2019 Year in Review

Cross-posted from my blog, All Things Linguistic

2019 was a very big year for me.

My book about internet language, which I’d been working on since 2014, finally came out into the world! Because Internet hit the New York Times bestseller list and was one of TIME’s 100 books of 2019, plus tons of other media.

I wrote two op-eds for the New York Times and continued writing my Resident Linguist column at Wired, and we made two special video episodes of my podcast, Lingthusiasm.

Book: Because Internet

There were over 200 media hits for Because Internet in 2019, at final count. Here are a few highlights:

Short-form Writing

Wired Resident Linguist column:

I also co-wrote an academic article with Lauren Gawne, Emoji as Digital Gestures in the journal Language@Internet [Open Access].

Events, Talks, and Videos

In January, I did a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon and judged the 5 Minute Linguist competition, both at the LSA annual meeting.

In March, I gave a comic talk at the festival of Bad Ad-hoc Hypotheses (BAHfest) about why we should make English spelling more weird and confusing, which you can watch online. Recommended if you like Unicode jokes.

In May, I recorded the Because Internet audiobook! Here’s a thread with my linguistic thoughts about the process and an audio sample of me reading the audiobook. 

In July, I went to the LSA Summer Institute in UC Davis, to do a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon focussing on articles about underrepresented languages, a talk about effective communication of linguistics to a general audience, and MC’d the 3 Minute Thesis event. Plus, I had book launch party in Montreal with Argo Bookshop!

In September, I did a book event in Toronto in conversation with Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame), featuring a packed house with many old friends at The Ossington with Flying Booksn. I also went to XOXO fest in Portland, and did two talks about the book in Seattle, with Textio and the Seattle Review of Books and Elliott Bay Books.

In October, I was on a panel about busting language myths through podcasting at Sound Education in Boston. I was also on panels about Using Language for Worldbuilding (moderator) and “What did we say before we said Cool?” at Scintillation, a small speculative fiction convention in Montreal.

I now have a speaking reel! So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like when I’m giving a talk about internet linguistics, you can now watch a five minute highlights video here!

I collaborated on several Language Files videos with youtuber Tom Scott:

Lingthusiasm Podcast

We celebrated our third year of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics which I make with Lauren Gawne. New this year were two video episodes, about gesture and signed languages, so that you can actually see them!

Here are all 24 episodes from 2019, 12 main episodes and 12 bonus episodes:

  1. How languages influence each other – Interview with Hannah Gibson on Swahili, Rangi, and Bantu languages
  2. The verb is the coat rack that the rest of the sentence hangs on
  3. Why do we gesture when we talk? (also a video episode!)
  4. Pop culture in Cook Islands Māori – Interview with Ake Nicholas
  5. You heard about it but I was there – Evidentials
  6. Why spelling is hard – but also hard to change
  7. Emoji are Gesture Because Internet
  8. Putting sounds into syllables is like putting toppings on a burger
  9. Villages, gifs, and children – Interview with Lynn Hou on signed languages in real-world contexts (also a video episode!)
  10. Smell words, both real and invented
  11. Many ways to talk about many things – Plurals, duals, and more
  12. How to rebalance a lopsided conversation

Bonus episodes on Patreon:

  1. Naming people (and especially babies)
  2. How the internet is making English better (liveshow from Melbourne)
  3. Adapting your language to other people
  4. How do radio announcers know how to pronounce all the names? With guest Tiger Webb
  5. Talking with dogs, horses, ravens, dolphins, bees, and other animals
  6. North, left, or towards the sea? With guest Alice Gaby
  7. Words from your family – Familects!
  8. Welcome aboard the metaphor train!
  9. Behind the scenes on Because Internet (Q&A)
  10. Jobs, locations, family, and invention – Surnames
  11. Reading fiction like a linguist
  12. The sounds of sheep, earthquakes, and ice cream – Onomatopoeia

We also made new Lingthusiasm merch, including  items with the best esoteric Unicode symbols on themadding socks, mugs, and notebooks in all our prints (IPA, tree diagrams, and esoteric symbols), onesies saying Little Longitudinal Language Acquisition Project, greeting cards that say “thanks” or “congrats” on them in IPA; the pun-tastic “glottal bottle” and liquids for your liquids bottle/mug; and shirts/mugs/bags that say Linguistic “Correctness” is just a lie from Big Grammar to Sell More Grammars. (See photos of all the Lingthusiasm merch here.)

Selected twitter threads

Book-writing meta threads

Other threads 

Some books I enjoyed! 

