A few days ago, my roommates and I were talking about which first names and surnames sound good together.
We came up with the name “Ella Wellman.” Looks neutral enough, right? Try saying it out loud. It sounds a lot like “ell-oh-ell, man.” As in, laughing out loud, man. It sounds like something you’d find in a text message.
That we even made this observation suggests internet slang is slipping into the real world.
Apparently, my roommates and I are not alone. When I searched “using internet slang,” the first result Google suggested was “using internet slang in real life.”
Rather than a sign of deterioration, internet slang is a sign of evolution in the English language.
I followed this suggestion, and my screen became filled with people either celebrating the practice or complaining about how annoying it is. Love it or hate it, it’s a thing, but not necessarily a bad thing.
Internet slang might seem like the downfall of English. I’ve heard many professors complain about the way abbreviations and excessive lowercase letters slip into our essays. Perhaps internet writing is not appropriate for the classroom or the workplace right now, but one day, it will be. Dictionaries and style guides make languages seem like static entities. In fact, the evolution of language is very alive. They just take longer to grow.
English grows faster than most, and this characteristic is largely a result of ancient war and conquest. Around 450 A.D., Germanic tribes repeatedly invaded the island known today as the United Kingdom. In 1066, the Norman-French did the same.
That’s why English speakers can recognize many words in German and French: English started as a fusion of early versions of these two languages.
Though the Bible, Chaucer and Shakespeare gave English more coherence, its messy beginnings cemented it as a language that can quickly absorb words. Shakespeare himself modified and invented a few of them. Some examples: drugged, puking and gossip. Imagine if we didn’t have the terms to describe these things. What would college be like?
Today, many words with online roots fill gaps in formal language. The word “googled” is one of them. Like the word “kleenex,” it refers to both a brand and something beyond that brand.
“Googled” is a perfect description of a modern act: typing a word or a phrase and seeing where it shows up on the Internet.
Though the word is not yet appropriate for a research paper, people regularly throw it around in class. It’s a word in transition.
Some useful phrases have yet to gain such wide acceptance. “TL,DR” is one of them: “too long, didn’t read.” One can find this abbreviation posted under many blog posts.
It describes a particular feeling many millennials can relate to — the feeling of not wanting to read something long and uninteresting because there are pictures to post and clips to watch.
Right now, there’s no matching phrase in formal English. It’s not exactly wholesome, but then again, neither is “gossip.”
Still, some people who accept internet slang might take issue with internet grammar. But grammar evolves too, and it is evolving in interesting ways.
For example, Facebookers often type in all capital letters or omit punctuation. Many people make these technical mistakes quite deliberately.
Capital letters indicate either intensity or fake intensity for the sake of irony; lack of punctuation points to a blasé attitude about language. For a live demonstration of these principles, talk to anyone analyzing a text from his or her crush.
It’s true that not all internet slang has quality. There aren’t millions of Shakespeare-level writers surfing the web.
Not every word, phrase or grammatical idiosyncrasy will become formalized in the year 3000. Some will drop off.
Yet some will live on — and if you think you’ve found a word worth keeping, there’s no shame in using it.
Maya Itah is a senior majoring in communication. Her column “From Behind The Screen” runs Thursdays.