Social Media and the evolution of language

10 Aug
Or, Microsoft Word and the angry little green squiggly line

This is a scene from my house in about 1995.

Mom: Maggie, you need to practice your spelling words so you can get a better grade on your test this week.

Maggie: Why?  Spelling doesn’t matter.

Mom:  Yes, it does.  It’s important that you spell things correctly so that people know what you mean.

Maggie: Mom, I hate spelling words!  Spelling doesn’t matter.  Soon everything’s going to have spell check anyway. 

National Spelling Bee by erin m

Clearly, this is not me.National Spelling Bee by erin m

Okay, so I was right, but I was also wrong.  (See, Mom, everything does have spell check.)  I’m still a terrible speller.  (Sometimes so bad that even spell check can’t figure out what I mean.)

So to spare all you lovely readers the time you’d spend scratching your heads, wondering what I’m trying to say, I type my posts in Microsoft Word before bring them over to WordPress to publish.  (“Thank you, Maggie.  We appreciate that you think of us.”)

revenge of the spelling be by postbear

revenge of the spelling be by postbear

Word is one of my greatest blogging aids, but it’s also one of my greatest blogging enemies.  Why?  That angry little green squiggly line.  You know, the one that says, “That is not correct grammar.”  And here’s the thing, a lot of the time, it’s my fault.  (Somehow all the AP English classes didn’t convince me that sentences need both a noun and a verb.)

But, other times it’s not my fault.  Because Word hasn’t adapted to how we use words when talking about social media. Word doesn’t think that “Google” is a verb.  (Here’s a question for you well-informed readers.  Can you think of any other proper verbs?)  It doesn’t like that “like” and “friend’ are now physical actions.  In know it’s always thinking, “‘Friend’ is a noun, ‘befriend’ is a verb.”  And now it’s thinking, “Finally!  She’s learned the word ‘befriend’.  All will be right from this point forward.”  (Yes, I like to think of my computer as being sentient – and speaking with a snotty tone, kind of like a girl Giles.)

Spell Time by mass distraction

Spell Time by mass distraction

In Word you can turn off the red squiggly line, the “That’s not spelled right,” line, or add words to the dictionary.  (And trust me, I’ve added plenty of words to my personal dictionary – “Facebook”, for one.)  You can turn off the grammar checking and lose the green line completely, but you don’t have any way to add to the grammar dictionary.

I’d like to be able to download a Word Plugin that would show me the grammar rules that it’s working off of allow me to change them.  I’d like to have my pick of different rule books (APA, MLA Chicago, etc.),  to be able to choose from some that come preinstalled and download more from the internet if I’m just that picky.  (Yes, I’m that picky.  My GPS is currently set to talk like a Pirate using a mod that I downloaded.)

Good Grammar Costs NothingLanguage is always changing.  I’m not going to pretend to be a linguist and pontificate on this too much.  But it seems that social media (and instant mass communication of all varieties) may be speeding up the pace at which language changes.  We communicate faster, so we share our idioms and new usage patterns faster.  And we all do so publicly, so everyone that we know (and probably some people that we don’t know) sees our idioms and usage patterns, no matter how unorthodox those patterns may be.  Now, we don’t adapt to Webster’s; Webster’s adapts to us.

Questions of the day: What words do you use in a new way?  Does Microsoft Word get angry at you when you use them?  And, is there any way to get Microsoft Word not to yell at you when you use them?

MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

9 Responses to “Social Media and the evolution of language”

  1. evocativepower August 11, 2011 at 4:52 am #

    Thanks, Maggie, for a fresh perspective. From your title, I thought you were going to go the old Newspeak/1984 route. As for proper verbs, I was going to say “MacAdam” (as in pave a road with asphalt), but the verb is “macadamize”. But wait, how about Xerox?

    • Maggie O'Toole August 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

      Ah, I hadn’t considered Newspeak, but, yeah, there are definitely things to discuss there.

      Also, I’ve never heard of MacAdam as a noun or a verb, but I guess I don’t spend that much time think about/interacting with the construction industry.

  2. georgettesullins August 11, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    I think shuttle the verb came first, then, came the “Shuttle.” I’ve evolved from using “Xerox” as ep states above, to “xero-copy”…you know, combine the two since so many machines are a true Xerox.
    As a linguist I get annoyed when wp alerts on Castilian…there it goes again.

    • georgettesullins August 11, 2011 at 6:41 am #

      How about Osterize?

      • Maggie O'Toole August 11, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

        Okay, so I’ll have to ask what it is. and Wikipedia were of now help. I got a gross result on Urban Dictionary (hard to believe, right?) when I Googled it, and that doesn’t seem like something you’d reference.

      • georgettesullins August 11, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

        As in food processor. I use my Oster to osterize.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

      The second vote for Xerox! I guess I should have thought of that… Now that you guys mention it, I can’t believe I didn’t. I guess I think of it kind of like Kleenex. It’s so associated with a category, that I don’t even realize that it’s a brand.

      Also, what doesn’t WP like Castilian? It’s not a weird enough word that the dictionary shouldn’t have it. Can you just add it to your overall Firefox/IE dictionary so it won’t alert to it any more, or will WP override that?

  3. Joyce Englander August 11, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    I studied linguistics in college, and the moral of the story was that standard english has little to do with how language actually works in society or in our brains. Language has and will always be an ongoing process of communication with adaptations, insertions, and deletions. English may have been standardized 400+ years ago to coincide with the printing press and cheaper paper and ink, and it has helped to create an incredible standard for mass communication, but I think it’s fascinating to watch the evolutionary ways that language is used on the www – it’s almost like a pidgin ( Great article, Maggie.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 11, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

      Huh, I hadn’t thought about the pidgin comparison. We have AAVE Maybe we’ll have SMVE — social media vernacular English. (Although Joyce studied linguistics, I’m sure that everyone else reading this didn’t. So, for point for clarification, AAVE is African American Vernacular English, commonly called Ebonics.)

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