Selected blog posts

I celebrated my seventh year blogging at All Things Linguistic! Here are some of my favourite posts from this year:

A series on Weird Internet Careers

Memes and linguist humour 

Other Linguistics 

Things about languages 

Linguistics jobs interviews

Lists and how to

Missed out on previous years? Here are the summary posts from 20132014201520162017, and 2018. If you’d like to get a much shorter monthly highlights newsletter via email, with all sorts of interesting internet linguistics news, you can sign up for that at gretchenmcc.substack.com.

 

November 2019: Emoji stats, speaking reel, Crash Course announcement, and Weird Internet Careers

I wrote a very deep-dive article about the growing pains of the new emoji approval process at Unicode for Wired, featuring a graph that I’m very proud of: New emoji are so boring — but they don’t have to be.

If you’ve been unenthused about the emoji of recent years, you’re not alone. A flashlight? A toolbox? A fire extinguisher? A tin can? Who even uses these?

The emoji set to appear on your phone next year are similarly dismal. A screwdriver, a toothbrush, a bell pepper—seriously, what is this, a shopping center? When you think of emoji, you don’t think of a laundry list of random objects. You think of iconic, sometimes weird, expressive faces, like the face with tears of joy, the thinking face, the angry devil, the smiling pile of poo, and the see-no-evil monkey, plus classic symbols like the thumbs-up and the heart. But the latest batch includes just three new faces and one new hand shape, compared with 49 new objects, from a roller skate and a rock to a plunger.

The reason for this slide into irrelevance? The Unicode Consortium—the organization in charge of determining which symbols our devices are supposed to recognize—has increasingly been measuring the wrong thing in the process of approving new emoji.

I also wrote a very short piece for New York Magazine’s Futures issue (print) about memes and cultural references: In the future, we will have meme folklorists.

I now have a speaking reel online! If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like when I’m giving a talk about internet linguistics, you can now watch a short demo video, also embedded below. To book me to talk at your conference or company, please see the instructions on my contact page.

I’m very excited to announce that there’s going to be a Crash Course Linguistics minicourse on youtube in 2020! I’m even more excited to say that I’m involved, along with the excellent linguists Lauren Gawne and Jessi Grieser.

linguistics crash course graphic

I guess we’re heading towards the end of the year, because the “top books of 2019” lists have started to appear, and Because Internet is on some of them!

Because Internet also made it to the semifinals of the Goodreads Choice Awards despite not having been in the previous round, because apparently enough people wrote it in! I’m stunned and honoured.

Other notable media included being interviewed on the Ezra Klein Show and having a review go up in Ars Technica. (Full list of all media this month below.)

It was our three-year anniversary for Lingthusiasm! A thread of which lingthusiasm episode you might want to start with, and a few choice quotes that people liked: evidentials in Tibetan languages, the French circumflex, and language is an open source project.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the many ways of talking about many things: plurals, duals, and more and the bonus episode was about reading fiction like a linguist and our favourite lingfic book recs. We’ve also been very much enjoying seeing all of the Lingthusiasm merch that people are getting this month, especially the new lingthusiastic socks and BIG GRAMMAR tshirts, and the perennially popular baby onesies.

I updated my FAQ to include a bit about how to get started writing a book, and also started writing a retrospective series on Weird Internet Careers.

I love hearing about all your Because Internet gifting plans! (So far, popular giftees include parents and teenagers!)

If you want to get signed/personalized copies of Because Internet, you can order those through Argo Bookshop in Montreal and I’m happy to personalize them to whatever name you like, just indicate it in the “notes” field on checkout! (Signing is free, but shipping is at your own expense.) Argo recommends ordering by December 10 if you want the book to arrive internationally by December 25, if you’re within Canada you can order as late as Dec 12. You can also, of course, get regular non-signed copies of Because Internet everywhere books are sold.

National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters & Podcasts:

Local:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s featured image is already above, an advance glimpse of the graphics from the planned Linguistics Crash Course!

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October 2019: UK edition of Because Internet comes out, Sound Education & Scintillation conferences

The UK edition of Because Internet came out this month! It will also be replacing the US edition in Australia, New Zealand, and other places that typically get UK versions of books. In celebration, I re-recorded a tiny portion of the Because Internet audiobook in a very posh, very fake British accent. You can get the real audiobook, featuring my normal voice, as well as all other versions of Because Internet here (or scroll to the bottom for a comparative photo of the US and UK editions!).

