Thursday Review: Because Internet – Gretchen McCulloch | Sam Heaton

because-internet

As someone who is fairly ignorant about linguistics, Gretchen McCulloch’s book, Because Internet: Understanding how Language is Changing, was a fascinating introduction to the subject which made me keen to learn more. McCulloch writes with infectious enthusiasm and the book genuinely made me laugh out loud at several points.

The attention to detail that McCulloch brings to the subject consistently appealed to me. The book is completely full of interesting concepts such as the way she divides internet users into different ‘waves of immigration’. For example, the first internet users shared information about highly technical subjects and so started a trend of using computer jargon in their online conversations. For example, the term JFCL meant ‘to cancel’ and was named after the computer command that quickly stops a program. This trend for using short phrases continues through to today’s internet terminology such as lol and omg.

McCullogh also shows how subtle technology’s influence on language has been; autocorrect has introduced default spellings which have shifted English in thousands of small ways. American English uses the -ize ending on words like organize, in contrast British English has tra used both -ise and -ize. However, Microsoft Word autocorrects organize to organise when British English is being used. This has lead to a widespread belief that organise is the only correct way for British people to spell the word.

Because Internet briefly touches on the internet’s impact on society: exploring how words like ‘on fleek’ and ‘bae’ originated in African American communities before being used more widely by young people and then eventually being completely appropriated by brands. She also mentions how autocorrect is less likely to recognise names with Asian and African backgrounds than names with European origins and the impact that this has.

Because Internet is an accessible and exciting look at a topic that is too often defined by mundane studies of subtle punctuation change.

Published by Riverhead, available on Amazon

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Thursday Review: Because Internet – Gretchen McCulloch | Sam Heaton

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