How We Speak Internet

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S1: The following recording may contain explicit language I can’t get more explicit than May.

S2: Literacy it may be Thursday September 5th 2019 from Slate.

S3: It’s the gist. MIKE PESCA The vice president of the United States Mike Pence met with Boris Johnson today a calm reassuring presence which one the Prime Minister welcome the U.S. administration’s support of his wacky due shambolic lurching away from the finish line Brexit plan.

S4: In fact you this White House it seems like the model of Legislative efficiency then Johnson told Pence that if we do a treaty just between us guys I’d love for the Americans to borrow some staples of the English diet. The people who visits America don’t eat any British lamb. Or. Beef.

S1: Haggis yes Americans are only supping on the domestic haggis tonight if you’re dining on say Delaware haggis or Arkansas haggis or the blockbuster of haggis is the gold standard of U.S. haggis which would of course be West Virginia. Extra stomach he haggis. Just think how much more delicious an authentic Scottish haggis would be. You’ll never eat haggis from a 7-Eleven again. Of course Arby’s will have to change their branding from we have the haggis but that’s a small price to pay. The vice president later at dinner said this before President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson there were Reagan and Thatcher Kennedy and McMillan and of course Roosevelt and Churchill. Those are indeed accurate pairings of Presidents of the United States and the prime minister who was serving at the time. Pence could have also noted there was James Buchanan and discount Palmerston and of course there was the right honorable Archibald Primrose the Fifth Earl of Rosebery and Grover Cleveland. And who could forget Edward Smith Stanley the 14th Earl of Derby and Millard Fillmore. Now if your aficionados of British prime ministers you might have noted that well the 14th Earl of Derby served as prime minister on three different occasions yes. But I chose that one during the Fillmore administration for a reason. That was when his term was two hundred ninety nine days and I note that it is applicable to the Boris Johnson prime ministership just in terms of likely length of service on the show today a spiel about the climate change debate or as the Republican National Committee deems it the Climate Change wacky comedy premise. But first linguist Gretchen McCulloch is here to talk about her new book because internet. Why. Because language because changes because youth because time considerations because America actually Gretchen’s Canadian she did have me ruffle BAP with this interview which is of course rolling on the floor laughing but also pondering Gretchen McCulloch up next.

S5: It’s not often that you read a book by a linguist and say to yourself you know I think we’d be friends in high school but that is exactly the impression I got from Gretchen McCulloch’s new book because Internet understanding the new rules of language and I got it not even really because of the Internet but because of a story she told about herself in high school. So people come up to her in the hall and say hi how’s it going. Or Hey what’s up. As one does and she made it a point to answer with the wrong answer like Hey how’s it going. She’d answer Not much. What’s up with you. And when asked Hey what’s up. She’d say good. And you that’s that’s exactly the kind of experiment I’m into. And that’s just some just a glimpse of the genius that she brings to her new book because Internet understanding the new rules of language. Hello Gretchen how are you.

S6: Hello. How are you. Oh it’s. To say not much. What’s up with you.

S1: Right. Exactly. So those things are called fabrics with a P.H. fat with a peach.

S7: Yes.

S8: Static expressions as opposed to like lymphatic just like meaning less expressions.

S7: Yeah they’re probably from the same Greek root. I haven’t looked them up but it should be a root relating to speaking or saying so authentic expression is something that is said and that conveys something in the saying of it that is not necessarily particularly related to the specific words that are involved. So how do you do. And what’s up convey a very similar thing it’s a you know elaborated sort of greeting even though they don’t have the same words a little yeah.

S9: It’s probably similar to how different cultures different languages might have a greeting that says something other than hello or even an English no hello does mean something different from good afternoon or good evening and as you write in the book. Hello. Hello used to be seen as a day class say by the people who would insist on saying Good afternoon.

S7: Yes so hello started as a telephone greeting and before the telephone people didn’t say hello as a greeting. And there was some controversy about which greeting would become the new telephone greeting some people advocated. Ahoy Shah.

S6: Mr. Burns I believe was one or what is wanted you know in different languages.

S7: So for example in English you have your welcome or no problem. But other languages you might end up with something like De Nada rights which you know is used in the same social circumstance. Even though they contain different words.