There was also some UK media around the UK publication! I did interviews in The Times (yes, that Times, the Times of London), the Observer/Guardian, BBC Science Focus, the Financial Times. Here’s a quote from my interview in the Guardian:

Like many linguists, I have a difficult time turning the linguistics part of my brain off. If you get me at the pub, I may be trying to listen to what you’re saying and then get distracted by your vowels. So to be interested in the way people talk on the internet is just a natural extension of being interested in how people talk around me on an everyday basis. […]

I think it’s easy to see people doing something different from you, and assume it must be haphazard, random, or they must not know “the right way” to do it. In reality, people are acting for deliberate reasons, and I’m figuring out what those reasons are.

I was on panels at two conferences this month! I did threads about adding linguistics programming to not-explicitly-linguistic conferences and about how making public-facing work leads to interesting opportunities.

Sound Education is a conference about educational podcasts in Boston, and I was on a panel about busting language myths through podcasting.

Scintillation is a small speculative fiction convention in Montreal, which I participated in for the second year now, and I was on panels about Using Language for Worldbuilding (moderator) and “What did we say before we said Cool?”

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about smell words, both real and invented, and the bonus episode was about surnames. We were also recommended by Buzzfeed (!!), which called Lingthusiasm “joyously nerdy”.

Lingthusiasm also released new merch, including socks with our International Phonetic Alphabet, tree diagram, and esoteric symbols prints; greeting cards that say “thanks” or “congrats” on them in IPA; the pun-tastic “glottal bottle” and liquids for your liquids bottle/mug; and shirts/mugs/bags that say Linguistic “Correctness” is just a lie from Big Grammar to Sell More Grammars. (See photos of the all the Lingthusiasm merch here.)

I got inspired by the “ok boomer” shirts that have been going around to make “ok pedant” shirts (and people have actually bought them!)

Finally, but perhaps most excitingly, someone dressed up as my book for Halloween! I am ded.

Long list of all media from this month:

National Radio/TV:

National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters:

Podcasts:

Local Print/Online:

Local Radio/TV:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is of the new UK edition of Because Internet (left) hanging out with the US edition (right) and a small stuffed wug.

because internet US vs UK editions and wug

September 2019: Book events in Toronto and Seattle, XOXO in Portland, and New York Times Op-Ed From the Future

I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times (my first time writing there instead of being quoted!), from the perspective of 200 years in the future when people have nostalgia for the good old days of quaint emoji. Here’s one part that I liked (longer excerpt here).

The early 21st century was also a golden era for linguistic innovation related to using indirect constructed dialogue to convey actions and mental states. In speech, this era saw the rise of “be like” and in writing, the “me:” and *does something* conventions. (And I’m like, how did people even communicate their internal monologues without these?? also me: *shakes head* yeah I have no idea.)

We now take these linguistic resources for granted, but at the time they represented a significant advancement in modeling complex emotions and other internal conditions on behalf of oneself and other people. Imagine being limited to the previous generation of dialogue tags, which attempted to slice everything into sharp distinctions between “said,” “felt” and “thought.”

I was very proud that this op-ed got me no fewer than five (5!) entries in New New York Times, a twitter account that tracks words that appear in the New York Times for the first time. (Also, which unhyphenated compound word from the early 23rd century are you?)

I also did quite a lot of travel!

Torontobook event in conversation with Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame), featuring a packed house with many old friends at The Ossington with Flying Booksn.

PortlandXOXO fest where I held a language meetup for the second time, introducing people to the excellent word game called Contact, left some signed copies at Powells, and gave many Because Internet stickers to people!

Seattle – two talks about the book, one internally for Textio in the afternoon, and one in the evening for the public with the Seattle Review of Books and Elliott Bay Books.

The third Language Files video in my recent collaboration with Tom Scott and Molly Ruhl went up, this time about the language sounds that could exist, but don’t (the forbidden grey boxes of the International Phonetic Alphabet).

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was a bilingual video episode interviewing linguist Dr Lynn Hou about her research on signed languages in natural contexts, including ASL on youtube and Chatino Sign Language, in ASL and English. The bonus episode was a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process for Because Internet. Watch the video episode here:

My keynote talk about internet linguistics at the CoEDL Summer School in Canberra, Australia last year went online. I also switched this monthly newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack (existing subscribers were already migrated, and you can still view it online at gretchenmcculloch.com/news, but if you’d like to get an email when I write a new post like this, you can sign up here).

I spent a week at a friend’s cottage by a lake for a much-needed respite, where I wasn’t on the internet much but did enjoy JY Yang’s Tensorate series :)

Long list of media from this month:

Radio/TV:

National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters & Blogs:

Podcasts:

Local Print/Online:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

Here’s a photo of me and Ryan North just before our event in Toronto, featuring the really excellent sign based on Because Internet that The Ossington made for us!

because internet event ossington toronto gretchen mcculloch ryan north.jpg

July 2019: Because Internet is published and makes the NYT Bestseller list!

