Recently in the New York Times, Alexander Stern posited an ontology of our rampant tendency to categorize even the most mundane minutia of our lives as “a thing.” For the paper’s Magazine, meanwhile, Jody Rosen examined our hyperbolic habit of extolling quotidian pleasures as “everything.” These two linguistic trends, which are particularly pronounced on the web, have company: THIS.
Take this: On Facebook, the Daily Kos posted “YES. THIS.” This prefaced a photograph of a protester brandishing a handwritten sign, “It Wasn’t About Water Fountains in the 60s and It Isn’t About Bathrooms Now. Stop the Hate.” Or this: On Twitter, @eobaltimore tweeted “Dear journalists: THIS,” quoting a tweet from Slate linking to an article on this very blog.
The internet is fluent in the grammar of this, in part because the internet is a visual and textual medium. On a functional level, this serves as a simple demonstrative. It points users to information that immediately follows: a link, photograph, video, tweet, GIF, meme. This bridges context and content, creator and user, sharer and surfer.
A 2013 BuzzFeed article, “The 19 Worst Things Ever,” tested the limits of this this. It enumerated 19 consecutive this’s, the listicle’s sole body text, each introducing a photograph of some relatable everyday annoyance, like a closed pistachio or faulty cereal tab. Without this, the images would have drifted away from their center of gravity, the grabby title, like water scattered into a thousand droplets in outer space.
The internet is also a crowded marketplace. So this is clicky. Headline writers and advertisers take advantage of its antecedent ambiguity to conjure up curiosity in a technique called forward referencing: “Lose weight with this one easy trick.” I want to lose weight, we say. I want it to be easy. What could it be, this this? We click through to find out.
But the Daily Kos wasn’t using this simply to link to content or attract attention. Its “YES. THIS.” was making a statement. Its this was issuing an all-caps, full-stopped endorsement of the protester’s proclamation. So wholeheartedly does the political blog agree that it doesn’t meddle with additional commentary. It presents the thing in itself immediately before us, perfect in its form and self-evident in its truth. This this is not a demonstrative pronoun. It’s raw declaration. It’s pure deixis. THIS.
The grammar of this is evolving. Quoting a Guardian tweet linking to an op-ed rallying England’s National Union of Students, one tweeter intensified her this: “THIS THIS THIS SO MUCH THIS.” This so much this is a thing, in fact. A comment on a BuzzFeed GIF-strip, ribbing patronizing questions straight folks asking lesbians, offered: “So. much. this.” This has mass. It has the thingness of a noun. It’s dense, heavy, uncountable, an entity per se.
This, as we’ve seen, frequently expresses full-throated agreement with an opinion or position, especially on a heated and complicated topic. SO MUCH THIS, as one Facebook user linked to a Vox piece censuring the internet mob clamoring for justice after the killing of the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo.
But the rhetoric of this isn’t necessarily political. Increasingly, this resoundingly embraces less contentious matters. One Facebook group shared an image that read “the mondayest tuesday ever.” “This. So much this,” the group commented. Another exclaimed “So much this!” of an inspirational graphic featuring an open book overlooking the ocean: “Maybe it’s not about the happy ending. Maybe it’s about the story.” These are the this’s of ecstasy. They are elicited by a thought so precisely worded, by a sentiment so exquisitely encapsulated. By an experience, lingering dormant, amorphous, or unarticulated in our subconscious, so perfectly instantiated that we must megaphone our elation in that primordial pronoun: THIS.
In his psychology of everything, Rosen observes that “the sublime can ambush you at unlikely moments,” with “the power to obliterate the world for a minute or two.” In his philosophy of “a thing,” Stern concludes we catalog a thing to “feign unified consciousness in the face of a world gone to pieces.” This, too, has taken on its immediacy, mass, and energy to push back against the pressures of our modern lives. Of the onslaught of the hyper-now, the demands of 24/7 productivity, the traffic jams in the free exchange of ideas. Of the clangoring, labyrinthine bazaars where we must choose from too many options, opinions, products, and possibilities.
When we hear something clear and true through the noise, we must, like digital Whitmans, sound the barbaric yawp of THIS over the roofs of the interwebs. We must, like Wordsworths weary of an online world too much with us, bark the “Great God!” of “So much this.”
Not that, we decree. This.