchen McCulloch in her book Because Internet, “using hedges, honorifics, or simply more words: ‘Doctor, could I possibly trouble you to open the window?’ versus ‘Open the window!’” Online, you do the same, with different tactics.
One of those, writes McCulloch, is the exclamation mark. In 2014, the Onion established that only a “stone-hearted ice witch” would send a “great to see you” email with zero exclamation marks. A recent popular Instagram post makes the same point via Baby Yoda screenshot. The necessity of the exclamation mark has carried over to texts, chat, and Slack.
Another tactic I’ve used is to replace “yes” with “yep,” or “sure” with “sure thing”—using the casual form of a word to sound less like an android or a cop. Not too far, or the sincerity starts sounding like sarcasm—but pay attention to the ways you say yes in person, and try to imitate those in your messages. You’ll probably notice you use more words in person than you thought, even to say “yes.”How Do You Text?
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These tiny choices matter when you’re sending tiny messages. In a longer message, you have more options for communicating tone of voice, especially in the actual words you use. In a stock message like “yes,” you have very little room to indicate tone.
In person, you use more words, but you also—consciously or not—deliver everything with a tone of voice, facial expression, and body language. If you were to let your face go slack, stand stock still, and say “Yes.” in a tone of finality, it’d be fair to assume that you were being intentionally unfriendly.
Weaver writes half-jokingly in her column, “As a woman, I maintain a bustling control center behind my thoughts where everything said to me is parsed for evidence of impending physical threats.” This is true of everyone to some extent: We’re all scanning communication for a potential threat, if only emotional. So if your message can be read as threatening or cold, it will be. (The solo letter “k” is a famously dismissive reply to anything stupid.) To avoid that, inject some warmth.
These customs change over time and across populations. You probably know someone who overdoes the multiple exclamation marks. (It happens all the time in company-wide emails from HR, or other departments that really really need to sound friendly to everyone all the time.) You might find a community of professionals who seem to get along just fine with formal language. But if you’re the most formal one in the group, then believe me: everyone thinks you hate them.
If You Write ‘OK’ in Answer to a Question, Your Millennial and Gen-Z Colleagues May Think You’re Mad at Them. Seriously
There’s a newer way of saying yes, and to younger people, it feels more polite.
What’s the difference between “OK” “Ok” “OK!” “K” and “kk”? They all communicate the same thing–yes, all right–but some of them may cause unintended offense to Millennial and Gen-Zers in the workplace. Unfortunately, many in the older generations have no idea they’re being hurtful.
I must be an old fuddy-duddy, but I had not noticed the difference between “OK,” which I’ve been using my entire life, and the younger generations’ “kk.” Then one of my Millennial colleagues used “kk” twice in a row in a Slack conversation about scheduling. I had never thought much about “kk” and I certainly didn’t know there was any good reason to choose it over more traditional expressions of agreement until I read a New York Times piece from the column “Work Friend,” in which readers write in with work-related dilemmas, and a Millennial writer answers them.
In this week’s column, a Gen-X correspondent asked about the following:
“I have been informed by my Millennial and Gen Z co-workers that the new thing I’m supposed to type is ‘kk.’ To write ‘OK’ or ‘K,’ they tell me, is to be passive-aggressive or imply that I would like the recipient to drop dead.”
To my surprise, the column’s author Caity Weaver confirmed that this is true, at least from a Millennial or Gen-Z point of view. Receiving the answer “OK” to a request by email, text, or chat feels rude to her. So does the common shortened version “K” which seems to indicate that the writer is too stressed out and pressed for time to be polite. But, she says, “You reply to an email with ‘kk’: I think ‘OK.'”
In case you’re wondering where “kk” came from, there are conflicting theories, but most seem to say that it’s a shortened version of the popular 90s gamer expression “k, kewl,” which is itself a shortened version of “ok, kewl.” Wherever it came from, it does seem to be the most polite form of acknowledgement for the under-40 set. According to Urban Dictionary:
“Importantly, using ‘kk’ instead of ‘Okay’ avoids any suggestion of sarcasm or doubt. There are lots of ways of inflecting Okay. kk is just pure acknowledgement; your message is received. And it is fast to type.”
Sarcasm or doubt?? OK, I have to admit I’m way up there at the young end of the Baby Boom generation, but I had absolutely no idea that any form of the word OK could be construed as sarcastic or doubtful. For decades, I lived right across the Hudson River from Kinderhook, New York; When I think about the term “OK” at all, I think about the failed re-election campaign of Martin Van Buren.
Clearly, I’m behind the times. I also didn’t realize that different permutations of “OK” carry subtly different meanings. A Buzzfeed article by Alex Alvarez, undoubtedly a young person, spells them out:
“‘Ok’ is a classic. ‘OK’ is aggressive, but acceptable. ‘Okay’ is a waste of everyone’s time. ‘Ok!’ is a necessary evil or a genuine display of enthusiasm, depending on the recipient.”
And what about “K,” a quicker version of “OK” sometimes used by my generation? Whatever you do, don’t do that. Alvarez writes:
“‘K’ is so mean. So closed off. Judgmental. ‘K’ doesn’t want to hear about your crush, or make the changes you suggested in your email. ‘K’ doesn’t love you back. ‘K’ barely even cares.”
So “kk” would seem to be the term of choice, but not “KK,” which seems like shouting. Except there are also a lot of people who say they hate “kk.” Weaver says she solves the problem this way:
“I myself kk rarely. I prefer ‘OK!,’ which feels more natural, but still conveys to the recipient, through its superfluous exclamation point, the same frantic message that I’m not annoyed or angry (omg why would I be) so please don’t feel bad!!”
So there you have it. An extra bit of punctuation that somehow makes everything, um, OK. Published on: Nov 23, 2019Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you’ll never miss a post.The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.