Book Review: Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 23, 2019
Source: Borrowed

A linguistically informed look at how our digital world is transforming the English language.

Language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies. Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What’s more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.

Even the most absurd-looking slang has genuine patterns behind it. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer “LOL” or “lol,” why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.

Because Internet is essential reading for anyone who’s ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It’s the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that’s a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are. 

You may have heard me mention once or twice that I’m really into linguistics. So into it, in fact, that it’s what my degree is in. I really love reading nonfiction about linguistics, but I’m often left disappointed. When I saw Because Internet pop up on my library’s “recently added” shelf, I couldn’t resist. I’ll admit that I was a tad skeptical. I mean… Because Internet is a pretty risky title. It’s either going to be cringy or amazing.

I’m happy to report that this book definitely falls at the “amazing” end up that spectrum.

Ever since I was an undergrad in my first Intro to Linguistics course, modern linguistics has intrigued me. I love how language changes over time, but there was never a course on the linguistics of the internet back then. This book was like a crash course in everything I find fascinating.

If you’ve ever wondered about the linguistics of…

  • ~*sparkle punctuation*~
  • Tumblr Emphasis™
  • lolcats, doge, and snek
  • lol
  • text-based emoticons and emoji
  • keyboard smashes
  • friendly vs. passive aggressive texts
  • or, really, almost anything else you could think of

… you’ll probably enjoy this book. If you’re a hardcore prescriptivist (someone who lives by language rule books and lectures people online about ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives), you probably won’t enjoy it as much. McCulloch takes the language of the internet very seriously in this book and presents an in-depth analysis of its evolution.

I was blown away by not only how informative this book was, but also how much I enjoyed it! Excuse me while I go find five hundred more books to read on linguistics.

Have you read Because Internet? Do you have any interest in linguistics?
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