Have you been unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of phubbing (when bae uses their phone as a handy tool to unceremoniously blow you off) or breadcrumbing (when a potential S.O. you’ve been chatting up online seems super into you in the conversational phase, but is less interested in nailing down specific plans)? How about kittenfishing (perhaps the newest online dating term), which describes what happens when someone uses online interaction to present themself in an unrealistically positive light? If you or a friend has experienced any of the dreadful dating practices that we’ve so easily come to describe with adorable-sounding nouns, you already know that those behaviors sound a lot cuter than they feel. We’ve grown so used to these terms, though, that as we toss them around in day-to-day girl talk, it’s easy to forget that what they really represent is terrible dating conduct — the kind that might have been entirely unacceptable in the years before dating through apps and websites became the norm. When you think about it, these phrases are pretty problematic: So why have they become so deeply rooted in our romantic vocabulary?

A woman sits on a bench as she types on her phone

It may have something to do with our natural human tendency to assign names to things. According to pro lexicographer Jane Solomon — who works for Dictionary.com writing and updating definitions, evaluating language trends, and contributing to the site’s annual Word of the Year updates — we have a “complex relationship” with naming ideas and items. Among other phenomena, this is evident in our use of euphemisms, which we use to refer to concepts that cannot be more easily identified. When it comes to our cutesy modern dating vocabulary, Solomon tells us that words like “catfishing” and “ghosting” have evolved for a very specific reason: “Dating can be harsh, but these terms give us a relatively lighthearted way to discuss very real disappointment and trauma. Being able to laugh at a negative experience [by using these words] can be a great way to start the process of moving on.”

According to Solomon, we’ve also adopted this language around dating to make it easier to describe difficult experiences that are common in the modern search for love. It can feel complicated — and quite frankly, embarrassing — to describe in great detail a budding online relationship that’s ended by, for example, the other person abruptly stopping contact with no warning. Chalking it up to friends as “ghosting” at least makes the disappointment easier to talk about. “This one term can instantly evoke empathy and understanding among friends without a need to go into the details,” Solomon explains. “Yes, you’ve been ghosted, but now you’re a part of the massive club of people who have been ghosted. Suddenly, your experience has given you the ability to relate to people on a different level. There’s power in that.”

Caitlin Bergstein, a matchmaker with Three Day Rule, echoes the language expert’s thoughts on “ghosting,” noting that the word paved the way for other terms that would help cushion the pain of rejection and vulnerability. And while she agrees that the development of this lexicon around bad behavior creates opportunities for its “victims” to bond, she also worries that it’s made people a little too comfortable with the practices these words describe. “The popularization of these terms has led to an increase in them happening,” Bergstein asserts. “While it’s still awful, it’s no longer as big of a deal if someone is ghosted. That’s just a part of dating now.”

A woman smiles as she looks up from her smartphone

We’re not sure how we feel about living in a world where we simply need to accept that ghosting and its counterparts are a necessary evil, but both Solomon and Bergstein think that this trend toward normalizing questionable behavior via vocabulary is here to stay. “As long as it continues to be easy to get away with these horrible behaviors and simply move on to the next, society will continue to accept, embrace, and create new cutesy terms that make others’ actions seem less hurtful,” Bergstein says. Solomon also anticipates that new words will continue to crop up as technology advances and new love-seekers come of age: “[Young people’s] experiences and linguistic creativity will contribute to the types of words we use to discuss dating.”

While these outlooks on dating don’t exactly feel like a vote of confidence for the state of love in the 21st century, our matchmaking expert wants you to know that it’s not all doom, gloom, and kittenfishing. “While these dating habits are prevalent, not everyone who is dating is looking to ghost, breadcrumb, bench, etc.,” Bergstein encourages. “Your biggest mistake would be to assume that everyone is trying to participate in these behaviors.”

What do you think of these cutesy euphemisms for bad dating habits? Tweet us @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)