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.
Go beyond the episode:
- Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet
- Read her Resident Linguist column at Wired, formerly at The Toast (you may remember reading about the grammar of doge, perhaps? Much wow) or catch up on the Lingthusiasm Podcast
- Phone calls have been supplanted by text messages—will voice texting be next? Or are the people using voice texting pointing out a fundamental lack, in language or keyboard support?
- Inevitably, Godwin’s Law states, “as an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1.” Read creator Mike Godwin’s explanation for why he created his counter-meme, and why, in the case of actual fascists, calling someone a Nazi is well within the norms of discourse
- Peruse the LOLCat Bible or the Creepypasta Wiki, deemed worthy of archive by the Library of Congress (file under folklore)
- If all these memes confuse you, you can always find your footing at Know Your Meme
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.
Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)
Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.