It turns out I am also a relative old hand on Twitter. According to Twopchart's How Long on Twitter tool, I joined in January 2009, when it was still a novelty, and have been on it longer than 97.5% of all other users. Here is a summary of my stats:
As a regular social media user, I considered myself well versed in Internet slang and short forms. I thought knowing how to use TIA (thanks in advance) and IMHO (in my humble opinion), on top of the ubiquitious LOL (laughing out loud) and ROFL (rolling on floor laughing) was impressive enough.
But when I came across news of the hilarious penis beaker debate on Mumsnet last autumn, I realised, in shock, what an utter beginner I was in Internet-speak.
I also discovered how many words used by online communities grated with me.
The woman whose post triggered the debate kept being referred to by the Mumsnet community as OP, which for me was "operation". I had to look it up on Urban Dictionary to find out it meant "Original Poster".
Browsing the amusing chat they had had on unusual sexual habits of couples, I learned many other new abbreviations through which they referred to their partners: DH, which is "dear husband", SO for "significant other" and OH for "other half".
I had seen OH used on Twitter before and had thought it referred to the interjection "Oh", only the user had made it all caps because an exclamation mark alone did not suffice in expressing their enormous surprise. How naïve of me.
I now have the Urban Dictionary app downloaded on my phone for future emergencies.
Once I became aware of these abbreviations, however, I started noticing them literally everywhere. It still annoys me when I don't know the meaning of one and have to pull out the dictionary, but expressions such as "other half" and "significant other" make me cringe every time.
They feel like words with exaggerated significance mixed with snobbery and dubious sincerity; more hyperbole and caricature than reality.
Why can't we just say "husband" or, for cuteness, "hubby" and "wife/wifey" (maybe HBY and WFY?), and boy/girlfriends can be BF/GF? There is also the useful expression "partner", in case you don't want to reveal your marital status or the sex of your lover.
Mind, my almost hysterical objection to these expressions is probably sheer pedantry, so please indulge me in my linguistic kink.
I dislike the other terms with such semi-irrational passion that the mere sight of a quote using them tempts me to unfollow the user straight away, or if I was considering following a new person, that alone would have stopped me in my tracks:
If I follow you on Twitter, no matter how much I may like and respect you, you can bet my trembling finger did hover over the Unfollow button for a good few seconds when you last quoted your beloved OH.
The day Twitter adds a "Meh" or a "We Don't Care" button alongside Retweet and Favourite, I am sure I will end up turning into an Internet bully.
I thought journalists, being sticklers for factual accuracy, would surely share my empty-word allergy. But, alas, the other week my OH detector went off again, as loudly as the smoke alarm in my kitchen when I burn my toasts: I caught a Guardian journalist I worshipped quoting his...OH on Twitter.
Arf, Alan Rusbridger, how come the Guardian Style Guide does not ban such words from being used, even on your staffs' Twitter accounts?!
My heart was doubly broken. Now I know not only that he feels no compunction in using words that make me cringe, but he is obviously not "available" either...
Why shouldn't we be free to call our lovers anything we like, you ask? We can, yes, in private. If I am your lover, you call me "hun", "babe", "honeykins", "honeybunny", "pussy riot", "riot pussy", or anything else you fancy, and I won't complain. But if you said on Twitter: "My HB (hot babe) doesn't want me to use words like this", we may have to amicably part, not least because HB can also mean "hooker bitch". Gotcha!
The 'selfie' generation
I am not sure if terms such as "significant other" and "other half" were invented by a romantic who wanted to express how much they loved their partner, or whether they are just another way to be smug about being in a relationship.
Remember: we live in an age when we feel compelled to state our relationship status online, even if "it's complicated" or "I don't want to say", but rarely admit to being "single".
There seems to be bizarre social stigma against being single these days. If you are, couples then take pity on you, or try to set you up, as if not having a *cringe* "other half" was the worst thing that could happen to one. I shall celebrate if one day "single and perfectly happy" becomes an official status.
In Facebook people can also portray themselves to their "friends", however they'd like to be seen. A couple on the brink of a break-up may be posting happy-looking pictures of themselves with their arms around each other, and no one will suspect they sleep in separate bedrooms.
Social media has allowed us to turn into broadcasters of our own lives, with full editing rights before going live. We have become our worst photoshoppers, hiding imperfections, airbrushing any socially unacceptable traits, creating the perfect picture of bliss we want others to believe in.
We even take more photos of ourselves these days, in the form of "selfies", than let others take photos of us, so we can re-invent ourselves, however we fancy, in front of the camera. I mean, look at the dogs in this tweet...
It's pointless buying your dog a camera, they said. He'll never be able to operate it, they said. pic.twitter.com/S1bevJBGB5
— warren (@tumour) January 3, 2014
I do not at the moment have a *cringe* "significant other" to write, or tweet about, but the day I have one again, I swear to God, I will not be calling him, in public, anything that qualifies his significance in my life (that's very personal, I would say) nor assume he and I are two halves of one perfect union.
Not that I don't believe in romance any more, but anyone who has gone through a bitter separation knows that two people can only be perfect halves when they are each other's soulmates. It can happen; I believe soulmates do exist, but let's not trivialise it.
If everyone was actually partnered with their ideal "other halves", there would be no divorces, no single-parent families, no Agony Aunt columns, and charities such as Relate would shut down for lack of business. Liz Jones would be out of work for not being able to sell self-misery stories to the Daily Mail, and Liz Taylor would have died still married to Richard Burton.
Who, in their right mind, would want to refer to their own husband as "dear husband" (DH) anyway, unless you were one of those terribly posh English characters from a Jane Austen adapation movie? Or Downton Abbey.
To me it sounds affected, fake and totally unnecessary.
My Japanese heritage may have something to do with this perception. In Asian cultures, where modesty is highly valued as a virtue, boasting about your partner or children is considered vulgar. It is common for Japanese mothers to refer to their children as "baka-musume/musuko" (my silly/stupid daughter/son), which does not mean they actually think their progeny lack intelligence. In Japan everyone knows it is an expression of affection in reverse.
I am not advocating we start publicly referring to partners as "my moron of a boyfriend", or "my wife, that silly bitch", to cover up our true affection, Japanese style. But in order to preserve their special status, terms of endearment should belong to and be kept in the private world of lovers.
That, or we should all abandon Twitter, with its awkward abbreviations, and start gushing our sentiments in full to our Darling Significant Other Halves, in blush-inducing love letters again. It could be the start of a new nostalgia trend.
MDF, YHIHF ("My dear friend, you heard it here first").
Update: These denominations (OH, SO) may be specific to the English language...maybe because British people always prefer to be less direct? I speak Portuguese and Japanese, and there are no equivalents for SO or OH in either of these languages. A Hungarian friend tells me in Hungarian there're none either, and the word "partner" is expressed as "my pair". Anyone other language speakers would like to comment?