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The English Language In the Digital Age

January 24, 2012

“Like us on Facebook.” This is a common refrain I now hear on the radio, on television, and on the Internet. It does mean something, even if on paper it reads like so much nonsense. The uninitiated may wonder if it is a simile fragment. But by now, most of us know that this expression means exactly what it says, only that “like” doesn’t quite mean like.

 Purists cry out in despair at what they perceive to be an affront to the English language. They refuse to accept that language is fluid and dynamic, dominated more by common cultural parlance than by rules. More astute observers simply shrug their shoulders and accept that such change is inevitable. Ever the clever cultural commentator, E.B. White once speculated that our word “through” would eventually be replaced by “thru” in common usage. Why? The word “thruway,” which was pasted on highway signs across the country at the time White first wrote and edited The Elements of Style. While he failed to accurately predict this dramatic change, White’s reasoning was spot on: usage affects language.

 The language of the Internet has even begun to affect more than just the witten word. It’s not entirely uncommon to hear people my age saying things like “lol” (pronounced “lull” – said in response to something funny) or “wtf” (the initials). This seemingly bizarre transition from convenient abbreviated speech to the spoken word shouldn’t surprise us. The advent of YouTube allowed an entire generation of young users to make videos of themselves interacting with the world around them within the confines of the Internet space. So it’s not surprising that within that space, they would continue to use the language of the Internet.

 What is a little surprising is that this new language has been processed, accepted, and used so quickly. Because the Internet now moves ideas around the world faster than they have ever moved in human history there is no time for a population to filter out words or adapt them to new use. Words move almost instantly from the Internet to the subway. People, not birds, now “tweet.” I can “friend” an inanimate object or “Google” just about anything. That such usage goes unchallenged, except by the most vehement and outspoken grammarians among us, ought to reveal something about the kind of culture the Internet has created. This blog will try and unpack just what that something is in the coming weeks and months.

 AXIOM #2: The language of the Internet enters the language of pop culture instantly and without filter.

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