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Because Internet
Cover of Because Internet
Because Internet
Understanding the New Rules of Language
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!!

A Wired Must-Read Book of Summer
"Gretchen McCulloch is the internet's favorite linguist, and this book is essential reading. Reading her work is like suddenly being able to see the matrix." —Jonny Sun, author of everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too
Because Internet is for anyone who's ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It's the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that's a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are.
Language is humanity's most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies. Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What's more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.
Even the most absurd-looking slang has genuine patterns behind it. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer "LOL" or "lol," why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!!

A Wired Must-Read Book of Summer
"Gretchen McCulloch is the internet's favorite linguist, and this book is essential reading. Reading her work is like suddenly being able to see the matrix." —Jonny Sun, author of everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too
Because Internet is for anyone who's ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It's the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that's a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are.
Language is humanity's most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies. Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What's more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.
Even the most absurd-looking slang has genuine patterns behind it. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer "LOL" or "lol," why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.
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  • From the book

    Chapter 1

    Informal Writing

    Imagine learning to talk from recordings rather than people. If you learned how to have a conversation from movies, you might think that people regularly hang up the phone without saying goodbye and no one ever interrupts anyone else. If you learned to think out loud from news programs, you might believe that no one ever "ums" or waves their hands while searching for an idea, and that people swear rarely and never before ten p.m. If you learned to tell stories from audiobooks, you might think that nothing much new had happened with the English language in the past couple hundred years. If you only ever talked when you were public speaking, you'd expect that talking always involves anxious butterflies in your stomach and hours of preparation before facing an audience.

    Of course, you did none of these things. You learned to speak English domestically, conversationally, and informally long before you could sit through an entire news report or deliver a speech. You might never be wholly comfortable with public speaking, but of course you can complain about the weather to a friend. Sure, they both involve moving the same body parts, but they're hardly the same task at all.

    And yet this is exactly how we all learned to read and write.

    When we think about writing, we think about books and newspapers, magazines and academic articles-and the school essays in which we tried (and mostly failed) to emulate them. We learned to read a formal kind of language which pretends that the past century or two of the English language hasn't really happened, which presents words and books to us cut off from the living people who created them, which downplays the alchemy of two people tossing thoughts back and forth in perfect balance. We learned to write with a paralyzing fear of red ink and were taught to worry about form before we even got to consider what we wanted to say, as if good writing was a thing of mechanistic rule-picking rather than of grace and verve. Naturally, we're as intimidated by the blank page as we are by public speaking.

    That is, we were until very recently. The internet and mobile devices have brought us an explosion of writing by normal people. Writing has become a vital, conversational part of our ordinary lives. In the year 800, Charlemagne managed to get himself crowned as Holy Roman Emperor without being able to sign his own name. Sure, he had scribes to write up his charters, but illiterately running an empire? Today it's hard to imagine even organizing a birthday party without writing. One type of writing hasn't replaced the other: the "Happy Birthday" text message hasn't killed the diplomatic treaty. What's changed is that writing now comes in both formal and informal versions, just as speaking has for so long.

    We write all the time now, and most of what we're writing is informal: our texts and chats and posts are quick, they're conversational, they're untouched by the hands of an editor. If you define a "published" writer as someone who's had something they've written reach over a hundred people, practically everyone who uses social media qualifies-just announce a new job or baby on Facebook. It's not that edited, formal writing has disappeared online (there are plenty of business and news sites that still write much like we did in print), it's that it's now surrounded by a vast sea of unedited, unfiltered words that once might have only been spoken.

    IÕm a linguist, and I live on the internet. When I see the boundless creativity of internet language flowing past me online, I canÕt help but want to understand how it works. Why did emoji become so popular so...

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    May 15, 2019
    The linguistics of informal (unedited) writing on the internet. "The internet and mobile devices have brought us an explosion of writing by normal people," writes McCulloch, a Wired columnist and co-creator of the linguistics-focused podcast Lingthusiasm. In this provocative debut, the author celebrates the internet's "vast sea of unedited, unfiltered words," which constitute "a new genre, informal writing." Online life, she writes, "has become real life." People using social media should be considered "published writers." In conversational prose, she traces the "hidden patterns of written internet language" and how they are changing the way we communicate. She argues that new acronyms (btw, omg, lol), visuals (emoji), animated loops (gifs), emoticons (^-^), and other innovations are making language more efficient and playful. In its "purest form," this new "public, informal, unselfconscious language" can be found in chat rooms. McCulloch's wide-ranging text covers the history (so far) of internet culture, the sociology of users, and the diverse ways in which the internet has shaped our daily online social life. In many instances, the author simply confirms what internet users know: how distinct internet cohorts developed, depending on whether they began socializing online in forums, on blogs, or with Facebook or Instagram; and how older people were slower to engage with the internet and social media. McCulloch reminds us that the frequent texting of teenagers is no different than a previous generation's time spent at malls, "hanging out, flirting, and jockeying for status with their peers." She also salutes unsung heroes of online language innovation: the Canadian Wayne Pearson, who probably coined "lol" in a 1980s chat room; the Japanese, who first used the pile of feces and other emojis; and biologist Richards Dawkins, who in 1976 coined the word "meme." Purists will flinch at many of McCulloch's claims for how informal online writing has benefited our language and society while internet nerds will relish her informative book.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 10, 2019
    McCulloch, writer of the “Resident Linguist” column for Wired and podcast cohost of Lingthusiasm, debuts with a funny and fascinating examination of the evolution of language in the digital age. Exploring everything from capitalization and punctuation to emojis and gifs, her book breaks down the structure of “internet language” in a precise and engaging way. She offers novices a well-structured introduction to modern linguistics, including a history of informal writing and the social implications of language. McCulloch discusses the ongoing shift toward less formal, more concise greetings in message writing, observing that receiving emails from strangers provides a “never-ending multiplayer guessing game of what generation someone’s in,” based on how her correspondent addresses her. She also discusses the stylized language of memes, sharing an excerpt of Genesis translated into the terminology of lolcat memes (“Oh hai. In teh beginning Ceiling Cat maded the skiez An da Urfs...”) and the function of punctuation in text messages, such as how a period may or may not signal passive aggression. An extensive notes section invites readers to further explore the impact the internet has had on language. Thanks to McCulloch’s skill in explaining both academic and popular subjects, this survey will make an excellent starting point for anyone’s exploration of the topic.

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2019

    Taking a deep dive into Internet culture, Wired columnist McCulloch explores the linguistic evolution of the English language based on online forums, affinity groups, and generations of "internet people." From the birth of "lol" to the rise of sparkly tildes, ironic punctuation, memes, and more, the author examines changes in norms surrounding capitalization and punctuation and the implications for online communication. McCulloch then traces the history behind these new standards, often drawing comparison to differences in regional English and historical linguistic applications, placing Internet English within the larger framework of English dialects. It's hard to describe a book on this subject without sounding dry, but this is a fun read for Internet people of all generations as it moves from aLtErNatE lettering and minimalist typography to cat memes and sneks to provide a fascinating look at the development of online English, its roots in early computing, and the ways in which we adapt technology to express emotion. VERDICT Recommended for web and language nerds alike, encompassing illuminating facts on the origin of acronyms, memes, and digital tone of voice.--Gricel Dominguez, Florida International Univ. Lib., Miami

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Understanding the New Rules of Language
Gretchen McCulloch
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