Monday, 15 February 2021

Falling out of love

This is a terrible subject for the day after Valentine's! But I meant to post it last week when the dangers of blogging over a house move were brought home to me by BT being about to cut off my phone, email and Internet, because they had confused the new address with the old one! Many hours on the phone later and it is resolved and everything works.

What we have this week is book- or CD- shelves being installed in five rooms. Huge quantities of material have arrived and two men are laying sheets of cardboard in the hall and plastic on the stairs. This makes for somewhat distracted posting but at least the electrician is not here today, cutting off power or broadband.

I am currently without a study and working on the dining table (brings back memories) but my garden office is being painted this week and its bookshelves installed the week after. Perhaps by the spring normal service will be renewed at Grandma's.

Anyway, back to falling out of love. You may have seen recently reports of a study, which used couples' messages to each other on Reddit to analyse if you could tell a relationship was breaking up months before it actually disintegrated. (I have tried to gain access to the original research paper as all the print media are clearly working from a Press Release, but it wasn't to be. I need a user name and password which my "institution" could provide if the London Library were answering the phone, but instead it is getting on with the more important business of sending me books).

Sarah Seraj is an Psychology PhD student at the University of Austin in Texas, who, together with Kate G. Blackburn and James W. Pennebaker, looked at a million messages between couples on Reddit and saw how the language of them changed over a period before a break-up (the team found 6,803 people who admitted going through a breakup, on the subreddit r/BreakUps. They then tracked their other Reddit posts a year before and after the breakup to see if there were any hidden signs of what was about to happen - looking at posts where they talked about all types of subject matter, not just the posts about their relationships).

I wish I could say that their findings would enable the more apprehensive of you to look at text messages, WhatsApps or whatever and have your fears confirmed or rebutted that things in your relationship were not going well. But it's not as straightforward as that.

Seraj says the main changes are in the use of prepositions, pronouns and articles but these changes can be so subtle that even the poster, let alone the recipient, might not know yet that the relationship was heading for the rocks.

So - to the changes. There is an increased use of "I" and "we" pronouns. "Would," "should," "result" and "because" also become more common. There is an increased use of "very," "really," "no" and "never." But other "functional words," like “a”, “the”, “in” and “at” fall off, indicating a loss of logical thinking.

You could try plotting these changes against recent communications from a loved one but the research offers no advice on how to reverse the changes. Maybe you need to keep an eye on the pronouns and start putting the articles back in?

Here is my poem for yesterday:

Roses are red

Violets are mauve

We go together

Like Brighton and Hove


Word of the week: (vaccine) passport

There are much talk of a "vaccine passport" at the moment. It seems a bit of a misnomer, since this document on its own would not get you across any border. The word comes from Old French "passe-port" (c.1500), a document that would enable the holder to pass through a seaport. 

The vaccine passport, on the other hand, might grant you access to shops, festivals and other venues. There is confusion in the Cabinet about whether such a thing will ever exist but there is an App in development and I wouldn't be at all surprised.

So if we ever get to travel abroad again, we might be asked for both our passports, the one to confirm our identity and the one that shows we've had - presumably two - vaccinations.

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