S9: Yeah and I’ve got to tell you sometimes you advise me if I should just give this up but sometimes I take it a little literally and when I’m in a restaurant situation and the waiter says no worries it chafes because I say to myself you know if you’re worried about getting me that extra glass of water it really shouldn’t enter into my consciousness.

S6: You need to give this up. Yeah. You need to get this up like it they’re all static.

S7: They’re just the thing that you say in response to thank you is blank. And there’s a bunch of different ways you can fill in that blank. Yeah. And the thing is is a lot of these static expressions can tend to go through cycles where some of them become stale and then you get a new set because the older ones can sometimes take on this connotation of being sarcastic or being insincere. So for people who prefer no worries or no problem they sometimes find you’re welcome to seem kind of insincere or smarmy or you’re welcome. You know it’s got that sort of that unpleasant undertone. But they’re all just feeling the same social function.

S9: I guess we can agree that ain’t no thang that remains unsolved.

S6: We’ll have to see about that.

S9: So is in internet speak is L’Oréal a fabric to some extent.

S6: That’s an interesting question.

S7: There’s kind of two categories there’s a category of things that convey genuine laughter in the category of things that convey a sort of softens laughter which is not necessarily I’m actually loving right now. But you know please interpret this positively or please interpret this with a general positive spirit.

S9: I’m not mad at you and I would have to note that even though L’Oréal well doesn’t usually mean laughing out loud actually laughing out loud doesn’t usually mean we find things funny. It’s kind of weird right. People who have done this studies of why we laugh out loud say by far and away it’s to convey something like discomfort or to cover up for discomfort or just to convey kinship and non-threatening ness.

S7: So my point is if you acknowledge that something awkward has happened or something like that. This is definitely what the studies are finding so and that in some ways means that L’Oréal is actually taking on a similar social function to laughter because it acknowledges that sort of awkwardness or it can acknowledge that something was intended as humor. Even if you didn’t actually find it particularly funny. So yeah it does. It does have a relationship to the social function of laughter even when literal laughter isn’t necessarily happening.

S9: One of the points that you make is that in general the Internet interest or internet communication introduces more informality gets to things quicker than I can think of this one exception a measure of exactly formality but in a way it is the email subject line because before the email you would just launch into your your communication and if email is replacing letters or even chit chat we wouldn’t have a title and not only just the title we wouldn’t kind of go back and say What am I going to put on a subject line. How am I going to kind of categorize this discussion.

S7: I think it’s a little bit of more formality that the Internet has given you actually miss a very interesting step in the history of business communication which is the memo. Yes and the email is in form styled after the memo. I ended up cutting I had a fairly extended digression about the history the memo in the email section. I ended up cutting it for space reasons but it is very interesting looking at how the memo changed business communication. So before the memo business communication had been these sorts of letters with flowery greetings and clothing and the memo was introduced as we’re going to give you pre filled forms for the To field and the from field and the subject field. So that first of all you can file your memos in manila file folders because filing was new at the time and people wanted to file correspondence. And secondly we’re going to preprinted paper that has two fields and from fields that maybe it’s only half a sheet large to encourage people to be concise and to encourage people to not use those flowery greetings because the to and from fields gave you the space to do that and they didn’t give you enough space for flowery greetings and there’s books on business advice from the period saying look how many words you can cut it’s like half as long if you compare a conventional letter with a memo. You can use half as many words. It’s going to be so much more efficient your business is going to run more efficiently like adopt the memo. It’s the way of the future and the format of the email with its subject field is based on the format of the memo.

S9: Well why didn’t then the Telegraph interject terse ness into other forms of communication.

S7: The Telegraph is interesting because it was expensive to do and you had to go through an intermediary like you had to go through a telegraph operator to do. There is similarly interesting examples of telegraph history as well. There’s a really interesting novel called Wired love. This is about two telegraph operators who start flirting with each other over the telegraph lines.

S6: Stop. Yeah. It’s amazing. It’s on Project Gutenberg. You can read it for free.

S4: It’s a pasta Larry or whatever the version would be with telegraph.

