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How Internet Slang Is Changing Language | Understanding with Unbabel


We’ve all seen it happen: Mom, Dad, or even
Grandma saying LOL instead of actually laughing out loud. You might of even OK-boomeranged them back… The Internet has given us far more distracted
boyfriends, Good Guy Gregs, and philosophical doges than we could ever have asked for. But it’s also changed the way we speak,
right down to our syntax. The origin of the term meme itself helps explain
the power of internet slang. Coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins
in 1976, meme was the societal equivalent of gene, with images and phrases mutating
over time, evolving beyond their original cultural moment or going extinct. Internet slang often emerges alongside memorable
images, but takes on a life of its own as users engage in a phenomenon called linguistic
accommodation. Basically, a speaker alters their speech by
imitating whoever they’re talking with, to be better understood and socially accepted… The same way we adopt cultural references
without knowing their exact context, we use meme language without paying much attention
to the original… The ubiquity, variety, and expressive capacity
of memes mean that sentences like “You’re forever alone because you’re
a grumpy cat. You should adopt a doggo.” can be easily understood, even though literally
they might not make sense The force of Internet zeitgeist has been changing
and supercharging our conversations for over thirty years— starting in the early 1980s, with Calgary
resident Wayne Pearson’s alleged coining of LOL, the 1990 LMAO, minted by a particularly fun-loving
party of Dungeons and Dragons players, and the 1994 OMG, which traces its root backs
to online soap opera forums and, some would argue, a 1917 letter to Winston Churchill… But not everyone’s on board with IRL-use
of internet slang, with language purists arguing that it merely homogenizes speech across large
groups of speakers. Yet internet memes and slang arose as a creative
workaround to the limits of different mediums — say, Twitter’s character maximum or
a text message’s lack of support for non-verbal language. While digital channels have grown increasingly
sophisticated, this creative confinement has given rise to delicious bits of language that
live on in our collective memory. The internet has enlarged our vocabulary and
added yet another layer of nuance to the way we write and speak — and IMHO that can only
be a good thing.

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