There was a New York Times Daily review of Because Internet (paper version!). Here’s one of the very nice things that reviewer Jennifer Szalai had to say about it:

McCulloch is such a disarming writer — lucid, friendly, unequivocally excited about her subject — that I began to marvel at the flexibility of the online language she describes, with its numerous shades of subtlety.

There was also SO MUCH other media about the book, including reviews in Time, the Economist, The New Yorker, and more; excerpts or interviews in Wired, Slate, Vox, Salon, Vice, and more; and interviews on NPR All Things Considered and Science Friday, Slate’s Lexicon Valley, Grammar Girl, The Allusionist and the Cracked Podcast, just to pick a few. (Full list with hyperlinks below.) A great little ad also ran next to the NYT crossword puzzle in the print edition (photo).

As if that weren’t enough, Because Internet also hit the New York Times bestseller list at #9 in its first week! Huge, huge thanks to everyone who preordered it and bought it during the first week which made this happen.

I did a book launch party in Montreal with Argo Bookshop at the Atwater Library! I was especially excited about the cake with the cover of my book on it which allowed me to literally eat my words and the internet-themed youtube playlist that twitter helped us put together to project on a screen during the party. Many thanks to all the people who attended!

I did a collaboration with youtuber Tom Scott! The first video in this new round of Language Files videos is “why typing like this is sometimes okay.” and is directly based on Chapter 4 of Because Internet! Stay tuned for more Language Files videos with Tom and our new collaborator Molly Ruhl in future months.

Everything is also coming up Because Internet on Lingthusiasm! Our main episode was about the connections between gesture and emoji, aka the behind the scenes story of the part of the book where my podcast cohost Lauren Gawne makes a cameo! The bonus episode was about familects, not the book, but we also released a Special Offer on Patreon to get signed bookplate stickers. Our academic paper about emoji as digital gesture in the journal Language@Internet also came out this month, and Lauren wrote an accessible summary version of it for The Conversation which got picked up by Quartz. (We were very pleased to have to disclose that our Lingthusiasm patrons helped fund this research.) Also, I now have an Erdős number.

When people ask what it’s like to have this book I’ve been working on for five years finally come out, the best analogy that I can think of is that it’s like having it constantly be my birthday for the past several weeks: I’ve been hearing from so many people from all corners of my life who are excited to have spotted BECAUSE INTERNET in their local bookstore or library, or to have heard me on the radio or their favourite podcast. I haven’t always been able to reply to everyone individually, but I truly appreciate how many communities have claimed this book’s success as their own.

In non-book-related news, I also went to California to do a linguistics outreach event at the LSA Summer Institute in UC Davis, consisting of a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon focussing on articles about underrepresented languages in the afternoon, and in the evening doing a talk about effective communication of linguistics to a general audience and MCing the 3 Minute Thesis event. (A thread from an interesting talk I attended on language tech.)

Here is the truly staggering media list just for July alone for Because Internet, all 65 (!) items:

National Radio

National Print/Top Online

Newsletters:

Podcasts:

Local Print/Online/Radio:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is real paper proof that Because Internet made the New York Times Bestseller list! because internet nyt bestseller list with emoji.jpg

March 2019: Gesture video for Lingthusiasm, #BAHfest, and BECAUSE INTERNET in the mail

I gave a humorous speech at the Bad Ad-hoc Hypothesis fest (BAHfest MIT) about the very logical (!) reasons to make English spelling less logical. I’m told that there will be video eventually — for now, my slides are here.

This month’s Lingthusiasm episode was about why we gesture when we talk, and we also made it available as our very first video episode so you can see the gestures! Many thanks to our Patreon supporters who enabled us to experiment with video! The bonus episode was Do you adjust the way you talk to match other people? Linguistic Accommodation with special guest our producer Claire Gawne.

I was quoted in articles about the xx email signoff in the New York Times, about the origin of the word “emoji” in Science Friday (NPR), and about business speak and corporate jargon for the BBC.

I was a guest on Spirits Podcast, a boozy podcast about myths and legends, talking about names and folklore! I also judged A Word A Day’s 25th anniversary pangram contest (the winner? “Emoji having been popularized, texts acquire wacky faces.”)

I livetweeted my thoughts on The Raven Tower, a new novel by Ann Leckie that has many cool linguistic worldbuilding elements!

