Tag Archives: language

Social Codes

A couple weeks ago I asked for help putting together a list of social codes people use, when we say certain words but mean something else. You provided! Thank you so much! Before leaping into the list, I just want to make a point to say (as has been pointed out to me), many of these depend on the context in which they are said. I have tried to include notes on the contexts in question, but please do point out to me any I have missed. Also, this is an ongoing list, so if you have any more I would love for you to tell me so I can add them!

And now, in no particular order, I give you social codes.

“Hi, how are you?” = “Hi, I acknowledge you as a person.” (US)

“I would like to get to know you better” = “I want to get into your pants/date you.” (US)

“Bless your (his/her) heart.” = Sometimes this is a compliment, but other times it is an insult/used sarcastically. (southern US)

“How was your weekend?” = This sometimes means “Please ask me about my weekend.” and other times is another version of “Hi, I acknowledge you as a person.” (US)

“We should do lunch sometime” = “Well, I gotta go now, bye, but I don’t literally plan on making lunch plans with you soon.”

“I’m sorry” = This can mean lots of things beyond apologies, including “I feel sympathy for you” and “You aren’t going to like this, please don’t get mad at me.”

“I think we should see other people” = “I am breaking up with you (and might already have someone else in mind).”

“Oh, you know…” or “Oh, just stuff…” or other vague replies to questions = “I am being vague on purpose because I do not want to answer you, please just drop it.”

wearing headphones, reading a book, or playing on a smartphone = ”I’m not really interested in conversing with others right now”

“You’re such a nice guy!” = “You’re cool, but I am not attracted to you.”

“We should do this again sometime!” = (often but not always) “We should never do this again.”

“That’s interesting” = “I don’t like this piece of art/music/book/whatever. but I don’t want to come out and tell you I don’t like it because I can see you do.” (midwestern US)

“You know what I mean?” (when said after some form of commentary) = “I want you to confirm that you’re listening and to affirm what I’m saying because I’m having strong feelings about this and need to know someone’s taking me seriously. If you need to disagree with me, acknowledge my feelings first then disagree gently.”

“Ok?” (when punctuating a statement or command) = “I want you to indicate to me that what I’m saying is registering and that you will behave accordingly in the future.”

“I’m talking to this guy,” or “I’m talking to this girl.” (in some high schools) = “We’re romantically interested in each other and are moving toward dating.”

“We should get coffee sometime.” = “I’d like to spend a casual 30 minutes or so with you, probably talking and learning more about each other or catching up on each others’ lives. I might take the initiative on this if I’m not too busy, or you may need to reach out to me to make it happen.”

catch you later = see you later

“Just a minute” = “Wait until I’m done with this, it may not be precisely a minute until I am done.”

“Sweet” (said as a reply to someone) = “That is cool”

“That’s ok” (in response to an apology) = “I hear your apology,” not “That action was ok with me.”


Filed under social skills

Expressing Affection

creative commons picture by Tambako on flickr


In this case, I actually want to talk about affection in the context of friendship-feelings, rather than romantic-feelings. There is already good and healthy talk out there about romantic feelings, and how different people express their love and affection in different ways, and how understanding that can lead to better relationships. This is good and lovely, but I have not personally seen very much of this concept being applied to friendship type feelings.

Friendships seem to come in all sorts of degrees of closeness. I’ll be honest, I find navigating it all to be difficult and complicated, and I rarely find it worth it for anything short of very close, intimate friendships (though lately I have been experimenting with more casual friendships. it’s… interesting). Anyway, I am wanting to talk about expressing platonic affection. There are ways that I have to express affection or say “I like you” in friendship ways. Things like looking direction at a person’s face for several seconds straight, or giving them a big grin, or deliberately reaching out and touching them. In my language, these are all significant things because I do not do them easily or casually. They are how I express friendship affection.

Unfortunately, I have learned that not everyone sees them this way. I have had these things shrugged off and disregarded, sometimes in ways that I find hurtful. And not necessarily by people who want to hurt me, but by people who actually like me and reciprocate some level of friendship-feelings, but who apparently simply don’t understand what I’m saying when I do those things.

So I figure there are two steps to dealing with this. One is to try to teach them my language, so they know what various actions are saying (this blog post is actually a minor attempt at that). Another is to try to learn their language and use it too.

I like words. Words are fabulous. So it seems reasonable to, at least occasionally, say to a person “I like you.” When I think about it, it’s kind of amazing to me just how challenging it is for me to say that. I can say “I like doing this thing with you” relatively easily, but that is very different. So a personal project that I have been working on is to, here and there, say “I like you” to a person I have friendship-feelings towards. Of course, there is still a high degree of probability that they won’t really grok how challenging it is for me to say. I mean, given how much I like words it seems rather counter-intuitive that I would find saying certain things so difficult. However, it will mean that I will be saying it in a more direct, common-language way, so there will be less chance of my meaning being lost in translation.

In at least one experiment of this, I learned that words can be really quite significant. I have been riding for around four years. In that time, I have grown to have friendship-type feelings at my riding instructor. In all the time I’ve been riding, in FOUR YEARS of chatting, sharing personal stories, and getting to know each other, I had never once actually said “I like you.” NOT ONCE. So eventually I gathered my courage and did just that. I told her that I wanted to consider her a friend, I said that I really like having the chance to just chat and such once a week, and I said “I like you.” She actually surprised me with the strength of her positive response. So in at least one case, actually using the words really turned out to be a good thing to do.

So now I’m experimenting in little ways, here and there, with other people. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

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Filed under personal

Strange Life Lessons

A while back (on the scale of 1-3 years ago, I think) I realized something that had been holding me back.  Something important dawned on me, but it has not been an easy lesson to swallow.  That lesson being: language shapes reality.

Even typing it is hard.  My brain keeps thinking that it shouldn’t be true.  Language, as spiffy and awesome and cool as it is, shouldn’t really do much more than describe reality.  Or fantasy, if that’s your thing.  In any case, language is a tool for communication – an awesome tool that I like lots – and it’s true that it’s possible to influence people by what you say, but that’s not the same thing as language shaping reality directly.  But apparently, it does.

So far I only have this lesson in a very basic way, and I couldn’t say if it goes further or not.  So, sometimes I observe people doing something new or challenging.  Someone will say “I want you to try this,” or something along those lines.  Their response tends to be “Ok!  Yes!  I can do that!” said with what strikes me as an unreasonable amount of enthusiasm.  It always seemed like just a bunch of noise.  Dishonest noise, at that.  I mean, how do you know if you can accomplish something until you try it?  What if you’re all “I can do it!” and then you can’t?  Didn’t you just make yourself out to be a liar?  I mean, sure you can probably do it eventually, but that’s different.  So in that situation, if someone was giving me a challenge, I would simply respond honestly.  “Well, I’ll try.”  “I don’t know if I can do that, but I suppose I’ll give it a shot.”

In retrospect, I am honestly not sure how I figured it out.  In any case, turns out I was sabotaging myself right from the beginning.  If, from the start, I verbalize with confidence, somehow it becomes more likely that I will succeed.  This totally breaks my poor little brain, but from everything I can tell, it’s true.  See, I know that acting confident is important in many things.  Rock climbing and horseback riding, for instance, both require that a person act with confidence.  Doing something tentatively does not ever work.  I had figured out that I could act confident even if I didn’t feel confident.  Now it seems that it’s easier to act confident if I sound confident.  The language I use and the manner in which I use it shapes the reality that happens next.

I wonder how much this is (or isn’t) true for other things.

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Filed under ramble