Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Language on the internet is becoming. . . kind of self-effacing? Could we maybe not?

I love slang. It's colourful, rich, vivid. It allows language to evolve. Without the evolution of language, I would be introducing myself by saying "My paternal grandmother's name being Ellen, and my father's family name Brickley. . ." instead of "Hi, I'm Ellen. I heard there was chai?"

I am pro-slang about 90% of the time. I did recently ask my friend to explain to me why the vowel in yes was deemed so inadequate that yas and yus became necessary, and I detest 'wut', but I will fight to the death to defend go figure, bae and H/T.

But one thing about internet slang is kind of . . . bothering me?

It's a large issue, but one element of the most obvious elements is a tendency to make statements into questions? And also to say "kind of" kind of a lot? Um, and to hesitate for stylistic purposes? And when someone says or does something troubling, to ask if they can maybe. . . not?

Sometimes these features of internet slang are used almost sarcastically ("I think you should have known without the warning that your coffee would maybe be hot?"). I also see a subtle shade of meaning in 'I kind of love this' that isn't present in the simpler 'I love this.' (I kind of love that my barista hates chai lattes because they taste like Christmas, which he also hates. I love chai lattes. They are two distinct feelings - I'd rather my barista didn't hate anything but I am amused by how he expressed it. I kind of love what he said).

I've also seen this type of self-effacing language used passive-aggressively - my pet hate is "can you maybe. . . not?" Is there something wrong with 'please stop that'?

But sometimes I think there is something more sinister behind it.

In her 1984 book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg quoted a study which noted the differences in how men and women express themselves. Men will say 'The war is awful' in conversation. Women will say 'The war is awful, isn't it?' (emphasis mine), as though seeking validation for their opinion that war . . . maybe kind of sucks? (Great, I'm doing it now).

As a woman, I try to use language that doesn't unconsciously or implicitly ask for validation that I don't need. I'm working on eliminating 'just' ("Can I just get some milk for my tea. . ?"). An old boss trained me out of unnecessary 'sorry's. ("Sorry, do you have a minute?" was a terrible habit of mine for years and I am so, so grateful to my former boss for flagging it to me).

Now I see fewer and fewer people on the internet who seem willing to make a statement without throwing a question mark in at the end to call for the approval of the reader (protip: the internet is full of readers whose approval we should actively avoid. I, for instance, spent the entire summer I was seventeen playing Fling The Cow, a sadly departed Flash game. You should never ask for my approval).

And am I bring paranoid to suggest that this overall move towards conciliatory slang might be linked to the fact the social media and the internet in general is becoming a more hostile place for so many people, especially women (if you don't agree with this, I have a portmanteau for you - GamerGate), and we're become afraid to take up any virtual or discursive space?

We're either trying so hard to be good and liked that we're not willing to love something, to hate something or to ask someone to stop unless we frame our words as though we're asking for permission to love, to hate or to ask someone to shut up.

Or maybe we are too afraid to stand over what we say, because that's become scarier and scarier.

This, I suppose, isn't a new complaint. Vladimir Nabokov's Humbert Humbert asks why young people "guess so much and shave so little."

I guess Nabokov would have had a choice comment for anyone asking him if he could "maybe not."