S7: No it’s not told in Telegraph like it’s narrated through the characters. But a lot of the concerns that they have. How do you know who this person you’re talking to is like do you even know that he is who he says are you. Do you know that he’s that age.

S6: He says you know he’s a man. It’s like what if you know these are like online dating worries. Let’s go telegraph era on the telegraph.

S8: No one knows you’re a dash dash dot dot dash dash dash. I’m just guessing on the spelling of dog. Yeah yeah yeah.

S7: So it’s the same sort of worries but it was really only people who were like telegraph operators who had the unfettered access to telegraph lines so they could actually conduct whole romances over telegraph lines because the average person had to pay like ten cents a word or whatever. And so that really interferes with your ability to have a sort of conversational back and forth.

S8: OK. So if the theory there digression but let’s pursue it.

S9: If the theory there is that the Telegraph didn’t have as big an effect on language because it was outside the home and a little bit appointment only by analogy shall we say that movies which predated television didn’t have as much of an impact on how we talk because. Same deal on like television they’re outside the home they’re appointment only they didn’t reshape society as much as television did.

S7: There’s been a lot of predictions that mass media would somehow create the decline of dialect or something like this. And this is back pre movies to newspapers. Some of the first dialect series which I talk about and because Internet you know this guy like taking this bike around France in the eighteen hundreds. One of the reasons why people wanted to fund these sorts of dialect surveys is because there was this worry that because of the newspapers and that kind of mass media that would lead to the decline of local dialects and then the later waves of surveys like the word wagons from the dictionary of American Regional English that I also talked about in the book is you know oh well maybe the television is causing the decline of of local dialects and then the later surveys you know like the phone surveys maybe it’s the internet or maybe it’s some of these other factors. And we still keep finding that people do talk like the people that they actually talk back and forth with rather than mass media. You know people can pick up words from television but in terms of what their actual vowels are doing or how they actually talk to their friends and family it seems to be something that takes interaction.

S9: So then do you predict that people will not really learn though the internet will affect and is affecting our communication. Most of us will still come into it probably younger and younger but fully formed fully literate or mostly literate before we even get on the Internet. And therefore the fundamentals of language won’t change.

S7: So I think that those three things going on in that question. It seems like the Internet has not led to a decline in local dialects because you can do these sorts of surveys looking at geo typed tweets and there are you know people tweet like Scottish Twitter or they tweet like southerners or they tweet like people in different areas you can map out you know where people switch from pop to soda to coke and various things like that. People do seem to have regionalism there and in fact it’s easier than ever to see regionalism because you don’t need to put something through an editor or a filter in order to get that language out into the world and people can see it. Whereas before when the way to get people to see what you’ve written is you have to go through an authority it makes it so that there’s a lot more sort of flattened version of English that gets exposed to so there is this potential for increased local dialects increase writing of the vernacular which is something we seek all over the Internet.

S9: Now I’d like to ask you about the way the youth of today ask questions or talk and if it relates to the dominant mode of communication among the youth of today which is online and it’s the kind of statement that goes like this I think like what I want to say is almost as if and then we finally get to declarative statement. I have noticed a huge rise in that. At the same time there is a huge rise in internet communication and I wonder if you think that you’re connected.

S7: I think you’re I think you’re seeing a mirage Oh linguists call the illusion of frequency or the illusion of recency rather the recency illusion OK. This can often happen with linguistic phenomena. You notice something once and then you start noticing it everywhere and it seems like it’s gotten more recent. So what these types of words are called are hedges or filled pauses and they’re used to sort of stall for time while you’re having your thoughts catch up to what you’re trying to say and they indicate that the speaker wants to retain the floor. So you want to retain. I’m still trying to say something I just haven’t completely figured out what I want to say they are as far as we know ubiquitous in all languages at all periods of time and all eras and what changes is merely the specific incarnation of the field pours from one generation to another. So one generation may have like as they’re filled pores of choice another generation may have I mean or you know or well or look or see or say or there’s there’s all sorts of them don’t beta mind half me on this one Gretchen.

