Netspeak: An Analysis Of Internet Jargon


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
shuffle.

"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.

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
communication.

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