Internet slang

Internet slang

Internet slang (Internet short-hand, netspeak or chatspeak) is a type of slang that Internet users have popularized, and in many cases, have coined. Such terms often originate with the purpose of saving keystrokes. Many people use the same abbreviations in texting and instant messaging, and social networking websites. Acronyms, keyboard symbols and shortened words are often used as methods of abbreviation in Internet slang. New dialects of slang, such as leet or Lolspeak, develop as ingroup memes rather than time savers.



Some of the terms and abbreviations used in internet slang appear to derive from fanspeak, the slang of science fiction fandom. A significant portion of computer programmers and users have historically been science fiction readers.

In 1975, Raphael Finkel of Stanford University compiled a collection of hacker slang, the Jargon File, from technical cultures, such as the MIT AI Lab, the Stanford AI Lab (SAIL) and others, of the old ARPANET AI/LISP/PDP-10 communities. Two items on this list in current use as Internet slang are "flame" and "loser". By 1990, the Jargon File had been enriched with examples of smallhand used in talk mode between 2 terminals, (for example, "BTW", "FYI", and "THX") as well as some slang expressions in use on Usenet and new commercial networks like CompuServe (for example, "LOL", "ROTF", and "AFK").[1]

A Computerworld article, discussing the origin of several current web slang terms, cites a still-online FidoNet article from 1989,[2] which displays emoticons in addition to all-caps shortcuts like "LOL", "BRB" and "TTYT".[3]

Use beyond computer-mediated communication

Many items of Internet jargon cross from computer-mediated communication to face-to-face communication. For example, The New York Times' "Buzzwords of 2008" article includes: "FAIL", "longphoto", (a term coined by Flickr for videos less than 90 seconds long), "DWT" (Driving While Texting) and various terms starting with "tw-", inspired by the web service Twitter.[4]

Among teenagers, Internet acronyms are used in spoken as well as in written communications.[5] For example, "ROFL" (play /ˈrfəl/ or /ˈrɒfəl/, meaning Rolling On [the] Floor Laughing), "BTW" (By The Way), "4gt" (forgot), and "LOL" (Laugh out loud) (play /ˈll/, /ˈlɒl/, or /ˌɛlˈɛl/). David Crystal observes that the crossover from written slang to speech is "a brand new variety of language evolving, invented really by young people... within five years! It's extraordinary."[5]

Other commentators disagree, saying that these new words, being abbreviations for existing, long-used, phrases, don't "enrich" anything; they just shorten it.[5][6] Furthermore, linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh states that even if interjections such as LOL, WUU2 and ROFL were to become very common in spoken English, their "total effect on language" would be "utterly trivial".[7]

Laccetti, a professor of humanities at the Stevens Institute of Technology and Molski, in their essay entitled The Lost Art of Writing,[8][9] are critical of the acronyms, predicting drastically reduced chances of employment for students who use such acronyms, stating that, "Unfortunately for these students, their bosses will not be 'lol' when they read a report that lacks proper punctuation and grammar, has numerous misspellings, various made-up words, and silly acronyms." The other end of the same spectrum, however, is good communication with correct spelling and grammar that simply happens to use well-known and non-novel terms that originated as internet slang but long ago became widely known items of general vocabulary. Thus, formal writing that includes "FYI" or "FAQ", which one or two decades ago would have been judged by the boss as slangy, eventually becomes normal usage, because "FYI" or "FAQ" concisely express the exact idea intended and retain no crypticness to anyone but digital illiterates. In this case, the usage evolution is only an example of register dynamism over time, which is normal in natural language.

Yunker and Barry,[10] in a study of online courses and how they can be improved through podcasting, have found that these acronyms, as well as emoticons, are "often misunderstood" by students and are "difficult to decipher" unless their meanings are explained in advance. They single out the example of "ROFL" as not obviously being the abbreviation of "rolling on the floor laughing" (emphasis added). Haig[11] singles out "LOL" as one of the three most popular initialisms in Internet slang, alongside "BFN" (bye for now) and "IMHO" (in my humble opinion). In general, he describes these acronyms and the various initialisms of Internet slang as convenient, but warns that "as ever more obscure acronyms emerge they can also be rather confusing".

A 2003 study of college students, by Naomi Baron, found that the use of initialisms, even in computer-mediated communication (CMC) and specifically in instant messaging, was actually lower than she had expected. The students "used few abbreviations, acronyms, and emoticons". The spelling was "reasonably good" and contractions were "not ubiquitous". Out of 2,185 transmissions, there were 90 initialisms in total, only 31 CMC-style abbreviations, and 49 emoticons.[6] Out of the 90 initialisms, 76 were occurrences of "lol".[12]

Internet slang shortcuts save time for the writer but take twice as long for the reader to understand, according to a study by psychologist Nenagh Kemp at the University of Tasmania.[13]

Linguistic analysis

Shortis[14] observes that LOL is a means of "annotating text with stage directions". Hueng,[15] in discussing these acronyms in the context of performative utterances, points out the difference between telling someone that one is laughing out loud and actually laughing out loud: "The latter response is a straightforward action. The former is a self-reflexive representation of an action: I not only do something but also show you that I am doing it. David Crystal[16] notes that use of LOL is not necessarily genuine, just as the use of smiley faces or grins is not necessarily genuine, posing the rhetorical question, "How many people are actually 'laughing out loud' when they send LOL?". Franzini[17] concurs, stating that there is as yet no research that has determined the percentage of people who are actually laughing out loud when they write "LOL".