S9: First of all. Second of all I. Yeah I totally agree that there are these pauses to see that like all that. I do think that circling around a point that one wants to make by couching it in the I feel like it’s almost as opposed of saying that it’s not about grasping for the exact phrase that one wants. It’s a little something different. I think something else is going on there. Maybe it’s not internet generated but I think something else is going on there besides the let’s pause for a bit to get my thoughts together sort of thing.

S7: There’s the pausing to get your thoughts together and there’s also the hedging of you know is this exactly the thing that I mean or am I trying to be more approximated about right I’m saying right. And that’s also completely natural. And in many cases it’s very polite because if you assert your opinions as if it’s my way or the highway it is the only way things could possibly be then it becomes difficult for you to back down from that and you kind of batteries off in a corner of like it must be this way. Whereas if you frame your opinions more tentatively you retain the option to come around to a different opinion because you haven’t really committed yourself to one specific thing and in many cases that can be a sign of politeness. It can also be a sign of people having less power in a given interaction because you know if you’re the boss you’re going to say like Go do this thing but if you’re the intern or something or to say well you know sir I think possibly we might want to do something a little bit like this. And this is a situation of power imbalance because you’re not going to come to a conclusion as confidently so of course you see it in people that have less power in society in general with young people or other groups that have less power because you know you don’t feel as entitled to come to definite opinions if you are the powerful one in the situation right.

S9: I mean that’s I very much think that’s what’s going on. I think if we live in an age of heightened sensitivity or the acknowledgement that there are this thing these things called micro aggressions of course we’re gonna get speech reflecting the fact that a simple declarative sentences and always so black and white.

S7: But it’s it’s not a silly a bad thing to be more tentative in our conclusions. You know being able to reconsider when you’re presented with new evidence is a positive trait.

S9: Gretchen McCulloch is the author of Because Internet understanding the new rules of language also a co-host of the podcast link fuses ASM and I’d also like to note that the named Gretchen McCulloch has for season it and they all work in a different way to indicate a different sound.

S8: Thank you so much Gretchen. Thanks for having me.

S4: And now the spiel. Last night the Democrats all got together not all at once but in a row to talk to CNN and its anchors an invited audience members about climate change. The upshot it’s real it’s happening. And Donald Trump is an idiot. What did they say that last month you tweeted Donald Trump believes climate change is a hoax.

S10: Donald Trump is an idiot. Do you feel that I say that. Well.

S4: Yeah I did yeah Bernie did and they all agree. They all pretty much fell over each other agreeing that it’s not too late but it’s almost too late. And also there is pretty much no thing is going too far. All 10 candidates opposed drilling on public lands all talked about signing on to every U.N. and international treaty to oppose climate change. They all talked about spending vast sums of money on the issue. It was likely red meat to the case including the parts about lowering the amount of red meat that everyone’s eating. Here’s how the Republican National Committee reacted. From the twitter feed at GOP said the tweet had the words Democrats have shown their true colors when it comes to the climate. They’re in favor of total government control over nearly every aspect of American’s lives. I play the audio from the entire video that they put on Twitter.

S11: There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fat. We’re gonna be okay if the vast majority the world goes vegetarian.

S12: Mean coal burning plants. No is going to build another coal burning. We’ve got to shut the ones down. We have to ban plastic straws. I think we should.

S11: I love the vision of the Green New Deal do away with commercial air travel in a lot of other things.

S13: We have to take the take combustion engine vehicles off the road as rapidly as we can.

S12: Offshore drilling for oil would you ban it. Yes absolutely yes yes. Some of it is with light bulbs some of it is some straws. Some of it. Is on cheeseburgers right.

S1: And then it ends with the words Democrats platform ban all the things because Internet. Well I guess specifically what the Democrats really mean is ban all the things that are likely to kill our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

S4: Funny funny funny funny policies to champion and that chipper mocking music to highlight the absurdity of saying that we should do everything we can to get cars with combustion engines off the road. That’s crazy. What a radical useless suggestion. What comedy fodder. One thing I like to do with an attack ad is to go to the source material and play the full quote. So let’s just listen to the Elizabeth Warren part of the GOP video.

S12: Of course you know it’s the GOP video because it’s got you to do some of it is with light bulbs some of it is on straws some of it gang is on cheeseburgers right.

