In Defense of Internet Slang

So far, I’m finding Feed to be an engaging read.  The first forty pages absolutely flew by and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes.  That being said, I have to admit that I’ve grown slightly weary of the constant bashing of Internet culture/slang.  This phenomenon is far from unique to Feed, but is tiring to encounter nonetheless.

I’ve read enough YA in my day to predict where Feed is headed.  Violet, according to the back blurb, is “a girl who has made a conscious decision to fight the feed.”  She’s going to be the rebel, the one who questions the prevailing cultural norms, and is, in the world of the novel, morally correct. And, in all likelihood, she and Titus are going to end up falling in love  And I couldn’t help but notice that Violet, the beacon of sense, morality, and independence in this world, doesn’t use the slang that Titus and his friends so frequently employ.

My little sister sent me the following text this week and I found it extremely amusing, but it also got me to thinking.

A text reading "2. I find internet langue a lot like Shakespeare. I can’t tell you the exact meaning of the phrases but I can understand what they’re saying overall"
My little sister sharing a thought about Internet slang

I agree with my sister that internet slang can often be totally incomprehensible, like Shakespeare to the untrained reader, but I find another similarity.  I think like Shakespeare, who invented over 1500 words currently in use today, that the Internet is a huge generator of linguistic innovation.  Potentially, the Internet is the largest single innovator since Shakespeare.

I am a huge proponent of neologisms & Internet speak.  I find that Internet linguistic conventions, such as capitalizing words in the middle of the sentence to indicate that it is to be read with That Important Tone and Inflection, is a great way to communicate tone in a text-based medium.  Or maybe…… when you’re a little unsure about something…… using excessive ellipses and question marks to indicate uncertainty???  Our communication is increasingly becoming text-based, and I love how our language evolves to compensate for that change in medium.

So I don’t see any problem with Titus and his friends describing their experiences as “meg null” or talking about getting “weasel-faced.”  I don’t think it indicates a lack of intelligence or linguistic sophistication.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I think it represents the amazing ways in which language evolves as a result of cultural changes, and the ability of Titus and his friends to adapt to changing linguistic norms.  I find linguistic evolution to be a really exciting, positive thing, and I don’t think it matters whether that evolution is spearheaded by an Elizabethan playwright or young people online.

I don’t want to make a judgment about this book before I’m even fifty pages in, but I will say I get a little tired of un-nuanced views of technology.  Technological innovation is almost never entirely good or entirely bad.  I know it’s trendy to universally denigrate technology and the cultural and linguistic changes it brings, but I think there’s a little more to the story than that.

I’ll leave you with this rather sarcastic t-shirt that I think sums up my feelings quite succinctly.

A t-shirt reading "durr hburr technology is bad fire is scary and thomas edison was a witch"
This t-shirt sums up exactly what I hear when people start taking an un-nuanced negative view of technology. Source.

(And for whatever it’s worth, you can be fluent in Internet speak/modern slang and still turn around and use the word “suppuration.”  Code-switching is a skill, not a weakness.)

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