News article about and an interview with Erin Jansen

"Joining the In-Crowd means Learning the Lingo"

by Michelle MacAfee
August 3rd, 2000
For the Canadian Associated Press

Montreal (CP) When 14-year-old Peter Lalonde was a computer newbie, he quickly realized getting connected was about more than learning how to log on to the Internet. He also had to immerse himself in the language of e-mail and chat groups to truly feel part of the online in-crowd.

It's a world where a message that reads "AISI, it's TEOTWAWKI" might be met with the reply "IYSS." (For those needing a translation, that's "As I see it, it's the end of the world as we know it, " followed by "If you say so.")

To eliminate any potential misunderstanding about the tone of the exchange, the writer could also throw in a smiley face _:-)_ also known as an emoticon. Adding to the confusion, however, is the netiquette rule that says spelling out words in capital letters is equivalent to shouting, while it's the norm when using shorthand.

"At first, there was some stuff I just didn't get," said Lalonde, who spends about an hour a day on his family's home computer in Victoria. "But then I just basically saw other people using it and I thought it was a lot shorter than writing it out, It saves quite a bit of time."

Such endorsements for computer-spawned slang resonate with Erin Jansen, creator or (, a Web site which tracks the latest abbreviated catch phrases and emoticons.

While efficiency is the main motivator for many adults, Jansen says younger users have their own reasons for picking up the shorthand. "They're wanting to be hip, like all of us when we're young, and this is the medium of the moment," Jansen, 33, said from Los Angeles. "It's the new lingo, it's the popular thing. It may be about convenience in the sense that you type less using acronyms, but it's more about being with the in-crowd who use this new technology while instant messaging. It's a communications revolution."

Others see the popularity of the shorthand as part of a broader societal trend amongst the Net generation, which is defined as the 16-to-35 set. "Short and fast is beautiful," said Herve Fischer, a philosophy professor who holds the Daniel Langlois chair of digital technologies and fine arts at Montreal's Concordia University. "This is a very basic value of the new generation. You find it in music, you find it in dance, in behaviour on skateboards, and so-on."

Acronyms have been a part of the computer culture since the 1960s, said Jansen. What started as a code of sorts used among those working in the industry eventually made its way into popular Net-speak. The result, however, would probably make most school teachers cringe. Casual is king, meaning chat rooms, e-mails, including some business correspondence, are rife with absentee punctuation and capitalization.

Ian Foster equates it to stream of consciousness. The 18-year-old university student from St. John's Nfld., picked up the lingo while using the chatline program ICQ. He finds the emoticons to be especially handy when sending messages to foreign friends.

"The smiley face is the best place to start," says Foster. "I've talked to people from most countries but even if you chat with someone around the block you can't tell their tone, so you can misinterpret and think someone is serious when they're joking. You could type 'just kidding' but with the Internet, everyone is looking for the fastest way to do something and most people have a sense of humour while online."

But Fischer cautions that speed is not without its possible long-term costs. He worries that those who chop and hack at their language on the Internet -English, French or otherwise- will eventually lose respect for it. "It may be very risky," said Fischer. "You have to respect your language because respecting your language to a certain point is respecting the quality of your communication with other people." ###

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