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7 Ways the Internet has Changed the Way People Speak

7 min read
21 January 2021
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It's a common myth that the dictionary is the ultimate authority on what counts as a 'word' in a language. In reality, dictionaries reflect only a small selection of the massive vocabularies in use in living languages. What's more, language is changing all the time.

This has never been truer than in the digital age, when technology seems to change almost as fast as language. Social media allows individuals to communicate with mass audiences on a global scale, and we participate in more conversations on a daily basis than ever before.

The words we use have rapidly adapted to reflect this change in our times. Many common words were born from our addiction to online media. 10 years ago today, Twitter, one of the most popular forms of social media, was founded. To celebrate their anniversary, here're 7 words that exist solely due to the digital world.


1. Trolling

Traditionally, trolls are ugly, violent creatures that live under bridges and eat billy goats for fun.

In the digital age, the term has evolved. Now when we talk about 'Internet trolls' we refer to people who post comments that deliberately cause arguments, disruption, or sometimes even insults.

Don't be a troll.


2. Emoji

An emoji is a small pictograph used to express emotion in the digital world. Emojis, and their precursors – emoticons – were invented to enable users to clearly communicate tone and emotion in written text.

One of the downsides of digital media is that many of the signals we use to communicate, like body language, intonation and facial expressions, are harder to show online. Emojis help us set the tone of a conversation and show more emotion.


students doing a selfie


3. Selfie

One of the great innovations of the Internet age has allowed web users to communicate visually using photographs. Almost universally, the population of the Internet has decided to express this newfound creative freedom by taking photos of themselves.

The first mention of the word 'selfie' was spotted on an Australian Internet forum in 2002. From there it has been subject to rapid adoption across the English-speaking world. These days, it can even be found in newspaper headlines.

Many languages have their own word for selfie. For example, the Japanese for selfie is 'Jidori', literally translating to self-photo.

What does 'selfie' translate to in your native language?


4. Facebook

Unbeknownst to many Internet users, the web is largely run by corporate interest. Our language has adapted to reflect this, and many of the words we use every day have evolved from corporate brands.

Facebook, for example, is now commonly used as a verb:

"I need to tell everyone about this event on Saturday."

"Just Facebook it."

This is the case with many brand names like Google, Youtube, Twitter and Uber. What online brands have made their way into your vocabulary?


5. Blogging/vlogging

Blogs are an essential part of Internet culture and are the driving force behind the social change that the internet represents. Blogs give individuals the power to publish their content worldwide, fostering a culture of new ideas and unique perspectives.

The word blog itself is a contraction (shortening) of the phrase 'web log' and was coined by Peter Merholz in 1999. Similarly, 'vlog' is a contraction of the phrase 'video blog'.

Blogging can be a great way of keeping track of and practicing your English studies. Why not give it a go?


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6. Unlike

Before the Internet, the opposite of 'to like' was always 'to dislike'. However, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, the verb 'like' has gone through some subtle changes of meaning.

With the introduction of the Facebook like button, liking turned from a passive activity to a live action - we 'like' something by clicking a button and registering our approval. Conversely, we can now 'unlike' something when it stops being cool, removing our approval forevermore.

One day, it may even be possible to also 'relike' items, but let's not open that crazy kettle of fish.


7. Srsly

Despite it's fatal lack of vowels, 'srsly' is now a dictionary defined word. As a contraction of 'seriously', often being used to mean either 'seriously' or 'serious', it's a relatively common word that is used frequently in instant messaging text conversations. For example:

"OMG bro u srsly?"

Translation: "My good friend, are you serious?"

Whilst this contraction is fairly self-evident, 'srsly' gives us a fascinating insight into the way in which language itself changes over time. As languages age, the words we use tend become reduced to their shortest form. This is unless the word is being used actively to contrast against other words, or as a marker of a speaker's social identity. On the Internet, this process happens at an extremely rapid pace!



So there you are: 7 words that were invented solely on the Internet, each of them giving us some unique insight into the way languages change.

What word will you invent next?


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