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MARCH 14, 2012

FYI: There’s a new lingo in town. It’s reserved for the internet’s 733t, those who can play with abbreviations and HTML codings, no matter their a/s/l. In a few years of use, this alphabet-soup language can save you a few minutes of typing time, but most cyber-dialogists DGAF about that. They’ve got the blogo-blarney touch, and vis-a-vis the tradition of written English language, their netspeak is proudly acronyming FTW, with a 😉 on its face.

The poet Claude McKay, scribe of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote: “I shall return / To laugh and love and watch with wonder-eyes / At golden noon the forest fires burn”; I prefer to say I’ll BRB. While I’m GTRM and AFK, and you are sitting here wondering what I mean by that, let me remind you: WAEFRD. So here they are: If you like a phrase, go ahead, make it an acronym. Most of the time it will make you look absurd and a little narcissistic, and your friends will think you’re more geeky than a hawker of hand-painted Spock dolls at ComicCon — NTTAWWT — but if you’re lucky, your abbrev. could catch on like a five-alarm Firewall-buster, and soon you’ll be the darling of texts, music-hype message boards, and creepy-ass chat rooms all the way to Tim$2.

On the Internet, have no fear: Your words are infallible. Grammar, the steel-toed captain of prose, and his painstaking drill sergeant punctuation dare not cross the razor wire of broadband that separates the world of free online expression from the staid totalitarianism of print. No one has the chutzpah to try and correct the syntax of the Lolcats army. Not a soul is silly enough to sully their online reputation by sticking to the old method of proper speling. *spelling. There’s no shame in an asterisk.

Websites are to real world language as the Visigoths were to the ancient Romans: wild, vicious and capable of persistent raids and incursions into formerly safe territories. No business (I’m looking at you, Land O’ Lakes and Toronto’s WTF Group) should choose its name without double-checking the acronymic version. And no politician should make a bigoted comment without expecting his name to be redefined as a byproduct (I don’t want to look at you, Rick Santorum).

Make no mistake, the Internet is the battleground for today’s linguistic revolution, a fight for the inalienable rights to informality, irony and adding “z” to the end of wordz.

All you literate scholars and students of Her Majesty’s tongue must be like, “WTHIGO?” Let me explain. These letter codes are not the condensed names for complicated nonprofits, secret government research projects or scrolling ticker-tape stocks. They are an example of how the Internet democratizes life and brings the oddity, hilarity and ingenuity of the commoner out into the open. Jean-skirted grammarians might be tearing their graying hairs out over the proliferation of n00b-level interpretations of the language of Shakespeare, Blake, Danielle Steel et al., but we young, far away from AP English class, can LOL and ROFL as we abbreviate with reckless abandon. To the “Universal Language,” we have said: “Welcome to our world.”

IMHO, there are certain characteristics of Internet slang or Netspeak that mark ours as an altogether new era of communication. Any slang term that is born and raised on the Internet goes through a metamorphosis of meaning as it’s used such that it acquires a whole host of connotations, just like it’s an ordinary, offline phrase. But its maturation occurs much more rapidly and improbably, with cats involved.

Take, for example, that most venerable idiom of the Internet, LOL. It began as a simple, literally translatable phrase — “Laugh Out Loud” — and perhaps its first users really did save it for those rare occasions when they bounced back in their chairs and let out a guffaw. Yet as any 13-year-old knows and can exploit, Internet communication (AIM, chat rooms and the like) is inherently ambiguous, its subtexts and underlying meanings contained in the time between responses, the pregnant pauses, the things not said. So by saving your LOL for the times when you actually laugh, you might be offending your conversation partner: Better to throw in a LOL to be sociable. Thus LOL becomes this marker of good cheer, or wry amusement, but definitely not laughing, per se. And as you sound it out, it sounds like “LAWL,” so then you start writing that, to be clever.

Having an expression for amusement is convenient, but it sure would be nice to have an expression for those times when you would prefer to sarcastically be amused: How about adding a “z”? That would be ironic and farcical. Then put the LOL on top of a picture of a cat, and you’ve got a neat trend going. The term evolves at the pace of thought, and in its evolution we can see the basics of human morphology, phonology and pragmatics: our linguistic nature laid bare.

Now LOL is on a Sweethearts candy and in the Oxford Dictionary and is the title to a Miley Cyrus flick coming out in May. It’s beginning to creep into conversation, leaving an unpleasant mood in the air when someone replaces laughter with its abbreviation — sounding somewhat contrived, somewhat artificial, definitely foreign “lawl.”

We see in the saga of LOL an example of the way in which the Internet is reshaping language and altering the way we communicate. The bounds of effective written communication are being reformed every day by the blogging pioneers of cyberspace. BTA, there’s something crass and cheap about Netspeak. To quote the great Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”: “Why don’t you just laugh?”

Contact Anthony DeMaria at 


MARCH 13, 2012