language change and slang online English

What’s your favourite online English word?

This month we’ve been looking at how the Internet has influenced the English language in ‘What’s your online English?’ and there’s been some interesting discussion generated. We thought that it might be quite nice to ask our guest bloggers and regular contributors what their favourite online English word was and why. Here is what they had to say:

Mine would be pwned which seems to have come about thanks to a mistyping of the slang term owned (as in “Your team got owned by ours at last night’s game.”) meaning beaten/defeated/humiliated.
The mistyped version became a popular internet expression (among online gamers, in particular).
Kerry Maxwell has covered it in detail here, and I blogged about it here.
Dan Clayton from The blog formerly known as … English Language @ SFX

Most of the internet words I can think of are useful but banal – convenient abbreviations (like FWIW or IME) or words relating to activities on particular platforms (tweeting, friending, etc.). What I really like about social networking is learning new-to-me slang from different parts of the English-speaking world or seeing old ones applied in new ways. There are a number of young linguists who celebrate their achievements via Twitter by calling themselves and each other baller linguists. Baller started as slang for a basketball player with a ‘player’ lifestyle. But these baller linguists are kickass linguists who do their linguistics with style. I love their use of the noun as adjective (or maybe it’s a noun-noun compound) and I love their celebration of being linguists. My goal now is to be a baller blogger.
Lynne Murphy from separated by a common language

My favourite internet word is blog. It’s short and blunt and a (literal) four-letter-word, sounds all Anglo-Saxon which makes it all the more fun that it’s a a playful contraction of weblog,  completely and resoundingly new: a new word for a new concept in a new world (the internet) with new kinds of social interaction.  For a while now the hundred-million word British National Corpus has been used as a point of reference for the  nature of English.  It was compiled around 1990.  For most English words, it provides the data for a good and thorough account of the word’s behaviour, but it does not contain blog. Blogs are newer than that.
Adam Kilgarriff

When I was growing up, we had a thing in our house called a ‘whyless’. This was a sort of big varnished wooden box that stood in the corner of a room – taller than me at first, but I gradually caught up and overtook it. At the front of it, set into the wood, was a (circular? I’m not sure) soft fabric bit where the sound came out, and above it a knob that you could turn to send a little messenger zooming left or right along an illuminated horizontal scale to mysterious destinations like Hilversum, Athlone, Warsaw or Budapest. I was disappointed that I could never elicit any response, beyond an incessant non-committal hum, from most of these places, and my parents usually kept the whyless tuned into the BBC Light Programme. A yellow glow emanated through grilles at the back of the box, casting shadows on the wallpaper.
When I eventually realised that it was a ‘wireless’ and not a ‘whyless’, it came as quite a surprise. After all, it seemed to rely on a supply of electricity along a wire plugged into the wall. And frustrating attempts to peer through the grilles at the back suggested the presence of other, subservient wires inside it. I subsequently understood why it was called a wireless, but the understanding has never quite allayed the impression I had, at that impressionable age, that the word was trying to mean something that it really couldn’t manage.
A lot of things have changed since then. The Light Programme is long gone. Warsaw and Budapest no longer seem so exotic. And there really are wireless devices that work without wires. It’s taken a long time, but wireless has finally found the meaning it was waiting for.
Jonathan Marks

Ping. Although I haven’t worked up the courage to use it myself, I always enjoy it when someone writes, “ping me back” or “ping me an email”. It conjures up an image of the internet as a classroom with mischievous children standing round the sides, firing rubber bands, paperclips and ping pong balls at each other. Which it sort of is.
Dizraeli (@mcdizraeli / Facebook page)

I like the phrase: word of mouse. I think it’s a handy alternative to word of mouth for describing how info and gossip get spread these days.
Vicki Hollett from Learning to speak ’merican

