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How Swipe Right Became Part Of Our Vocab Today

Man leaning against a wall swiping right on dating app on his phone

Unless you’ve been living in a windswept Norwegian meadow, miles from civilization (and if you have: wow), you’ll the know meaning of the phrase ‘swipe right’. In 2021, almost everybody on the planet has either used a dating app or knows somebody who has. But just on the off chance you have spent the last ten years frolicking in the hills far from society, here’s a little explanation:

To ‘swipe right’ (or indeed, to ‘swipe left’) refers to the selection process used by many modern dating apps. Imagine a stack of cards on a table before you—each card adorned with the grinning face of a hopeful single person. You work your way through the pile, moving cards to the right of the pile if you find the person attractive, and to the left if you do not.

At the same time, other people, unseen in other rooms, are doing the same thing—and your card is in their pile. If you both ‘swipe right’ on one another, thereby deeming one another attractive and establishing mutual interest, a little klaxon goes off and you’re both prodded into a room together to quaff wine and exchange witty pick-up lines.

So then, in the context of this article, ‘swiping right’ is that, except digital. You do it on an app. And the app that started it all was of course, the ubiquitous, the notorious: Tinder.

Swipe Right: Where did it all begin?

In this interview with Business Insider, Tinder founder Jonathan Badeen explains how he came up with the revolutionary app feature. When the app was first designed in late 2012, there was no swiping involved: instead, users would simply press a tick or cross icon to indicate whether they liked a member’s simplistic profile.

This in itself was new ground, with other dating sites believing such reductive profiles would prove unpopular. Badeen pushed on regardless, seeking to ‘gamify’ his dating app, believing that reams of information were unnecessary to daters: intuition alone would be enough. Deeming the original tick/cross-function too clunky, he began to search for an improved method of matching.

He explains, “I put myself in the place of a typical Tinder user: … walking across campus, coffee in one hand and phone in the other, rapidly searching for matches between classes. I needed… something that wouldn’t require the user to be so precise.”

Getting steamy

Badeen was stumped for weeks, searching in vain for the perfect mechanism to get users hooked on his app, until one day-so the story goes-when he left the shower and gazed into a steamed-up mirror. Swiping his palm left and right across the glass to clear it, the idea struck him that this was the simple, the exact motion that would bring his app to life. After finding that nobody else had yet come up with this idea, Badeen implanted it in Tinder, and the rest is history.

Is this whimsical story true? Eh, maybe. What is undeniable, however, is that swiping right changed the online dating scene forever. In the years that followed, buses, trains and subways became noticeably busy with commuters with eyes down, fingers swiping right and left through an inexhaustible roster of glamourous selfies. Swipe after swipe, match after match, pick-up line after cheesy pick-up line: something about the function was fun, moreish, addictive.

Gone global

Nine years after Jonathan Badeen slapped his bathroom mirror, swiping right is a function on most dating apps out there, including Zoosk, Bumble, OkCupid, Chappy and dozens more. While some sites like Zoosk offer other ways to search for a partner in addition to the ol’ swiping carousel, some apps have simply honed the swiping formula for their niche—take Bumble, for example, which works much the same as Tinder, except the onus on sending the first message lies solely with the woman.

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly with hindsight, the runaway success of the swipe right formula hasn’t just stopped at dating sites. There’s very little you can’t swipe your way through today, from job-seeking sites, to music, fashion and news apps.

Slang lessons

Today, swipe right meaning to find someone attractive, is a functional part of our everyday language. Although dating sites like Hinge and Zoosk are seeking to diversify the dating scene once again by offering new ways for couples to begin chatting, it seems very likely that we’ll be using the phrase in our daily lives for a long time yet. Who knows where it will take us?

“Do you… take this man… to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“Swipe right.”

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