The Clueless Linguist



Early morning. I am trying to get a handle on world news via Facebook. I go there first because it’s easier to scroll through some pics of kids, cats, and chocolate bunnies than it is to deal with the real world.

At least this way, I don’t have to think so hard until later.

Oh, it’s a friend’s birthday. A guy I haven’t seen in 14 years, so as I try to decide whether wishing him a happy birthday is appropriate or transparently silly, I notice his other birthday wishes. They degrade:

Happy birthday, Jack!

Happy bday, Jack!

Happy bday!

Hap bday!

Happy BD!


Because nothings says “I care about your birthday than the 2.6 nanoseconds it took you to type three letters (in caps, though), on a Facebook page.

Things get weirder.

There’s a post a little further down:

Don’t know what these kids are thinking with their skinny jeans! #smh

I truly do not understand SMH. I try to mouth it, say it aloud, then try to link it contextually to the comment preceding it. Suck My Hog. Super Monkey Hookers. Stupid Man Hookers. Silly Mall Hipsters. Aha. Perhaps. A quick search on the Internet informs me that SMH means shaking my head.

I instantly want to attribute this initialization to the younger generation and their terror of vowels, but then I notice one from a guy I knew in high school. In an excited post about St. Joe’s University basketball team, he writes:

Thanks for a great season Hawks! THWND!

THWND? OK, my first thought is the weekend. But it’s Tuesday, so it’s a little late (and early) for that, so I look it up. The Hawk Will Never Die.  

So in some cases, Netlingo is spoken only by a specialized social group. In this case, St Joe’s University grads and surely some extension beyond to family, friends, and others in the community. But still, this is going to be trouble.

I used to think that I was a somewhat linguistically stable man. I have a broad lexicon, follow the rules of grammar, syntax, and context in my writing. I speak above a 3rd grade level. I work and even do research in the field of applied linguistics. I am a native English speaker, an intermediate Czech speaker, and highly advanced in British English. I speak sarcasm, satire, know my way around an innuendo, and after editing academic journals for five years, I even speak academicize pretty well.

So I thought I was pretty well set.

But no.

It seems there’s a new language for us old dogs to get used to, and that language is Netlingo. Netlingo is essentially what you may know as textspeak, an entire language of shorthand, abbreviations, and acronyms that are made up by combining numerals, letters, symbols, and initialism.

I feel that it’s too late to retrain my active language in this way. Additionally, I do not have an interest in doing that. That being said, I do understand that language changes and develops and that denying this sort of linguistic development is not only foolish and stubborn, but also a crime from someone who works in the field of linguistics.

Like most crusty old dogs set in their ways, I instantly want to discount this new-fangled Netlingo as a pure fad brought about by lazy tech folks who don’t want to write full words. But in fact, as I look through the list of common Netlingo terminology, I have to admit that it’s a little more complicated that a simple list of phrases like WTF, IMO, and STFU.

For example, IAC can mean If Anyone Cares, In Any Case, or I Am Confused. So someone reading them would have to consider context and understand what was being said. There’s also a need for understanding social context. For example a headline for an article on

Put your IDGAF Baby to Sleep with These Rihanna Songs  

Now, if someone DGAF it means they don’t give a fuck, but in this case, who doesn’t give a fuck? The baby? Cause as far as I know, babies have never really given a fuck. No baby I have ever known has ever given a fuck about me, you, politics, or anything, really, other than boobs. I have the feeling that I am missing out on some social context that allows me to fully appreciate this article.

But WTF?! IMHO, folks, half the time I read these things IDKWTFIGO. So, I guess you either think it’s TEOTWAWKI or you have a SOH about the whole thing and just ROFLYAO.

AFAIC, friends, you better FYSBIGBABN.

But then again, YOLO.

So just chillax. And I’ll meet you later at the TB.

  1. #1 by greg on March 28, 2016 - 5:35 pm

    Well Damo-wdaicwtyghts.(welldoneandIcan’twiattillyougetherethissummer)-LD(love-Dad)

Comments are closed.