Back in the day, yay was just yay. Yet now you can convey the same hooray with an extra ‘a’, or extend its tail to make the wail reverberate, spelling the likes of yayy or yayyy, making yesterday’s yay a tad passé.
Expressive lengthening is the egghead term for this mozzarella-stretching. Social media loves it, where ugggh feels viler for its thicker innards, just as sheeesh is more exasperated. Both examples rate among the top 20 of elongated favourites across Facebook and other platforms, in cahoots with nice, crazy, hey and damn. Awe-wise, wowww packs more kapow.
Westerners favour emoji mouths to express emotion, while Asian scribes prefer eye action. Credit:iStock
You may think the habit a millennial gimmick, but history offers ample precedents. The Duke’s Prize, an 1848 novel written by Maturin Murray Ballou, has a lolly hawker bellowing ‘Confecctunarrry!’, as well as ‘Heeeere’s your chance!’ Which goes to show WOINA – What’s Old Is New Again.
Montreal linguist Gretchen McCulloch unearthed this last passage when researching her own book, Because Internet – Understanding The New Rules of Language (Riverhead, 2019). And while I did say Montreal, Gretchen doesn’t live in Canada. As she admits in her intro: "I’m a linguist and I live on the internet."
Because nowadays IRL (in real life) is far less distinct to the life we lead online. Days you spend at home conflate with the hours you idle on homepages, and McCulloch’s book reflects that migration, in league with the revamped English we use as a consequence.
For every yayy or nooo we post, we readily clip words too. Consider the initialisms (from fyi to til – today I learnt), or the spike in dunno or gonna, the slow evaporation of full-stops, the shrinkage of adorbs, sux and whatevs. Roaming the web, McCulloch collected the multiple variants of casual’s shorter cousin, from caszh to caj to cas’ and more.
Social media loves it, where ugggh feels viler for its thicker innards, just as sheeesh is more exasperated.
Lemme guess – you totes object to this new dialect. Sure, you may succumb to the odd 2nite, but demeaning the queen’s tongue is below u. To test your resolve, McCulloch asks the question: ‘Who is the imaginary authority in your head when you choose how to punctuate a text message? Is it the prescriptive norm of an offline authority … or the sensibilities of your online peers?’
Think about it. Is your invisible English teacher kibitzing as you tap the keys, or is your language governed by your textee? The Onion, a spoof gazette based in Chicago, knows that decision matters. Back in 2014, the satirical site accused a fake correspondent called Leslie of being a "stone-hearted ice witch" for omitting an exclamation mark when emailing her friend. It was heresy! Because internet language bears its own connotations and biases, reliant on its feeding circle.
Memes are monitored in Gretchen’s survey, the birth of gifs, the ascendance of emoji. (Did you know Western users favour emoji mouths to express emotion, while Asian scribes prefer eyes as mood pointers?) This is a book to plumb SHOUT-CAPS or ~sarcasm~ tildes, the *action asterisks* and the subtext of bolding. It’s an erudite hoooot! Said. Nobody.
Limber as ever, English is warming to the online challenge, often contorting to capture tone, compensating for the novelty of casz speech being written. To hasten this change is the impact of weak ties. Fifty years back, stuck in a village or high-school clique, you’d seldom overhaul your language, your dialogue trapped in a bell jar of similarity.
Enter the internet, a crack in the social seal. Suddenly your phrasing is being seen by faint acquaintances, followers of followers, your offhand remarks part of an instantaneous chain letter where newness is therefore constant to the widened audience, as is mimicry in return. And IMHO, that’s waaay cool!
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