Q: I am a Gen X-er who generally speaks proper English and am a “digital native.” (Hey, kids: We built these tools that you claim as your own.) When I respond to a text or email with “OK,” I mean just that: OK. As in: I hear you, I understand, I agree, I will do that. If I reply with “K,” I’m just being more informal.
However, 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 which I am tempted to respond, “Believe me, if I want you to drop dead … you’ll know.”
I find “kk” loathsome. Are my co-workers being overly sensitive, or am I not acknowledging the nuance of modern communication? I would really like to settle this debate once and for all. OK? — Queens
Unfortunately, the hot and precocious young people who meme’d you this are dead right.
You reply to an email with “OK”: For the briefest twinkling, I think, “Rude.”
You reply to an email with “K”: For one terrible millisecond, I think (sobbing and feeling attacked), “He’s acting like he’s the only one who’s stressed out!”
You reply to an email with “kk”: I think “OK.”
“Kk” is an ice-cold glass of blood: mostly neutral, slightly basic. But do you, a Gen X-er, need to incorporate it into your own written communication? Of course not.
It’s good for people to be reminded periodically that not everyone thinks or expresses themselves as they do — that some people’s arbitrary guidelines are drawn entirely differently around concepts that would never occur to them. Because, 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, I can quickly chalk up your lack of kk’s to a microgenerational difference and carry on with my nerve-racking life.
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!! If you feel bad, I can’t take it!!! LMAO, but I actually can’t take it. 🙂
The good news is that your co-workers think of you as someone capable of lighthearted workplace interactions. If they disliked or feared you, they would not have told you about this bizarre, lateral evolution of the English writing system. Think of the kk tutorial not as a gripe to be accommodated but as a somewhat boring cultural fact with no direct influence on your life, like how John Adams and George H.W. Bush both lived to their nineties.
A parting thought: Sociolinguistic research — which, until recently, tended to treat gender as binary — largely indicates that young women are the drivers of language change. (The authors of a frequently cited 2009 article from the journal “Language” found that men often lag “a full generation behind” — perhaps because they “retreat from or resist a change after it becomes associated with women.”) I don’t know for sure if the co-workers you mention are women but, on the off chance you work with any, it’s never a bad time to remind yourself that studies (and women) find that women who talk at work are regularly dismissed, interrupted or ignored.
Work Friend is a cheeky New York Times advice column to help with careers, money and the sometimes grim, sometimes hilarious maze that is the contemporary office, from a rotating cast of advice-givers. Email questions to email@example.com.