How 4chan ruined language

I recently discovered a website and it’s become the most fascinating way to waste two or three hours that I’ve encountered in a while.

It’s called 4chan.

Okay, I suppose I’ve been living in the dark ages – everyone I talk to seems to already know what 4chan is, who invented it and what pages to stay away from (Hint: All of them). If you’re unfamiliar, it’s an image board where anonymous users post pictures of whatever they think is interesting, sexy, etc. – and when I say whatever, I’m not exaggerating. There is a disturbing array of interests revealed on the message boards.

I’ll leave it to the extremely curious to investigate.

But I’m not here to admonish or praise the site; it’s actually the slang that has me thinking this week. I had to look up almost every acronym on the boards, because what 4chan has done (aside from making it incredibly easy to access certain restricted adult websites) is invent a new language, one that revels in the shortening, simplifying and the cutting down of words.

I don’t mean to go all 1984 here, but a couple of acronyms really bothered me.

Take MFW – “My Face When.” This implies that the accompanying picture is the user’s reaction to an event. Not only does it eliminate the words of the acronym, but it also takes away the necessity of describing the reaction because a picture has taken its place. The beauty of inserting a picture where we might struggle to find the words is appealing, simple, convenient. But doesn’t it seem as if we’re doing our language a detriment by refusing to exercise it to its fullest capacity?

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe “Internet-speak” is the next great shift in language – from “thee” to “you” to “U.”

Maybe we are due for another change.

I recognize the convenience in the logic and that slang serves a vital role in keeping language up to date with the ideas and culture of the time, but I’m just starting to wonder: What might we lose? It has already seeped into music. Hip-hop and pop use slang and acronyms and references to Twitter regularly these days. Might literature fall victim to the ease of “LOL” as well?

Recently, on Twitter, Tim Collins and other writers manipulated the 140-character limit to summarize great works of literature; Dickens, Melville and the like. The tweets can still be found on the website and they are, to be sure, quite funny.

But for an English major such as myself, the thought of Ulysses turning into “Man walks around Dublin. We follow every minute detail of his day. He’s probably overtweeting,” seems somehow, to me, a travesty.

Reach the columnist at Alesha.Rimmelin@asu.edu


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