Internet slang has gotten a bad reputation during recent years, perhaps as a natural reaction to change. In general, humans don’t like change and are usually resistant, to the point that they figuratively cover theirs ears and babble nonsense.
Even more, people view language as intensely personal; language promotes a sense of unity, through patriotism to their countries & cultures, which molds identities and perceptions. So, it makes sense when many are outraged by the Oxford English Dictionary adding words like “OMG” and “FYI” to our official lexicon in 2011.
It all started roughly 30,000 to 100,000 years ago—humans began communicating orally to each other, although the exact process is still unknown. To condense an extremely convoluted process: language is a byproduct of evolution, not a specific adaptation that just spontaneously occurred, a theory popularized by linguist Noam Chomsky and biologist Stephen Jay. There is, of course, still much debate over the origins.
The evolution of language as we know it today, from Old English to Middle English to Modern English, has been relatively slow until now. The internet has literally catapulted our colloquialisms to the moon and back; David Crystal, professor of linguistics at the University of Bangor, told BBC News, “Language itself changes slowly but the internet has speeded up the process of those changes so you notice them more quickly.”
While it may seem like a bunch of gibberish only Gen-Y cares about, internet slang has even made it to the courts. During David Kernell’s trial, otherwise known as the hacker ‘Rubico’, Christopher Poole (the founder of 4chan) was called to testify on the meaning of ‘rickrolling,’ ‘trolling,’ ‘lurker,’ and ‘caps.’ It is important to note that slang words are usually not new inventions, but merely garner alternate roles culturally.
For instance, TTFN (ta ta for now) is an acronym from the 1940s, while the phrase “social networking” appeared in the OED in 1973. Its meaning has merely been altered, not invented, with cultural change due to technology, which has happened all throughout history. “Googled” is the prime example of trends blending with language: it represents a type of research intrinsic both to the internet and to a major platform.
Inventing and repurposing words in English has been going on for centuries. By nature, English is a composite of German and French as a result of former conquests—around 450 AD, Germanic tribes invaded the now United Kingdom, whereas in 1066, Norman-France did the same. Thanks to Shakespeare, we have 1,700 words that he invented or popularized, such as gloomy, lonely, fashionable, eyeball, radiance, frugal, zany, rant, and undress.
While slang and internet chatter may come and go like bad fashion trends (shoulder pads, anyone?), one thing will remain the same: the world wide web is here to stay and it’ll continue to transform the way we communicate faster than the L train.