Netspeak: An Analysis Of Internet Jargon Essay

Approximately 30 million people world-wide use the Internet and
online services daily. The Net is growing exponentially in all
areas, and a rapidly increasing number of people are finding
themselves working and playing on the Internet. The people on the
Net are not all rocket scientists and computer programmers;
they’re graphic designers, teachers, students, artists,
musicians, feminists, Rush Limbaugh-fans, and your next door
neighbors. What these diverse groups of people have in common is
their language. The Net community exists and thrives because of
effective written communication, as on the net all you have
available to express yourself are typewritten words. If you
cannot express yourself well in written language, you either
learn more effective ways of communicating, or get lost in the

“Netspeak” is evolving on a national and international level. The
technological vocabulary once used only by computer programmers
and elite computer manipulators called “Hackers,” has spread to
all users of computer networks. The language is currently spoken
by people on the Internet, and is rapidly spilling over into
advertising and business. The words “online,” “network,” and
“surf the net” are occuring more and more frequently in our
newspapers and on television. If you’re like most Americans,
you’re feeling bombarded by Netspeak. Television advertisers,
newspapers, and international businesses have jumped on the
“Information Superhighway” bandwagon, making the Net more
accessible to large numbers of not-entirely-technically-oriented
people. As a result, technological vocabulary is entering into
non-technological communication. For example, even the
archaic UNIX command “grep,” (an acronym meaning Get REpeated
Pattern) is becoming more widely accepted as a synonym of
“search” in everyday communication.

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The argument rages as to whether Netspeak is merely slang, or a
jargon in and of itself. The language is emerging based loosely
upon telecommunications vocabulary and computer jargons, with
new derivations and compounds of existing words, and shifts
creating different usages; all of which depending quite heavily
upon clippings. Because of these reasons, the majority of Net-
using linguists classify Netspeak as a dynamic jargon in and of
itself, rather than as a collection of slang.

Linguistically, the most interesting feature of Netspeak is its
morphology. Acronyms and abbreviations make up a large part of
Net jargon. FAQ (Frequently Asked Question), MUD (Multi-User-
Dungeon), and URL (Uniform Resource Locator) are some of the
most frequently seen TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) on the
Internet. General abbreviations abound as well, in more
friendly and conversationally conducive forms, such as TIA
(Thanks In Advance), BRB (Be Right Back), BTW (By The Way), and
IMHO (In My Humble Opinion.) These abbreviations can be
baffling to new users, and speaking in abbreviations takes some
getting used to. Once users are used to them, though, such
abbreviations are a nice and easy way of expediting

Derivation is another method by which many words are formed. The
word Internet itself is the word “net” with the prefix “inter-“
added to it. Another interesting example is the word “hypertext,”
used to describe the format of one area of the Internet, the WWW
(World Wide Web). The WWW is made up of millions of pages of text
with “hotlinks” that allow the user to jump to another page with
different information on it. “Hypertext,” derived by adding the
prefix “hyper-” to the word “text,” produces the definition “a
method of storing data through a computer program that allows a
user to create and link fields of information at will and to
retrieve the data nonsequentially,” according to Webster’s
College Dictionary.

Proper names also make a large impact on the vocabulary of Net
users. Archie, Jughead, and Veronica are all different protocols
for searching different areas of the Internet for specific
information. Another new use of proper names is for descriptive
purposes. For example, the proper-name turned descriptive
noun/verb/adjective “Gabriel” has come to be understood as a
stalling tactic, or a form of filibustering; “He’s pulling a
Gabriel,” or “He’s in Gabriel mode.” Most frequently, this type
of name-borrowing happens due to highly and widely visible
actions by an individual on the Internet.

Onomatopoeias are also widely found in net jargon, as it’s often
necessary to get across an action such as a sigh or moan, without
having sound capabilities to send the sound itself. Very
frequently net users will use asterisks to denote such sounds as
*sigh* or *moan.*
Semantically, net jargon is also quite interesting. Many, many
words used in net jargon are taken from regular English and
applied to new ideas or protocols. For example, a gopher is not a
furry rodent on the Internet; a gopher is a software program
designed to gopher through the vast amount of information so that
the user can find what she’s looking for. A server is not a
waitress or waiter; a server is another computer that tells your
machine what it needs to know to communicate on the net.