Bonnie Ruberg, in an article concerning Internet linguistics, shares the following insight, "In a world of text communication where real-life facial expressions and vocal intonations are impossible, abbreviations like "lol" sacrifice their real meaning in order to articulate our nuanced intentions. They, in and of themselves, become glib, cliche—while at the same time almost necessary for expression online."[18]

Victoria Clarke, in her analysis of telnet talkers,[19] states that capitalization is important when people write "LOL" and that "a user who types LOL may well be laughing louder than one who types lol", and opines that "these standard expressions of laughter are losing force through overuse." Egan[20] describes LOL, ROTFL, and other initialisms as helpful as long as they are not overused. He recommends against their use in business correspondence because the recipient may not be aware of their meanings and in general, neither they nor emoticons are (in his view) appropriate in such correspondence. June Hines Moore[21] shares that view. So, too, does Lindsell-Roberts,[22] who gives the same advice of not using them in business correspondence, "or you won't be LOL'ing".

See also


  1. ^ Jargon file, version 2.1.1 (draft) 12 JUN 1990
  2. ^ FidoNews (May 8, 1989)
  3. ^ Computerworld (November 7, 2008) "FWIW -- The origins of 'Net shorthand"
  4. ^ Mark Leibovich and Grant Barrett (December 21, 2008). "The Buzzwords of 2008". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ a b c Ulaby, Neda (18 February 2006). "OMG: IM Slang Is Invading Everyday English". Digital Life. NPR. Retrieved 25 March 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Kristen Philipkoski (February 22, 2005). "The Web Not the Death of Language". Wired News.,1284,66671,00.html. 
  7. ^ Geoffrey K. Pullum (January 23, 2005). "English in Deep Trouble?". Language Log. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  8. ^ Silvio Laccetti and Scott Molski (September 6, 2003). "Cost of poor writing no laughing matter". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
  9. ^ "Article co-authored by Stevens professor, Laccetti, and student, Molski, garners nationwide attention from business, academia" (Press release). Stevens Institute of Technology. October 22, 2003. 
  10. ^ Frank Yunker and Stephen Barry. "Threaded Podcasting: The Evolution of On-Line Learning". In Dan Remenyi. Proceedings of the International Conference on e-Learning, Université du Québec à Montréal, 22–23 June 2006. Academic Conferences Limited. pp. 516. ISBN 1905305222. 
  11. ^ Matt Haig (2001). E-Mail Essentials: How to Make the Most of E-Communications. Kogan Page. pp. 89. ISBN 0749435763. 
  12. ^ Naomi Baron (February 18, 200r). "Instant Messaging by American College Students: A Case Study in Computer-Mediated Communication". American Association for the Advancement of Science. 
  13. ^ "Don't be 404, know the tech slang". BBC. December 10, 2008. 
  14. ^ Tim Shortis (2001). The Language of ICT. Routledge. pp. 60. ISBN 0415222753. 
  15. ^ Jiuan Hueng (2003). "The emergence of pure consciousness: The Theatre of Virtual Selves in the age of the Internet". In Peter D. Hershock, M. T. Stepaniants, and Roger T. Ames. Technology and Cultural Values: On the Edge of the Third Millennium. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 561. ISBN 0824826477. 
  16. ^ David Crystal (September 20, 2001). Language and the Internet. Cambridge University Press. pp. 34. ISBN 0-521-80212-1. 
  17. ^ Louis R. Franzini (2002). Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child's Sense of Humor. Square One Publishers, Inc.. pp. 145–146. ISBN 0757000088. 
  18. ^ Ruberg, Bonnie, "Naked in a Lawn Chair, LOL"
  19. ^ Victoria Clarke (January 30, 2002). "Internet English: an analysis of the variety of language used on Telnet talkers" (PDF). 
  20. ^ Michael Egan. Email Etiquette. Cool Publications Ltd. pp. 32, 57–58. ISBN 1844811182. 
  21. ^ June Hines Moore (2007). Manners Made Easy for Teens. B&H Publishing Group. pp. 54. ISBN 0805444599. 
  22. ^ Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts. Strategic Business Letters and E-Mail. Houghton Mifflin. pp. 289. ISBN 0618448330. 

Further reading

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