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Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Cover of Because Internet. No images. Reads New York Times Bestseller, Because Internet Understanding the New Rules of Language Gretchen McCulloch

Non-Fiction, Linguistics

Published in 2019 by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

A crash course in how to navigate informal writing and the importance of accepting "non-standard" forms of language

The rise of social media has given linguists their first real chance to study informal writing and communication. With millions of people on the internet every day, it is now possible to see language evolve in real time. Gretchen McCulloch explores the evolution of online communications, debunking the myth that the internet is ruining language. Instead, she reveals the new slang, jargon, punctuation and intricacies that internet writing has introduced to languages around the world, including the development of internet specific forms of communication.

Why You Should Read It

Because Internet is essential reading for anyone who works with words simply because it oozes with excitement about how language can be shaped to create meaning. And what is an author if not someone who shapes words into meaning?

Practically, Because Internet is a good starting reference if you are writing something that relies on the internet speak of a specific era or medium. It's not in-depth, but it will give you a place to start your research and get the ideas rolling. But the real value of Because Internet lies in its attitude toward language. McCulloch is excited by how language adapts and changes in the everyday, informal ways that people communicate. She sees informal experimentation as a treasure trove of language adaptation and growth—the thing that keeps language alive. There is value in standardization, since without consensus on some level, communication becomes impossible, but the elasticity of language in general, and English in particular, is heightened by the experimentation necessary to adapt to new media. This elasticity is what keeps people engaged in language and what keeps it from dying.

Ultimately, Because Internet is a call to embrace change and experiment with words. It is a reminder to pay attention to your audience because their generational experience (and this doesn't always refer to age, especially when talking about the internet) will affect how they interpret different language constructions.

It can take time for tools and the general population to catch up to changes in language. A perfect example is the title of the book itself: Because Internet. My grammar checker insists that it should be Because of the Internet. But while because of the internet might be more "grammatical," it is not 100% analogous to the phrase because internet. Each phrase brings with it its own connotations and subtle nuances. Both are valid constructions depending on the context and the intended audience and as a result, neither is more correct than the other.

This is what Because Internet asks people to embrace. Certain phrasings, grammar, punctuation and constructions might not be suitable for what you are writing or the circles you are part of. But this doesn't make them any less legitimate as language. Embrace what speaks to your readers because, ultimately, the goal is to be understood, and part of that is speaking to your readers in language they understand, even if that language breaks with conventional standards.

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