As someone who spends a fair bit of time thinking about word formation, I’d have to say blog, because it’s dipped its toe into just about every word formation process. The word itself is an example of clipping (weblogblog), but then there’s evidence of blending (blogover, phlog, moblog, blogosphere), derivation (blogger, bloggable), compounding (audioblog) and even conversion (blog noun → blog verb).
Kerry Maxwell

If I’m allowed to pick this, I’ll go for the hashtag. Not the word, but the tag form (#) itself. It’s both useful, allowing related messages to be aggregated conveniently, and fun, in that people use hashtags in all sorts of creative, idiosyncratic, metacommunicative ways. Because text is limited compared to speech, particularly in short-form real-time chatting (as on Twitter), the hashtag allows people to add information on tone, theme and so on in a succinct and personalised fashion.
There’s an interesting article on it here that traces its development in and beyond Twitter.
Stan Carey from Sentence first

My favourite words are friend and unfriend. First, I like the way both are used as verbs on Facebook. For example, “Glad my dad friended you so I could too!!”
Also, it’s interesting how the noun friend doesn’t really mean friend … or does it? Like most people, I imagine, some of my friends are friends, some are not exactly friends, some are family, and some I have trouble placing.
I’d like to see a noun use for unfriend too – everyone else in the world? Or is it for those unfriended ones? One day, we might be saying, “Hello unfriend!” Or perhaps not. Talking of which, I’ve heard of people weeding friends – trying to bring their friend list down to a less ridiculous number of hundreds. I wondered if friend weeding might be a current term too – but when Google produces things like “My Best Friend’s Weeding” in response to my query, it looks like it’s time to stop!
Jim Ronald

There are two words I like:
app (for your iPad or iPhone, for example)
to sync (to copy everything on your iTunes to your iPad).
Both of them started off as shortened forms of larger words:
app from application
sync from to synchronize.
But they now have lives of their own and have left their parents behind.
In the case of the former, it is no accident that app is also the first three letters of Apple!
Jamie Keddie from Lessonstream

This might be weird but honestly my favorite online English word is rickroll, usually used in the chunk “you got rickroll’d”. Being rickrolled is terrible, but when you rickroll someone it is really funny. For those who are not familiar with the term, rickroll is a bait-and-switch thing. That is, let’s say I send you a link (or a hyperlink) about an interesting piece of news (or blog post) which really catches your attention. Of course, you’re going to click on the link; but, instead of a piece of news what you see is the 1987 music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. I like this new word because: 1) it was created totally from nowhere; 2) it’s nostalgic; 3) it shows how creativity goes online; 4) it’s funny to rickroll someone and it’s terrible when you get rickrolled.
Denilso de Lima

I think my favourite online English word is probably the at used in speech to indicate the symbol @. I like the way this unassuming, unglamorous little preposition has taken on such a pivotal role in the way we express email addresses. Interesting, too, that whereas the symbol @ was once primarily used to mean ‘at the price or rate of’, it is now much more commonly seen in what is in effect the core sense of at, to specify a location.
Andrew Delahunty

I like like. It’s already one of the most common – and versatile – words in English, and has acquired new uses in the fairly recent past (such as the phrase: “What’s not to like?” or the quasi-verbal use where it replaces “said”, e.g. “So she was like: OMG, that’s amazing!”). Now in the online medium the verb has a “dynamic” use in addition to its more established “stative” use: you’re not supposed to be able to say “I am liking this”, but in Facebook terms that’s fine:  so you can say things like: “I haven’t liked this yet”, or “I was intending to like it, but I forgot”.  And there’s an article on Google headed “Too many people are liking stupid things on this website”. What a word!
Michael Rundell

My favourite online English word is autoincorrect, used to describe the way iPhone sometimes ‘autocorrects’ your writing to something that is actually incorrect. One unfathomable autoincorrect is the way iPhone habitually wants to change reading, an everyday activity and a commonly-used word, to Reading, a town in southern England.
Dawn Nell

One of my favourites is the word blog, a good example of the creativity of the English language. Originally weblog [from web (= the World Wide Web) + log (= a written record or diary)] the full form was almost immediately entirely superseded by the shortened version, which in turn has spawned a large number of derivatives – blogger, blogosphere, blogspot, blogroll & blog-hosting, to name just a few.
There is also something quite phonetically appealing about the word. Especially if you pronounce it to give it an over-articulated ‘b’ and voiced ‘dark l’, to make it sound a bit like Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder!
Janet Gough

Visit our Facebook page to see what words members of our Facebook community favour.

