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. (July)
A compelling narrative rich with examples from her own online activities, a healthy dose of humor, and plenty of cat memes… the breadth of topics covered—from conversation analysis to meme culture to the development of texting as we now know it—makes this book useful, engaging, and enjoyable.” —Science
“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. She explains the hows and the whys of the ways we talk online with the deepest empathy, understanding, and compassion.” —Jonny Sun, author of everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too
“Sometimes it seems like the internet is a seething brew of ugliness and misery. So it's nice to remember that, as well as the lawless drudgery, there are complex human systems that, intentional or not, create something totally new. Internet linguist (damn!) Gretchen McCulloch explores the ever-changing language of online.” —Elle, “30 Best Books to Read this Summer”
“McCulloch lays out the ways in which online lingo, from emojis to GIFs to acronyms like "lol" and "omg," has become a vital part of modern communication. It's also an analog window into how the evolution of digital communication mirrors the shifts in word usage that have happened over generations.” —Wired, “Must-Read Books of Summer”
“Gretchen McCulloch's Because Internet is not your English teacher's grammar guide—not even close. Self-described internet linguist McCulloch traces how the web has changed the way we communicate—whether through emoji, lowercase letters. or cat memes—and makes a compelling, entertaining argument that this change is good for the English language as a whole.” —Real Simple
“In prose at once scholarly and user-friendly, McCulloch unpacks the evolution of language in the digital age, providing a comprehensive survey of everything from the secret language of emojis to the appeal of animal memes.” —Esquire
“English's great strength is its informality and the internet has created a golden age for studying this flexibility: McCulloch's lively and delightful survey of these new findings is a must for anyone who loves language in all its expressive forms.” —Cory Doctorow
“A funny and fascinating examination of the evolution of language in the digital age.” —Publishers Weekly
“An insightful analysis of language and the internet of right now, in-depth yet accessible to any internet generation.” —Booklist
“A fun read for Internet people of all generations….Recommended for web and language nerds alike, encompassing illuminating facts on the origin of acronyms, memes, and digital tone of voice.” —Library Journal
“Because Internet is a rare gem: a groundbreaking scholarly study that's also approachable, personable, and funny. McCulloch guides the reader through the seeming disorder of internet-influenced communications and deftly contextualizes all of it: memes and gifs, emoji and emoticons, weird punctuation and no punctuation. Her enthusiasm for language is matched by her command over the subject; if you're worried that the internet has killed language, McCulloch's extensive examination will convince you otherwise. Because Internet is an absolute unit: a unique linguistic study, a history of the internet, a how-to, and an encouragement that the omgs and cat pictures have only brought us closer together.” —Kory Stamper, author of Word by Word
“Because Internet is the most up-to-date and comprehensive guide to the way informal internet language has evolved and is evolving. Its historical perspective will illuminate every generation of internet users: oldies will get a clear picture of what young people are up to; younglings will discover the origins of their latest linguistic fashions. Gretchen McCulloch writes with great common sense, an eye for the apt illustration, an appealing sense of humour, and a real concern for explanation. She doesn't just describe language trends: she investigates why they've taken place, and it's her insightful interpretations that give this book its special appeal.” —David Crystal, author of Shakespeare’s Words and How Language Works
“Because Internet is a joyful exploration of the newest creative upswell of English—if you want to understand why you love emoji, share memes, and don't make a sound when lol-ing, you need this book!” —Erin McKean, founder of the online dictionary Wordnik.com
“Gretchen McCulloch has pulled off the feat of answering every question anyone today of any age has about how the internet has transformed the way we use language every day. Just try putting this book down.” —John McWhorter, author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue and Words on the Move
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.
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