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is of an advance copy of BECAUSE INTERNET arriving at reviewers, along with a printed-out tweet on the package!

because internet with envelope tweet

November 2018: Book title (BECAUSE INTERNET), Lingthusiasm liveshows, PatreCon, CoEDL, and more Australia talks

My book about internet language officially has a title and publication date! Look for BECAUSE INTERNET: UNDERSTANDING THE NEW RULES OF LANGUAGE in July 2019, and you can put your email address here if you want to get a link when it’s available.

My second Wired column went up: Why do some mid-sized languages, like Swedish, have extensive internet resources, while others with the same or larger speaker populations do not?

I’ve spent most of this month in Australia! (I did stop by PatreCon, a conference for Patreon creators, on my way.) Here’s a thread of linguistic reflections on being a Canadian in Australia.

We did our long-anticipated Lingthusiasm liveshows in Sydney and Melbourne! It was amazing to meet so many old and new fans of the show and compare notes on Australianisms, Canadianisms, and how people talk on the internet. The liveshow recording will be up in a few months for the rest of the world.

The main Lingthusiasm episode was about why C and G come in hard and soft versions, and more about palatal sounds, and the bonus episode was an inside view into academic conferences and how to have a good time at them. The Lingthusiasm merch is now finalized for the season, so you can order it for the holidays with confidence!

I also went to Canberra for the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL) Summer School, where I gave a public lecture on internet linguistics and taught a class on linguistics communication (see course notes and readings on the @LingComm twitter account). A few tweets from talks, plus threads about the Linguistics Roadshow and linguistics escape rooms.

I also did talks at University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, and Monash University, and radio interviews on ABC Melbourne and ABC Canberra.

I also did a short thread about An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is a shot of the table where Lauren Gawne and I were preparing for the Lingthusiasm liveshow, complete with Real Australian Flat Whites! table lingthusiasm liveshow prep flat whites melbourne.jpg

July 2018: Book heading into copyedits and EmojiCon in NYC

My book on internet language is now heading into copyedits and will be out sometime in mid-2019! I wrote a blog post about the latest stage of the writing process and I’ve been tweeting periodically about it as well. If you want to be the first to find out when there’s more news available, you can put your email address here and I’ll make sure you don’t miss anything.

I gave a talk about Emoji as Gesture at the second EmojiCon, in Brooklyn (see livetweets at #emojicon18), and went to Dartmouth for a workshop on Automatic Speech Recognition for Endangered Languages. I also met up with a bunch of interesting people while I was in the NYC and Boston areas and went to EmojiLand, a surprisingly deep musical about emoji!

This month’s Lingthusiasm main episode was about This, That, and The Other Thing – Determiners and the bonus episode was about words that look or sound the same and the cool sentences we can make from them, featuring The Buffalo Buffalo sentence and more.

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is the sign of the excellently-named restaurant j’eat jet? (Did you eat yet?) in Brooklyn, near the venue for EmojiCon.

j'eat jet restaurant sign.jpg

June 2018: #Emoji2018 in San Francisco and multiple exclamation marks!!!

I went to the Emoji2018 workshop at Stanford and presented a paper by me and Lauren Gawne on Emoji Grammar as Beat Gestures – livetweets here, including threads of talks by Tyler Schnoebelen, Susan Herring, and a panel, and read our paper/check out our slides here.

I was in this Wired article about Emoji2018 and this Atlantic article about Multiple exclamation marks in internet speak!!!

The main Lingthusiasm episode was What words sound spiky across languages? Interview with Suzy Styles and the bonus was about Forensic Linguistics. We also made the IPA scarves available in rainbow, by popular request!

I also did a crossover episode with a podcast called Wah Wonders Why, about What if there was no moon?

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month’s photo is the language section at Book Passage from when I was in San Francisco for Emoji2018.  Maker:S,Date:2017-11-21,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

April 2018: Tree diagram scarves and Prodigal Tongue livetweet

We launched a new round of linguistics-themed merch on Lingthusiasm: scarves with a subtle tree diagram print, and t-shirts and other items that say Heck Yeah Descriptivism and Heck Yeah Language Change. Plus, the IPA scarves in more colours: teal, grey, black, and pale pink. For more pictures and to order.

This month’s Lingthusiasm main episode was about Sentences with baggage: Presuppositions and the bonus episode was about Roses are red and other connections between poems and memes.

I tweeted my way through The Prodigal Tongue: Lynne Murphy’s new book about British vs American English (twitter thread version, blog post version)

I gave a talk at McGill about careers in linguistics: slides.

I put up again my semi-annual call for papers and student work about internet linguistics!

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

Here’s a photo of one of the new tree diagram scarves, in cream, hanging out on a tree. CreamTreeTree10 cropped filtered