Final Word

Wonderful, frustrating world of internet slang


So powerful has the internet and its related social media become that it has persuaded even the Oxford English Dictionary to bend its normal rules for the recognition of words.

In fact, so pervasive has the use of some terms in the form of acronyms, abbreviations or shorthand become that there are now websites dedicated to ‘internet slang’. One of those sites, actually called Internet Slang, carries a list of no fewer than 9 092 such words. It’s calling itself “Your resource for web acronyms, web abbreviations and netspeak”.

You do not, in terms of age and/or ability, have to be ‘BC’ (before computers) to know that ‘LOL’ really means ‘laugh out loud’. You might even guess fairly easily that the term ‘LIPSING’, refers to kissing or ‘LOB stands for ‘line of business’.

But you might be puzzled, or take a bit longer to guess/know that when I promise that this column will not be ‘TLTR’, the promise is it will not be ‘too long to read’.

Others might make you blush if you guess them right, like ‘LFU’, which the website Netlingo tells us means ‘Life’s F***ed Up’.

The easy ones

The road travelled by many netspeak words is often fairly easy to track. ‘Tweet’, for instance can be traced back to a posting made on the social media website Twitter. It was first recorded in 2006 and six years later, in June 2012 the Oxfordofficiated it as a formal part of the English vocabulary.

In the process the Oxford has flouted its own requirement for new words (and meanings) to be in use for a minimum of 10 years before they can even enter the dictionary. This bypassing of the normal rule, and illustrating the power of the net, was probably prompted by the fact that the use of ‘tweet’ jumped fifty-fold between 2006 and 2012.

Even the history of ‘LOL’ proved to be relatively short. According to an article in The Independent of the United Kingdom, the linguist Ben Zimmer claimed that the earliest citation of ‘LOL’ dates back to the May 1989 edition of the Canadian newsletter Fidonet, which was also available online.

The interesting ones

Some internet slang words I came across were particularly interesting and lend them to quite normal etymological analysis.

For me, with a home language closely related to Dutch, the internet slang verb ‘twerk’ is especially interesting. Its meaning is given by the Internet Slang website as “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance”.

The site says “twerk could had been adapted from the word ‘work’ (‘werk’), since dancers are often told to ‘work it’. The extra ‘t’ at the front could have been added to mean twist or twitch.”

It is also important to note that only 27% of the so-called online population globally have English as a home language. This makes for a wide collection of different language variants of internet slang. For instance, a Spanish speaker my use ‘GRX’ in a message when he wants to say ‘gracias’ – thank you.

Those that obscure

As was the case with Cockney rhyme many years ago, which it is said developed as a basis for a slang that prevented law enforcers to follow the communication between criminal elements and prisoners in jail, internet slang today may play a similar role.

According to an article, titled “Internet slang around the world” on the subject of internet slang, “in China, because of the tough internet regulations imposed, users tend to use certain slang [words] to talk about issues deemed as sensitive to the government”.

Finally, the frustrating ones

Ironically, sources about the etymology of many netspeak words have proved to be frustratingly limited on the net.

I have spent much time surfing the net in an attempt to track the source of the interesting-looking term ‘LEES’, which the Internet Slang site tells us means ‘Very Attractive Man/Woman’.

Nowhere, but nowhere, could I find an explanation for the origin of this term or what the letters of this acronym, abbreviation, shorthand or whatever, represent.

Please, pretty please help me, dear readers. If you know of an explanation, please email me at [email protected] . Also send me your address, and I promise to send you free of charge a copy of the collection of Final Word columns, Babalaas to Hell.

by Piet Coetzer

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