The Internet’s Contribution to Language

Image 15Have you ever said something to the extent of, “I Googled her blog but I couldn’t comment without logging in.  So I posted on her Facebook wall instead”?  Have you ever stopped to think how nonsensical that would sound to someone only ten years ago?  The dawn of the internet age has revolutionized our world in so many ways they don’t even register with us anymore—just the notion of being able to communicate instantaneously with anyone anywhere in the world is something almost everyone takes for granted.  But even our language has been irrevocably changed by the presence of the internet in our lives.

Everyone has heard, for example, about the controversy of the Swedish word for “unGoogleable,” ogooglebar, when Google took offense to its being added to the list of new words.  The verb “to Google,” meaning to search for something using the search engine Google, is a common term worldwide, with few people remembering that originally a google was a mathematical term for a one with a hundred zeros after it.  (Even more uncountable, a googleplex was the term for a one with a google of zeros after it.)

The other internet hegemon, Facebook, has also injected a strain of new words into our vocabulary that are applicable only when talking about the website: “to friend/unfriend,” “status,” “profile,” “to like/unlike,” and other such Newspeak-esque lingo.  There are even terms that deal with the culture and etiquette of posting on Facebook; “to vaguebook” is when somebody posts something deliberately vague as their status, seeking attention and sympathy, and when somebody asks them what’s wrong they will immediately respond that they can’t or don’t want to talk about it.

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Twitter is another social media site that has such a massive following that its lingo has now become universally recognized—to post something on Twitter is “to tweet” it, and to label a tweet so it can be searched worldwide by other Twitter users is to give it a “hashtag.”  A “hit” is how many times someone reads a particular tweet, “tweeps” are the people who follow you on Twitter (a mix of “Twitter peeps,”) and a “Twitter storm” is a piece of news broadcasted and retweeted across Twitter enough that it garners significant attention in the real world.

Beyond the realm of any one social media site, the phenomenon of internet memes have introduced new phrases and new ways of speaking as well.  (“I can haz cheezburger?” and so on.)  The term meme, from the Ancient Greek mimeme, meaning an imitated thing, was coined by Richard Dawkins in reference to genetic traits that were nonessential to a species’ survival but caught on anyway.  In internet speak, a meme is a picture or video that “goes viral,” or becomes so popular that it spreads between blogs and Tumblrs and Facebook and Twitter with wildfire speed.  Memes have given us valuable cultural contributions such as Nyan Cat, Annoying Facebook Girl, First World Problems, and First World Problems From the 90’s, all of which are now part of the collective consciousness of internet users younger than 30.

What other words created by the internet can you think of?

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