So You Think You Can Speak Social? Part 2

adminDigital, Social Media

Thanks to technology and social media platforms like Twitter, the written word is changing at breakneck speed. With new slang, stylistic devices, and conventions popping up every day, it can be tricky to keep up, which is why we decided to break down some of the most prevalent ways the written word is changing in this two-part blog series. In our last blog, we looked at the ways social media has reinvented the rules of punctuation, and as promised, we’re following up with a quick guide to the ways symbols and atypical capitalization are shaking up the English language online. Here’s what you need to know.


The online equivalent to stage directions, asterisks are used to indicate everything from non-verbal sounds (*sigh*) to act outs (*looks around the room nervously*). This allows users to communicate action and body language quickly and directly without disrupting the flow of a sentence.

The Tilde

In math, it’s used to indicate an approximate number. In Spanish, it’s placed over the letter n to indicate a nasal sound. Online, it’s everyone’s favourite way to assign a sarcastic “eye roll emotion” to certain words, give sentences a sense of emotional distance or assign them a feeling of strangeness. In a medium without tone, and on platforms without formatting options like italics, the tilde allows millennials to express simmering sarcasm and uneasiness.

Atypical Capitalization

The rules of capitalization have been thrown out the window. Log on to Twitter, and you’ll notice caps are rarely used at the beginning of sentences or proper nouns. Instead, they are reserved for attributing importance to certain words, indicating volume, or expressing excitement. When scattered at random throughout single words, they even create a mocking tone.

lol and LOL

The meaning of the acronym “lol” has undergone a radical transformation since the early days of instant messaging. In a literal sense, it still means laugh out loud, but (when written in lower case) the tone has shifted from genuine to sarcastic/self-deprecating. When placed at the end of a sentence, it indicates to the reader that the writer does not wish to be taken too seriously. Effectively, the writer is undermining their own statement or laughing at themselves. Unlike “lol,” the all-caps version LOL indicates genuine laughter and is often used to mock.

Atypical capitalization, non-conforming punctuation, and symbols as stylistic devices, are just a few examples of the way the written word is changing before our eyes, and technology will continue to shape its rapid evolution. If you want to keep up to date, log on and pay attention. Follow users who are part of a different demographic than you, and you’ll start to notice all sorts of nuances in the way they write and communicate. Spend enough time analyzing these subtleties, and you’ll be writing like a digital native before you know it!