Why Is Internet Slang So Weird?

Acronyms certainly aren’t a modern invention, but they have certainly become more prevalent in modern times as we come up with some really nifty and complex gadgets that require names that aren’t incredibly annoying, or inappropriate to say.

Can you imagine Dr. Evil saying that he wants sharks with freakin’ light amplification by stimulated emissions of radiation (LASER) beams attached to their freakin’ heads? Or how about Adam Sandler in Big Daddy telling young Frankenstein about Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) Steve?  It just doesn’t roll off the tongue very well.  It is also much more acceptable to tell my boss there was a SNAFU, rather when asked about a project status to reply, “Situation normal: All fucked up.”  Acronyms make the world a much more efficient place, if you ask me.

Now many acronyms, like the ones mentioned above, have been around for some time and refer to specific things or organizations (U.S.A., for example, or UN), but with the rise of the World Wide Web [dot] Commercial world and what with the kids in the chatrooms and the social media and the texting and the instant messaging and so on, there has been a massive explosion of acronyms and acronym use in everyday conversations and pop culture.

Like all forms of slang, there are many different purposes for using internet acronyms or slang. For instance, LOL does its job of conveying something like amusement pretty well. However, there are other purposes and reasons to use acronyms and slang, like showing or establishing yourself to be someone who is “in the know” or a member or someone who belongs to a certain community, whether it be social, professional, or cultural.

Think about how many acronyms you might throw around in your professional life that to an outsider sound like complete mumbo-jumbo. And now think of the “Can haz cheezburger” epidemic.  “Haz cheez burger” was never a more efficient way of saying much, but it definitely marks you as someone who knows what is going on in the Internet.

This Princeton webpage does a good job handling this:

Internet slang (Internet short-hand, leet, 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 ingroupmemes rather than time savers. In leet speak, letters may be replaced by characters of similar appearance. For example, leet is often written as l33t or 1337.

And the Wikipedia page on Internet slang provides this table which also cuts through all the bullshit. Here’s a sampling, check the link for more.

Letter homophones

Included within this group are abbreviations and acronyms. An abbreviation is a shortening of a word, for example “CU” or “CYA” for “see you (see ya)”. An acronym, on the other hand, is a subset of abbreviations and are formed from the initial components of a word. Examples of common acronyms include “LOL” for “laugh out loud” or “lots of love”, and “BTW” for “by the way”. There are also combinations of both, like “CUL8R” for “see you later”, “rofl” for “Rolling on the floor laughing”, and ”omg” for ”oh my God”.

Punctuation, capitalizations and other symbols

Such features are commonly used for emphasis or stress. Periods or exclamation marks may be used repeatedly for emphasis, such as “……..” or “!!!!!!!!!!”. Grammatical punctuation rules are also relaxed on the Internet. “E-mail” may simply be expressed as “email”, and apostrophes can be dropped so that “John’s book” becomes “johns book”. Examples of capitalization include “STOP IT”, which can convey a stronger emotion of annoyance as opposed to “stop it”. Bold, underline and italics are also used to indicate stress.

Onomatopoeic and/or stylized spellings

Onomatopoeic spellings have also become popularized on the Internet. One well-known example is “hahaha” to indicate laughter. Onomatopoeic spellings are very language specific. For instance, in Spanish, laughter will be spelt as “jajaja” instead. Deliberate misspellings, such as “sauce” for “source”, are also used.

Keyboard-generated emoticons and smileys

Emoticons are generally found in web forums, instant messengers and online games. They are culture-specific and certain emoticons are only found in some languages but not in others.

photo credit: Nicolas Nova, Creative Commons/flickr