S1: OK here is the original sentence from the original CNN interview without the boot. Doo doo doo doo.

S14: There are a lot of ways that we try to change our energy consumption and our pollution. And God bless all of those ways. Some of it is with light bulbs some of it is on straws some of it dang is on cheeseburgers. Right.

S4: I hate when I get any dang on my cheeseburgers a little bit of orange. I’ll be here all week. Don’t try the veal.

S14: The senator did continue but understand this is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about.

S15: That’s what they want us to talk about this is no problem.

S14: They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your light bulbs around your straws and around your cheeseburgers when 70 percent of the pollution of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air comes from three industries. And we can set our targets and say by 2020 2028 2030 and 2035 no more.

S4: That’s a good answer. It does seem a little overly concerned with what some other people want the Democrats to talk about. That’s just coal industry talking points those are Republican talking points just say the talking points on it. I mean what she did there is pretty clear to see is put light bulbs and beef and straws on a lower level of urgency than the fossil fuel emitters. But then she went on and I thought this part was interesting for a specific reason I will get into. She went on to explain why the polluting industries have an outsized influence in America.

S14: And why don’t we focus there. It’s corruption. It’s these giant corporations that keep hiring the PR firms that does this everybody has on with it right. Gets it all out there. So we don’t look at who’s still making the big bucks of polluting our Earth.

S4: Well yeah that’s a part of it. But consider that video we played from the GOP. They’re nonsensical doo doo doo BP video. Yeah the GOP is agenda. I will acknowledge is at least partly driven by the fact that they support oil interests and auto interests and extractive industry interests. But the GOP puts out a mocking ad and treats it as ipso facto hilarious that anyone would want to ever limit beef consumption or address the problem of catalytic converters. They put out that ad not because they’re in the pockets of industry. They put out that ad to appeal to the people who they want to vote for them. The people who are already subscribing to their Twitter feed to appeal to Republicans. It’s not like every Republican is on the payroll of the oil companies. It’s that they’re incorrectly opposing many necessary measures to combat climate change. The Democrats do a similar thing on guns when they’re asked why can’t we get anything done. Why can’t we change any of the laws. They point to the NRA and lobbyist money. And yeah that’s part of it. But another huge part of it is that millions of voters that haven’t been paid off simply have different positions. Those voters are wrong but they do have those positions. Now for the record I do not think that a good politician needs to speak soothingly to all constituencies. He could do a little of that but you know you could also just win the election and get your agenda passed. For instance consider the question that CNN Chris Cuomo asked which touched off this entire Elizabeth Warren answer. So here’s that whole question.

S16: Today the president announced plans to roll back energy saving light bulbs and he wants to reintroduce four different kinds which I’m not going to burden you with but one of them is the candle shaped ones and those those are a favorite for a lot of people by the way. What do you think that the governor should be in the business of telling you what kind of light bulb you can have.

S14: Oh come on give me a break. You know that. Yes.

S17: No except yes it is a yes. It has always been a yes. Of course there are standards for electronics used in the home. The Department of Commerce has the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Of course we need to regulate what you plug into the light sockets and everything else where you plug into the wall. We’re not in that business. We’re the government. The government’s going to pass regulations. That’s what the government needs to do. And everyone except Admiral nukes a hurricane over there.

S4: Air Commander sharpie knows that it’s smarter to have light bulbs that are more energy efficient rather than less energy efficient. Yeah I know that Trump is trying to own the bulbs to own the Libs but come on. That’s why we’re here to talk. That’s why they were there in front of CNN. That’s why they’re campaigning to talk about the policies the government should have.

S17: And one of those policy should. Yes of course they all agree. Just say it your light bulb should be more efficient not less efficient. Say so just to own it.

S4: Enact the laws otherwise like our Commander in Chief’s preferred and maybe sole source of illumination. It really is just a waste of energy.

S13: And that’s it for today’s show pure being a man. Daniel Schrader. Ah. I want to say I feel like almost producers of The Gist in a way if that makes any sense. The gist if we get Boris Johnson together with Elizabeth Warren I predict something amazing will emerge. Two words impossible haggis. Maybe that’s just impossible for Deborah to Peru. And thanks for listening.