Gentleman Scholar

Masters in Communications

How to text, and sext, like a gentleman.

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Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

I always assumed that a gentleman communicating with women by text message would want to make a good use of his vocabulary and grammar to be as funny and charming as possible. Related to that, I always assumed that the inflection of the word is crucial to its meaning. E.g., there is a world of difference between “dude, come on” and “duude, sweet!”

How should a gentleman communicate via text message with a lady when the inflection is important for getting the point across? Is it possible to communicate subtle messages to a lady via text, or should a gentleman avoid texts altogether?

Thx for the Q.

The foregoing sentence would have been thematically tighter—more conceptually gratifying—had I replaced for with 4, but I couldn’t tolerate the subliteracy of the substitution. That kind of thing is strictly for certain people born in particular places in specific eras, by which I mean musical geniuses born in Minneapolis on June 7, 1958. If you are Prince Rogers Nelson, U should feel free 2 indulge in this otherwise asi9 practice.

The rest of you must compose your text messages in Standard English, for the sake of any children who may be conceived in consequence of their receipt. There is one critical exception to this rule: You may deform grammar, syntax, and orthography in support of vernacular diction and a conversational tone. Those gimmes and lemmes and gottas are gonna tell the reader where the stresses fall. Shrewd and frugal use of all-caps for emphasis will also help you hit your rhythm. But if what you have to say is vulnerable to misinterpretation, the best thing to type is, “May I give you a call?”

It is my position that to do otherwise at a critical juncture is to declare your probable laziness and possible cowardice. Other people may have other standards, or none, if they were born in a particular place at a particular time, such as the United States in the 1980s or 1990s. And now I’m subjecting you to a digression: A while back, on behalf of his readership, the Gentleman Scholar attended a panel sponsored by a hep magazine run by his youngers. The topic was dating, and the audience went into an audible tizzy whenever the panelists or moderator threatened to discuss “sexting.” I meanwhile was like, No, you kids don’t get it. Of course, it was not possible for them to “get it”—to understand the radical transformation wrought by cellular technology—as they had not gone to college at a time when, if you wanted to try to hook up with someone you’d kind of been flirting with, it was necessary to go out and physically find her. Because people of my generation do not remember getting to that first step of pitching woo as a trifle, I was like, No, you don’t get it. A text IS a sext.  A perfect sext is, “Hey, what’s up?” Another is, “Hey. You still up?” A third superhot example is, “Hey!” All of which are acceptable sentences, if properly punctuated.

My fiancée and I are separated by a big distance now, and as comes with such separation, our texts and conversations occasionally drift to a sexual nature. In these conversations I have always struggled to find the right words for private parts for both genders. For myself I find penis too clinical, cock* too porny, dick too juvenile, and my manhood simply ridiculous. Lady parts cause the same troubles with vagina, pussy, etc. Do you have any ideas for this? Thanks!

Thank you for your question.

Given your expressed distastes, I will point you toward monosyllabic denotations of cylindrical solidity. Rod seems to me less inherently farcical than pole or shaft—but of course any of these may sound excessively coarse or flagrantly dumb to your ears, just as pecker and prick will strike some other readers as the drawled drooling of a hormonal hayseed and queue, a French import, as unduly twee. But there is no arguing tastelessness, and there is a sort of corollary to Rule 34 decreeing that some loving heterosexual couple in the world finds it divine to refer to his schwanzstucker as such. Good for them! And to those lovers who’ve yet to discover a happy synonym for the phallus, I recommend this timeline, created from Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as a magnificent tool that could be improved only by lifting some usages from Nicholson Baker’s House of Holes, which employs bulldog, manjig, and Malcolm Gladwell among many other naughty novel cognomens.

Reader, you say that cock (which was not considered vulgar until the 1800s) seems too “porny.” But isn’t this seeming seaminess just a function of its frequent use? And isn’t that frequency itself a proof of the word’s muscularity? More to the point: Isn’t a degree of porniness often desirable when conducting an intimate conversation (“specific sense of ‘talk’ is 1570s”) about conversation (“a synonym for ‘sexual intercourse’ from at least 1511”)? Erotic talk—narratophilia, let’s call it—is filth by its nature, which goes to our pure essence, George Bataille supposed, when looking into related matters in Eroticism:

The whole business of eroticism is to strike to the inmost core of the living being, so that the heart stands still. The transition from the normal state to that of erotic desire presupposes a partial dissolution of the person as he exists in the realm of discontinuity. Dissolution — this expression corresponds with dissolute life, the familiar phrase linked with erotic activity. … The whole business of eroticism is to destroy the self-contained character of the participators as they are in their normal lives.

And so it may help your fiancée get away from herself to hear her sexual organs identified with language that by the enlightenment of day looks rude at best. But you really, really ought to check in with her about that first, for we are in the realm of considering the sonic nastiness of snatch, and the nihilizing void of hole, and all those puerile terms with close back rounded vowels (cooter and poon and cooze), and, unavoidably, the one word for women’s genitals that, in Germaine Greer’s view, “demands to be taken seriously.” In this matter, Greer is on the same wavelength as Caitlin Moran: “ ‘Cunt’ is a proper, old, historic, strong word. … It’s like I have a nuclear bomb in my underpants or a mad tiger, or a gun.” But the reader does not wish to grab the blunt cudgel of a weaponized lexeme, I sense, and so I suggest a quaint euphemism.

Further, let’s note that Anaïs Nin did good work with the simple sex; that peach is unimpeachably well suited to a wholesome roll in Laura Ashley sheets; and that Jonathan Green’s timeline of the slang history of the vagina features entries for both it (which is deliciously anti-evocative) and you-know-what (which has a certain je ne sais quoi).

For several years, I have been corresponding with a pen pal in France. He’s an excellent fellow, and very refined. We share a number of interests and write each other the occasional physical letter in addition to our online correspondence. The problem is that I feel like an uncouth backwater American when I write. His letters are on heavy cream stationery, sealed with wax (no joke!). It’s bad enough that he sends me the occasional candy that is of a quality I have never otherwise experienced in my life (dark chocolates filled with Sauternes, par exemple) but it is frustrating not to at least have the appearance of my written words be of an elegant but understated quality. Everything I seem to find online is rather garish. Your suggestions would be most welcome.

Thank you for your question.

You should shop for 100-percent cotton stationery, and you cannot go wrong spending your money on paper made by Crane & Co., which made the paper for the money you’ll be spending.

Your writing paper should be white or ivory or ecru or grey, according to traditionalists. But in certain moods it is exhausting to resist the richness of Dempsey blue, a heartache shade of azure named for the firm of Dempsey & Carroll, or the cool beauty of the Nile blue sold by Smythson.

You ought to write personal letters on the 7¼-by-10½-inch pieces of paper known as Monarch sheets and post them in envelopes measuring 3⅞ by 7½ inches. The trimness indicates coziness and subtly alerts your correspondent that this isn’t a cease-and-desist order or anything else alarming.

You’ll want to have your stationery engraved (but also you should order blank sheets for writing second and third pages). Choose a stylish typeface. If you have no original thoughts about stylish typefaces, just go with Silian Rail.

*Editor’s note: Highlight the excised sections to read the words beneath. (Return.)