Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch: Emojis, Tweets and Memes May Not be the End of Language…

Because Internet

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

by Gretchen McCulloch

Hardcover, 274 pg.
Riverhead Books, 2019

Read: October 18-21, 2019

I’m a linguist, and I live on the internet. When I see the boundless creativity of internet language flowing past me online, I can’t help but want to understand how it works. Why did emoji become so popular so quickly? What’s the deal with how people of different ages punctuate their emails and text messages so differently? Why does the language in memes often look so wonderfully strange?

That encapsulates the book right there, McCulloch looks into each of these questions—along with some related and foundational questions—about how communication online has and is changing the way we write at each other.

If I was going to do this the right way, I’d need a dozen pages (at least), and I just don’t have the patience to write something that long (and, let’s be honest—who’d read it?). So let me be brief: this is an entertaining and informative book. She discusses the advantage of studying informal writing over edited and published works (and how the Internet Age makes that so much easier), “typographical tone of voice,” emojis and other emotional indicators, memes (and the like), and offers a new metaphor for considering language.

The tone is light and informal, but this isn’t a breezy read. It’s not that difficult, however. But there are times that I will confess that my eyes glazed over when she does some of the nitty-gritty explanations about how this works (and how it’s researched). But that doesn’t happen as often as I might think it would. What she does with the nitty-gritty, how she applies it? Love it. But when she’s “showing her work” (as we used to say in math class), I have a hard time tracking—that’s on me, I want to stress. McCulloch goes out of her way to make even that kind of thing interesting and approachable.

The way she frames the discussion for each chapter is fascinating. Then the conclusions she makes, or application of all that work, is simply insightful and even more fascinating. It’s just the stuff in the middle that didn’t need to be as long. But that’s very likely just me. McCulloch is a bit more open to changes and innovations than a guy who likes the idea of language standards (like me) can truly be comfortable with—but she almost wins me over.

This is probably the most entertaining book about language that I can remember reading (and, yeah, I used to dabble). It feels as alive as the language she’s considering. This is one for the language lover in your life.


3.5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge