December 2019: NYT op-ed on Writing How We Talk, many year-in-review booklists, and a special leather-bound edition of Because Internet

I wrote a second op-ed for the New York Times this month! It’s part of their 2010s retrospective and it’s called We Learned to Write the Way We Talk. Here’s a quote:

Language snobbery is not inevitable. It’s not that people who cling to lists of language rules don’t want love as well. It’s that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods for how to get it. In high school English classes and writing manuals, we’ve been told that being “clear” and “correct” in language will help people understand us.

But understanding doesn’t come from insisting on a list of rules, shouting the same thing only louder like a hapless monolingual tourist in a foreign country. Understanding comes from meeting other people where they are, like being willing to use gestures and a handful of semi-remembered words and yes, even to look like a fool, to bridge a language barrier with laughter and humility.

We’ve been taught the lie that homogeneity leads to understanding, when in truth, understanding comes from better appreciating variety.

(Read the whole thing, or see my twitter thread with excerpts if you don’t have a NYT subscription.)

My latest Wired column was about how boomerspeak became a recognizable style for younger people to parody. Here’s an excerpt:

Boomerspeak’s canonical features include the dot dot dot, repeated commas, and the period at the end of a text message. It can also involve random mid-sentence capitalization, typing in all caps, double-spacing after a period, signing your name at the end of a text message, and confusion between the face with tears of joy emoji and the loudly crying emoji.

But it’s not just a question of intergenerational strife. Watching boomerspeak distill and crystalize into a distinct genre this year can help us understand a bigger phenomenon: how distinctive ways of speaking bubble up into the popular consciousness and become available for commentary or imitation, a linguistic process known as enregisterment.

(Read the whole thing and watch out for that last line!)

It’s year-in-review-booklist season, and Because Internet has indeed made some lists!

Here’s part of the blurb I wrote for Wired’s roundup list:

There’s always a risk, when it comes to Explaining The Youths, that said Youths will turn around and decide your explanation makes the thing no longer cool anymore (ahem, “ok boomer”). When I decided to write a book about internet language, I was worried this would be people’s response. But that’s not what I’ve been told about Because Internet. Instead, people tell me it’s helping them bridge generation gaps.

It was also very very fun to see people’s photos of giving or being given Because Internet as a gift, or finally having time to read Because Internet around the holidays! I’ve tried to like/comment/reshare as many as possible on twitter and instagram, and do feel free to keep tagging me there!

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how to rebalance a lopsided conversation (helpful for all your smalltalk needs!) and the bonus episode was about onomatopoeia and sound symbolism. We also made one of last year’s bonus episodes, our Melbourne liveshow about internet linguistics, available to everyone as a special treatclick here to listen. Here’s a thread summing up all 24 episodes of 2019. We also enjoyed seeing everyone’s glottal bottles, IPA socks, and other Lingthusiasm merch gifts coming in!

I did two new videos in collaboration with Tom Scott, one about gesture and the other about priming and the replication crisis.

I posted the latter part of my Weird Internet Careers series:

If you want to get the Weird Internet Careers series as a 30-page document, plus bonus questions to ask yourself about starting your Weird Internet Career, you can sign up for these posts as a monthly newsletter.

Full media list: 

Roundups

  • Esquire.com – roundup “The Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 Span Everything From True Crime to Scammer Culture” – 12/3
  • Popsugar– roundup “18 Quirky Nonfiction Books That Will Make Perfect Holiday Gifts” – 12/3
  • Science Friday – roundup “The Best Science Books Of 2019” – 12/6
  • Vox – roundup “The best books I read in 2019” – 12/6
  • AtomicDust– roundup “What We’re Reading, Watching and Listening To Over Holiday Break” – 12/11
  • Bloomberg– roundup “Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 for Contrarians and the Curious” – 12/16
  • Blinkist – roundup “The Biggest Nonfiction Books of 2019” – 12/17
  • Better– roundup “The 10 Best Books of 2019”– 12/24
  • Lithhub – roundup “The Booksellers’ Year in Reading: Part 1”– 12/24
  • Popsugar – roundup “45 Nonfiction Books We Couldn’t Put Down in 2019”– 12/26
  • Read It Forward – roundup “Book Gifts for people who have everything”
  • Wired – roundup “12 Science Books You Should Read Right Now”

 

Features and Mentions

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This month’s photo is of a very special leather-bound edition of Because Internet that my publisher had made just for me, in celebration of my book becoming a bestseller! It’s the only one that exists and I am amazed. (They even raised the initial McC!)

because internet leatherbound closeup

 

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.

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

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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:

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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:

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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

December 2018: BECAUSE INTERNET preorders, Adelaide, Spain, and the most phonetic restaurant name

The preorder link for my book went up this month! You can now preorder Because Internet as a delightful surprise for your future self and to let the publisher know that people are interested in internet linguistics, either online by following the links here or by contacting your local indie bookstore. (Want a hint of what’s inside? Today in Things I Tell My Copyeditor: “stet, this is a Unicode joke”)

The Lingthusiasm main episode was about words for family relationships, or kinship terms, and the bonus episode was a behind the scenes Q&A episode where we answered your questions about the shape of the ear, very old words, and more. (The Q&A is also available as a special video episode for patrons!)

I finished my trip to Australia with a visit to Adelaide for the annual meeting of the Australian Linguistic Society, where I did a workshop on linguistics communication (#lingcomm).

I then ended the year in Spain!

I started a personal/professional instagram account, so if your instagram feed needs more linguistics in it, you can now follow @gretchen.mcculloch there.

I posted my year in review blog post on All Things Linguistic (and a tongue-in-cheek year in review tweet).

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This month’s photo is from Adelaide, where a group of linguists naturally chose to have dinner at the restaurant with the most, er, phonetic name.

phonatic restaurant adelaide

 

August 2017: #SpaceWitchCon, Planet Word beginnings, Al Jazeera TV & your ability to even

I went from Lingstitute to Washington DC, where I did some internet linguistic consulting work, and met up with some DC linguists, including Ann Friedman and several members of the Planet Word Advisory Board, which I am now on as well! I’m excited to be getting involved with this project to create a linguistics museum.

I then went to SpaceWitchCon, in the woods of North Carolina, where I ran a very fun session about internet linguistics (and also did a lot of singalongs and crafting and other excellent nerdery).

Later in the month, I was on live TV with Al Jazeera’s The Stream, talking about emoji (watch here), and a post of mine, about how to talk with your academic heroes and other people you admire, was featured on Thesis Whisperer.

This month’s Lingthusiasm episode was about Layers of meaning: Cooperation, humour, and Gricean Maxims, and the bonus episode was about language play. We also reached our Patreon interview goal, so you can look forward to hearing guest linguists on Lingthusiasm shortly!

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This month’s photo is a sign from SpaceWitch: the rooms were divided into even and odd sections, so I took this picture for those times when you can’t even anymore: here’s some even!

for when you can no longer even.jpg

December 2016: Lingthusiasm podcast launched, Idea Channel video, and yearly summary

I launched a podcast called Lingthusiasm with the fantastic Lauren Gawne of the linguistics blog Superlinguo. It’s a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics and you can listen to it on iTunes, Soundcloud, Google Play MusicYouTube or most other podcast apps via rss, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr for updates. We launched it with the first three episodes:

  1. Speaking a common language won’t lead to world peace
  2. Pronouns: singular “they”, other languages, and solving the gay fanfiction pronoun problem
  3. A lingthusiastic review of the alien linguistics movie Arrival

I consulted on this video for the PBS Idea Channel about the “words for snow” myth and I was quoted in this article for the New York Times: On the internet, to be “Mom” is to be Queen.

I also wrote book things! Nothing to announce yet, but here’s a few #amwriting protips.

I posted my yearly summary for 2016 on All Things Linguistic.

In January, I’m heading to the annual conference of the Linguistic Society of America, where I’ll be doing a panel and a talk and an editathon and lots of other things!

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This month’s bookshelfie is the linguistics section of Foyles in London, a photo I took when I was in the UK in May.

foyles-london-bookshelfie

April 2016: California talks, book rough draft, Idea Channel & Science Friday on emoji

 

I took a trip to California! I gave a keynote address at the 25th annual CSU Fullerton Linguistic Symposium (my slides at bit.ly/explainling-fullerton). A few days later, I went into the offices of Dictionary.com and gave a talk in conversation with Jane Solomon. You can hear an audio excerpt here, where I talk about the idea of an “internet era” of English. (If you want to see some non-linguistic updates  from California, mostly food pics, you can check out my instagram.)

I hit a book milestone: 100k words of a (very rough) draft. You can see a celebratory screencap and read a few thoughts about the writing process. I also made an email mailing list specifically for very occasional book updates, so if you want to make sure you don’t miss any important internet language book news on social media, you can sign up for that here.

I collaborated on an episode of PBS Idea Channel about emoji with Mike Rugnetta:

I was also on NPR with a live interview on Science Friday, talking about the recent study finding that many emoji get misinterpreted, especially 😁, with the study’s lead author Hannah Miller. You can listen to the interview on souncloud.

In other media, I’m quoted in a Daily Dot article about the “snek” meme, a Daily Dot article about dialects of internet communities, and a BBC Future article about why we’re talking differently about the web/internet/cyberspace.

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Here’s my favourite tweet of the month:

Photos are from the Last Bookstore in LA, which has an ordinary-looking linguistics section but and then some gorgeous book art. 😍😍😍

Agenda for May: Scotland!