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Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch
Social sciences

Because Internet


We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Gretchen McCulloch, on your first book!

by Gretchen McCulloch

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Quick take

Essential reading for any child of the internet era.


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.

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Get an early look from the first pages of Because Internet.
Because Internet

Chapter 1

Informal Writing

Imagine learning to talk from recordings rather than people. If you learned how to have a conversation from movies, you might think that people regularly hang up the phone without saying goodbye and no one ever interrupts anyone else. If you learned to think out loud from news programs, you might believe that no one ever “ums” or waves their hands while searching for an idea, and that people swear rarely and never before ten p.m. If you learned to tell stories from audiobooks, you might think that nothing much new had happened with the English language in the past couple hundred years. If you only ever talked when you were public speaking, you’d expect that talking always involves anxious butterflies in your stomach and hours of preparation before facing an audience.

Of course, you did none of these things. You learned to speak English domestically, conversationally, and informally long before you could sit through an entire news report or deliver a speech. You might never be wholly comfortable with public speaking, but of course you can complain about the weather to a friend. Sure, they both involve moving the same body parts, but they’re hardly the same task at all.

And yet this is exactly how we all learned to read and write.

When we think about writing, we think about books and news¬papers, magazines and academic articles—and the school essays in which we tried (and mostly failed) to emulate them. We learned to read a formal kind of language which pretends that the past century or two of English hasn’t really happened, which presents words and books to us cut off from the living people who created them, which downplays the alchemy of two people tossing thoughts back and forth in perfect balance.

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Why I love it

If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at your dad’s misuse of “tbt” or wondered if your boss was being passive aggressive with her punctuation (again), you need to read Because Internet. Gretchen McCullough’s smart, chatty survey of the linguistic revolution sparked by living our lives increasingly online will have you thinking “I do say that!” more times than you can count.

Part history of language, part linguistic survey, and part ode to the beautiful creativity fostered by the internet, Because Internet is a sweeping appraisal of how the technological and social changes of the past two decades have resulted in an unprecedented disruption of the ways we shape and use language. It’s also an unabashed celebration of language’s innate, thrilling capacity for creativity, innovation, and playfulness—whether you’re living in the age of Shakespeare or the age of Cardi B.

Sound too academic? Because Internet reads the way that cool professor in your freshman survey course talked, with more than its fair share of whoa! moments and snappy fun facts you can bring to your next dinner party. Whether you’re interested in the nuances of LOL versus lol, or you just want to know what your teenager is saying for once, McCullough’s investigation of internet speak won’t disappoint.

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Member ratings (551)

  • Kaitlyn C.

    Colorado Springs, CO

    I'll admit, I'm a bit of a linguistics nerd, but that doesn't change the fact that McCulloch's work is funny and fascinating. Bonus: I now understand some of my students' writing tendencies.

  • Edel P.

    Lebanon, TN

    I love the nerdiness of this book. All the research McCulloch did is fantastic! Knowing and understanding the evolution of language is essential to communicate in the new ways of our world.

  • Taylor v.

    Columbia, MO

    Super fun book full of things I already knew that I knew but just had to be explained to me. I used it to write a lecture on the evolution of language in my anthropology class!

  • Julia K.

    Somerville, MA

    I love linguistics and I've grown up on the internet, so this was a fun mixture of education and entertainment - learning about the language I learned by accident.

  • Sei D.

    San Francisco, CA

    Such a fascinating, well-written, and at times laugh-out-loud explanation of how the internet has changed the English language. A must-read for linguistics lovers!

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