All of this text and the ways in which it’s disseminated is changing the way we relate to words—and to one another.
Consider, for instance, the curious case of the “read receipt.” You know, the little notification that pops up for the sender of a text message once the recipient of that message has opened (and ostensibly read) the text. Or, to use “read receipt” in a typical sentence: “Why does anyone keep ‘read receipts’ turned on?”
The other common question about read receipts is this: How do you pronounce the term? Do you say it in the past-tense, so it sounds like “red”? Or in the present tense, so it sounds like “reed”?
This was the subject of a brief but dizzying newsroom back-and-forth on Monday among colleagues who insisted that one or the other was definitely, absolutely, without question the right way. Our dialogue never reached the proportions of the Great Dark Chocolate Debate of last week, but we still never reached a consensus. (I asked folks on Facebook and Twitter for their opinions and received similarly passionate yet inconclusive responses.)
Team “red” had a compelling case: A read receipt is a receipt that’s generated once the text message has been read. Therefore, past tense. But there was solid logic on team “reed,” too: Just think of it like a “repair receipt,” or “pay stub,” or “mailing receipt,” none of which are in the past tense even though they indicate an activity that’s already taken place. (I’m team reed, all the way. Also, “gif” has a soft “g,” like giraffe. I mean, obviously.)
The debate seems to have started anew with this post on The Hairpin, where the writer Kelly Conaboy makes a case for “red.” But this question about “read receipts” and pronunciation has come up before—kind of a lot, actually. The website Mic declared “reed” the winner in 2015, citing the pronunciation used by an Apple executive describing the feature. New York magazine argued for “red” around the same time—and pointed out that the question has been floating around since at least 2010.
On one hand, all this frivolous debate underscores the ouroborosian nature of web discourse in 2016. (Remember what I said before about quality?) Because who cares, really? How often do you even need to say “read receipts” aloud? On the other hand, the debate over how to pronounce something so seemingly inconsequential—and something so deeply rooted in the communications stylings of a text-based world—helps illustrate a larger shift in language and usage in the 21st century.
In 2016, people aren’t just increasingly communicating by text, but they’re often doing so in real-time—meaning they’re able to address ambiguities instantly. (Without Facebook, it would have been at least mildly harder to conduct an informal poll among friends about the pronunciation of “read receipt.”) The result isn’t necessarily more precise communication, and it certainly doesn’t produce unanimity, but it does illustrate how slippery everyday language is—and has always been.