How about you? What is your favourite online English word? Add it in a comment below!

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Laine Redpath Cole


  • […] My etymologically-enterprising friends at Macmillan dictionaries have a wonderful* feature this month discussing favourite words in online English. My contribution is a short musing on the word and phenomenon, autoincorrect, in which I struggle to find an accurate and not unflattering way of describing Reading, and which you can read here: […]

  • A very interesting and enjoyable post. I’d come across a few “baller linguists”, but hadn’t worked out exactly what the term meant (and hadn’t bothered looking it up), so I’m grateful to Lynne for explaining it. I’m also glad to see blog getting some love. Over the years, I’ve seen it objected to far more than it ever seemed to deserve; maybe the tide of criticism has finally turned.

    As a follow-up to my own favourite, here’s an interesting article by Ben Zimmer at Word Routes on the art of the self-mocking hashtag.

  • LINK is my favorite online word. It takes me to anywhere in the world. As I love people and countries it makes me be connected 24/7.

  • My favourite word is ” google” as verb. Why? Because I love words born out of its own power and effectiveness. “Google” started as the trade mark for an online searcher and became so popular that people started using it as a synonym for online research. So much so, that nowadays when someone needs to look up information, people will suggest “Why don´t you google it?” or comment “Just google it”.

  • My favourite word is “COMMENT”. What I do at any site – I find comments from people who have already read an article, used this product, been at this company and etc. I think it’s the base for my first opinion and my further actions depend on that I’ve read in comments.

  • My favourite online word is ‘Apple’ and all it represents. I’m not on the payroll but you can’t deny the vision Steve Jobs had and all the products that we now use everyday because of that vision. How ironic that many of us found out about Mr. Jobs’ tragic passing on one of his and/or the company’s creations. It represents the pursuit of dreams and being relentless about adhering to what your gut tells you. I’m sure many people thought Steve Jobs was a freak and could hardly comprehend the foresight he had into what customers would use and buy. He never graduated from college. He was involved in countless revolutionary projects including helping children with special needs by creating new devices and changing the animated movie by his involvement with Pixar.
    I will never forget seeing his address to a Stanford University graduating class.
    RIP Steve Jobs.
    You will never be forgotten.
    Shauna Rae, freelance columnist from London, Ontario, Canada

  • Like Dizraeli, I think to ping sounds fun, even if I’ve never been quite clear exactly what it means. The official definition is ‘to send a packet to a computer and wait for its return (Packet Internet Groper)’.
    None the wiser? Me neither – I never did complete that degree in computer science. But further research reveals that in practical terms to ping is to notify a website(s) that you have updated your site with new material. This is often done automatically – the excellent Posterous, for example, will update a blog and simultaneously send updates to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
    Okay, so maybe pinging is not such an exciting way to spend an afternoon. But it beats tweeting any day. And don’t get me started about poking…

  • My favorite online word is “huggle”; even though some people condemn it as childish, that combination of “hug/snuggle” (or is it “hug/cuddle”?) expresses nonsexual affection vividly. (Many of my online contacts are real-life friends as well, or have become that way; I guess I’ve got more reason to huggle than a typical Net geek!)

  • I believe rickrolling started on youtube on April fools day about 3 or 4 years ago. Every video on their home page and every video in their recommended section redirected the viewers to the Rick Astley ‘never gonna give you up’ video and people found it funny enough that it really caught on.

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