Over the years I've received many emails from my advisor consisting entirely of those two words--and most often in response to a message that would seem to require a more lengthy reply. Just a couple of months ago, in fact, I emailed her with a request, followed by an explanation, and then a series of related questions: do you want me to do A-B-C? I can also do D-E-F. Or you might need G-H-I. Please let me know.
Her reply? "Okay, Flavia."
This kind of reply used to drive me nuts, but everything seems more fraught when you're a graduate student ("okay, what?" I'd ask my friends. "She didn't answer my question! Is that deliberate? Is she angry at me? I can't ask her to clarify! What if she's angry?"). Now I just shrug and email her back: "Thanks so much! I'm assuming from your message that there's no reason for me to do A-B-C, D-E-F, or G-H-I, so I'm going to go ahead and do J. If I've misunderstood, just let me know."
More importantly, I now recognize just how beautiful and versatile the "Okay, Flavia" email truly is.
A student emails me with a three-paragraph account of the mishaps that led to her missing class, a vague expression of concern about her grade, and a promise that she'll really really try to do better? "Okay, Suzy," I write back.
Another student emails to tell me he's taking an extension on this paper and then demands how I could possibly have given him a C on the previous one when he's been working so hard and going to the writing center and everything? "Okay, Bobby," I type, and hit send.
It's not that I'm deliberately trying to be obscure--and I don't think Advisor is, either--it's just that so many of the emails I get are so exhausting or unnecessary or involve the wrong questions. (That second student? We've met many times to discuss his writing and I've been encouraging and supportive. . . but he never reads my comments and can't understand why doing X doesn't lead immediately and inevitably to grade Y.)
The "Okay, Flavia" email is a way of acknowledging receipt while also saying, "enough already!" Sometimes the additional subtext is, "stop being so anxious! you're fine!" and other times it's "stop irritating me and get your act together!" In the end, though, I'm not sure it matters.
The fuller translation of the "Okay, Flavia" email, I think, goes something like this: "Thanks for keeping me in the loop, and I acknowledge that you have said some words in my direction. But you need to stop making this about me. You're a sensible person and can probably get your shit together on your own (and if you don't, that's not really my problem). Now stop fretting and go do something useful!"
And really: that's not such a bad message either to send or receive, now is it?