WASHINGTON -- To: Administrators, the National Medal of Science
Re: My submission for your consideration
It is rare that this prestigious prize is awarded in the field of sociology. As a forensic sociologist, I am hoping you will review my findings below and act appropriately.
I believe I have identified a new language -- more specifically, a dialect within an existing language, featuring a distinctive syntax. The core language is American English. The dialect exists mostly on Twitter and in text messaging. It is hurried and impromptu, in the modern fashion, but also highly disciplined and rule-obedient. Overwhelmingly, the practitioners of it are millennials, women and smartasses. Astonishingly, when interviewed, most seemed not to know that they have developed this patois or that they are part of a larger movement.
I shall call the language "IROL," which is not an acronym but an appropriately truncated description of the physical act that is suggested by each communication. (If in your judgment it should henceforth be called "The Weingarten IROL," I would humbly not object.)
Here is a classic example of the form, as created on Twitter at 11:37 p.m. on Sept. 19 by Sarah Beattie, a comedy writer: "wait if we destroy north korea and there's a pregnant lady there isn't that abortion we can't have that"
Note the following characteristics, which are present in virtually all IROL communications: (1) the appearance of haste but the reality of a carefully delivered message; (2) satire and/or exasperation delivered in a saucy, dismissive manner; (3) a complete lack of punctuation, always featuring at least one run-on sentence, as though the thought was too overwhelming to control, like a sneeze. Periods are verboten. Capitals are permitted for emphasis, but seldom if ever to indicate the start of a sentence. Technically, there are no sentences.
I trace this language to a single source: "kthanksbye" (or its inexplicable phonetic derivative, "kthxbai"), which originated in the 1990s as a way to peremptorily end an online discussion and not allow a response. The form has obviously gotten far more complex.
Consider the following examples:
From young-adult novelist Lynn Weingarten (no relation), on Twitter at 2:21 p.m. on Nov. 15: "The man sitting across from me at my office space is trying to eat yogurt and granola with two coffee stirrers as a spoon and it is really horrible I'm sorry I don't mean to sound mean but THERE ARE SO MANY SPOONS HERE can I get him one and say PLEASE JUST USE THIS?"
From my colleague Alexandra Petri, a Washington Post humor columnist: "I can tell I'm exhausted because I just told a friend 'he is very nice' but what I was talking about was her keyboard also it just took me three tries to spell keyboars"
Asked to explain this phenomenon, Petri texted me back: "it is part of that carefree whimsy we millennials work so hard to project. it might be sprezzatura, which someone on Twitter once accused me of. it means studied carelessness hmm I was going to say it is more free-flowing and unpretentious but the second you use the word 'unpretentious' to describe your own behavior it becomes a lie."
Sarah Beattie emailed: "Well, I just think of it like my mind is vomiting. If it changes the meaning I'll put punctuation for example I wouldn't write I love having sex with my friends and dogs. I'd throw a comma in there."
Noted haha LOL kthxbai
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.
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