The Lingo of LOLcats

How language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project

Harry Whittier Frees
Harry Whittier Frees

Did you notice when it suddenly became okay not to say goodbye at the end of a text message conversation? Have you responded to work emails solely using ?? Is ~ this ~ your favorite punctuation mark for conveying exactly just how much you just don’t care about something? Welcome, Internet Person—you’re using a different kind of English from the previous generation. But these conversational norms weren’t set on high, and how they evolved over the past decades of Internet usage tells us a lot about how language has always been created: collaboratively. Or, as Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch puts it, “Language is humanity’s most spectacular open source project.” She joins us to analyze the language we use online and off—how it got this way, where it’s going, and why it’s a good thing that our words are changing so quickly. This episode originally aired in 2019.

Go beyond the episode:

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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