Internet lingo makes dummies of us all.
When I was in sixth grade, one of my classmates got his hands on a copy of Eddie Murphy Raw, in which Murphy imagines Bill Cosby paraphrasing his act as, “Filth flarn filth!” Within a day, every boy in the class was constantly yelling, “Filth flarn! Flarn filth!” I had no idea who Eddie Murphy was, but that didn’t matter—this new phrase sounded kind of funny and everyone was saying it. Thus, so did I. The abrupt mass adoption of slang was such a common grade-school phenomenon that I never thought much about it, but I’m sure my parents wondered what the hell was going on when I’d come home from school yelling, “Hot tub! Too hot! Gonna burn myself!” Eddie Murphy was a major cultural influence on little white kids in 1980s Maine.
Kids are constantly picking up linguistic quirks en masse, as nobody wants to be left on the sidelines sounding like a baffled foreign exchange student. But at some point, we outgrow this habit, becoming self-aware enough to know when we sound like idiots. At least, that’s what used to happen.
Now, thanks to our electronic tethers, the classroom hive-mind extends to adulthood. And the problem isn’t just that we sound like dummies. It’s that we all sound like the same dummy. The echo chamber of the Internet has reduced us all to a bunch of sixth-graders yelling, “Flarn filth!”
I realize this makes me sound like an irritable 95-year-old complaining that the rock ’n’ roll music will be the death of us all, but I find it depressing when our colorful tapestry of individually expressed emotions unravels into the gray fog of a million people writing “Just sayin’.” I can’t stand “Just sayin’.” More than the fact that uttering it makes you sound like a smarmy bore, it makes you indistinguishable from every other smarmy bore on your Facebook feed. We’re crowdsourcing language, as evidenced by the fact that I just used the word “crowdsourcing.”
“Full stop” is another suddenly popular phrase that’s popping up online and in my inbox. It’s basically shorthand for, “I wish to start an argument over the aforementioned point, and my opinions are deeply held and inflexible.” I’m sick of that phrase because it is the most obnoxious way to end a paragraph. Full stop.
Besides specific phrases, there are certain gimmicks that were possibly once clever but have been blunted by the endless online repetition. For instance, before you post a status update proclaiming that you and an inanimate object need to have a talk—i.e., “OK, MacBook Pro with retina display, you and I need to have a talk”—consider that you’re the 10 millionth person to use that particular rhetorical device so far this morning. Maybe only the nine millionth, if you write that you *need* to have a talk.
If you really want to plumb the depths of human discourse, spend a little time on Craigslist. I’ve been looking for an old truck, and a few weeks parsing Craigslist ads has made me fearful for the future of our society. For one thing, the word “probably” is evidently far too cumbersome for us busy modern Americans, hence its replacement with the more facile “prolly.” As in, “As I sit here composing this Craigslist ad for my 1995 F-250, I’m prolly drunk.”
If you wish to sell that F-250 quickly, then you’ll write, “Extenuating circumstances dictate the sale of this vehicle in a timely manner.” JK! I’ve learned that old reliable “must sell” is out, replaced by the aggressively barbaric “need gone,” usually rendered in all caps. In Attleboro, a gentleman selling his 1993 Mazda declares, “Need gone now!” I imagine if you thought the car overpriced, you could confront him by grunting three times and making extended eye contact to communicate a lack of respect.
I know that writers have been decrying the decline of the language probably since Gutenberg fired off the first compendium of fart jokes. But it seems like the situation is getting worse thanks to our constant trend-seeking and immersion in one another’s written chatter. If the Internet had been around in e.e. cummings’ day, there would’ve been two weeks in 1951 when everyone got real crazy with their punctuation.
I recognize that informal e-mails, classified ads and quick status updates don’t need to conform to the AP Style Guide. And I’m sure that insidious generic Internet-speak creeps into my writing no matter how diligently I attempt to exorcise it. But I still can’t help but feel that the more time I spend online, the less articulate I become. LOL, ;), durrrr.
You can say I’m a snob. You can say I’m flat wrong. But unfortunately, I think I’m prolly right.