A handle is not a part of a coffee cup; a handle is a nickname. A
shell isn’t the thing a clam lives in; it’s the command system
that allows you to enter commands to communicate with the machine
on the other end.

Functional shifts are also often frequently seen among vocabulary
on the net. For example, a flame (noun) is an angry, hostile
response sent to another person. To flame (verb) is to send
someone such a response. You use a Gopher (noun) to gopher (verb)
through information. These finer distinctions are learned with
experience and time on the net. Context is everything
when all you have to communicate with is your words and
typewritten expressions.

One example of coinage, and creativity, within written Netspeech
is the addition of “emoticons” to express emotions and intention.

Emoticons, most frequently seen in the form of sideways smiles (
8^) or ; ) for example, ) are found sprinkled throughout
electronic communication to donote feelings such as happiniess,
or to express sarcasm or humor. Most Net users consider emoticons
a part of their vocabulary, even if they do not fall into
traditional grammatical rules. Emoticons are not used as
words, they are an attempt at expressing feelings without the
luxury of using one’s voice. Using all-caps is another way Net
users have found to bring voice to their written communication;
in the form of shouting. Net users use all-caps very sparingly,
only to emphasize very important words or ideas, because most
readers do not wish to be shouted at.

Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of Netspeak, however,
is pronunciation. Most frequently, a user’s first encounter with
a new vocabulary word is by reading it, rather than hearing it.

This presents interesting pronunciation differences among
different people. There is an interesting controversy among the
net community over the correct pronunciation of the word
“ethernet” in normal speech. An ethernet is a network protocol
with a fast data transfer rate. Most of the computers in offices
at Western are connected by an ethernet. In the past, Ethernet
was the name of a specific networking and communications
protocol. At that time, the word Ethernet was pronounced with a
long [E]. As the concept of Ethernet networking spread, however,
the word gradually changed to ethernet, pronounced with a short
[e], a description of that specific type of network. In spoken
communication, the two different pronunciations created a great
argument among computer users, as to which pronunciation was
correct; an argument that will continue for all time when it
comes to spoken communication, and that is absolutely
unimportant in written communication.

The structure and development of the word ethernet is
particularly interesting as well. It is a compound of “ether” and
“net,” increasingly being used to describe the concept of the
Internet itself. As the Net is a global connection of millions of
machines, it is difficult for the user to understand what’s
happening to get the information through those millions of
machines to their own. The basic explanation of the structure of
the Internet is evolving to use the word “ethernet,” meaning a
network that exists sort of like a gaseous cloud, with the
imagery of a cloud of networking information taking
up the ether; occupying the upper regions of space. While this is
absolutely incorrect and inaccurate, it does help new users learn
to not ask how the net works, and to just accept that it does.

American English Net jargon is somewhat internationally
prevalent. Many terms used on the multi-lingual yet English
dominated Internet are borrowed from language to language. The
words “Internet” and “cyberspace” are used around the world, as
is evident when one is cruising the Net and encounters a piece of
writing entirely written in Norwegian or Russian. The only words
an English-speaker easily recognizes are those internationally
understood items of Netspeak. Another example are the grammatical
and vocabulary mutations that English Net jargon inspires.

According to the Hacker Jargon File, Italian net users often use
the nonexistent verbs “scrollare” (to scroll) and “deletare” (to
delete) rather than native Italian “scorerre” and “cancellare.”
The English verb “to hack” has been seen conjugated in many
European languages.

As the Internet and computer online services further invade life
in the United States and the world over, more and more people
will contribute to, change, and further develop Net jargon as we
know it today. In addition, more people will find Net jargon
spilling over into their offline lives. Nothing in our world
today is changing more quickly than computer networks and
technology, and therefore, no jargon is changing more quickly
than Netspeak. As more and more specialty words make their
way into our dictionaries, Net jargon will become increasingly
prevalent in our written and spoken communication. Everyone, not
just Net users will become familiar with the new words and
usages, as is already evident in the increasing use of the terms
“networking” and “cyberspace.” As business, advertising, and
entertainment move onto the networks, Netspeak will continue to
grow, change, and become more a part of everyday communication.

This dynamic language reflects the very rapid development of new
concepts and the need to communicate about these concepts. As
linguists, tracking this language development is one interesting
way of documenting the progression of the “Information Age,” just
as the language changes of Early America allow historical
linguists to track the movements of our early ancestors.


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