Cykod

How to speak Internet.

by Pascal Rettig posted Jan 25, 2012

Alternative title: Internet speak for the over 50.

TL;DR - drop the The when talking about Internet sites, know what Memes are.

Any work group or subculture has its own language that is unique to group. Architects, computer scientists, Construction workers, and pretty much any other profession all have unique sayings and phrases that sound strange to people outside the group. People who spend a lot of time on Internet are no different. The only difference is that the Internet, in its ubiquity, tends to spread its tenticle-like vocabulary to the rest of the world. You can't escape Twitter, Facebook or Google. Even if you're just a regular person in another field just trying to get through the day.

So, despite your best efforts you'll occasionally be called on to speak about Internet related things, whether it be by your colleagues or your children. If this is the case and you're not an Internet illuminati, it's important to keep a level head and remember a few basic rules.

1. Drop the "The"

The first mistake people make is to try to treat internet websites as if they are one of a franchise of locations by putting definite articles in front of them. Don't do this. There is only 1 Twitter around, you don't want to preface it with "The" as if you were talking about a specific one.

Compare the following:

I'm going to Starbucks
I'm going to the Starbucks.

The latter only makes sense if you are referring to a particular one of many (in this case there are many starbucks) and the person you are talking to should know the one you are talking to about. The second one is basically an abbreviation for something like:

I'm going to the Starbucks around corner. 

Putting "The" in front of something like "Twitter" or "Google" sounds wrong. It's like you're saying:

I'm going to the Twitter over there on the weird Internet thingy.

It's pretty much a clear give away that you're not a comfortable with the ways of the Internet.

Let's try a few examples out:

Yes: Do you have a Tumblr blog?
No: Do you have a blog on the Tumblr?

Yes: I'm listening to Spotify
No: I'm listening to the Spotify

Yes: Are you on Twitter?
No: Are you on the Twitter?

Yes: I'm on Facebook
No: I'm on the Facebook

Facebook is an especially challenging example because the site actually was "TheFacebook.com" when it launched, so referring to it as The Facebook back in 2004 was perfectly acceptable, but that ship has long sailed. It's Facebook. Not "The Facebook."

Overcome the urge to add in "The" and you'll be happy.

Note: the same applies to using demonstratives like "That Twitter" or "This Facebook Thing." Don't do it. You'll sound much more current and will draw far less attention to yourself if you just go with the name of the website or service and leave the rest off.

The Internet is an exception to this rule. It should almost always be prefaced with "The" when used as a noun. 

Wrong: I'm going to surf Internet
Right: I'm going to surf the Internet
If you are feeling really confidant in your newfound ability to speak Internet websites, you can opt to occasionally go for a rather advanced combo - intentionally add the "The" back in and pluralize your noun. Here's an example:
I haven't seen you on the Twitters lately.

Note: this is an area you'll want to tread carefully on as it must be clear you're making and joke and being intentionally ironic or people will miss the point.

2. Know your verbs

The second major point is to know your verbs. Just like you wouldn't say "I'm going to Car myself to Starbucks" It's important to know when there is a verb that has entered common usage.

Most of the time that verb will match the name of the company, but sometimes a different verb will be used. Sometimes a company has not reached a level of ubiquity that using their name as a verb sounds wrong. It's a fine line here and you'll want to tread carefully. There is also a specificity issue, when the verb is specific enough you can drop the company name completely, when it's not you'll want to keep it.

Wrong: Did you search Google for it?
Right: Did you Google it? (To Google now means "to search")
Wrong: Did you post something?
Right: Did you post something on Facebook? (not specific enough, unless FB is already in discussion)
Wrong: Do you Tweet on Twitter?
Right: Do you Tweet? (Twitter is the only place you can Tweet)

Sometimes it's less clear. For example Foursquare is wildly popular among a subset. Which of the following to use depends on context:

Did you check-in?
Did you check-in on Foursquare? 

Here's a general table of websites and actions relating to them:

Website

Actions

Means

Company name?

Example

Facebook

Post Post Content Yes You should post that to Facebook
Like Like something from another website No Did you Like the Band's page?
Friend Add someone as a friend No Did you Friend Joanne?
Unfriend Remove someone as a friend No I unfriended Steven

Google

Google To search for something No I don't know, Google it
Plus One Click the +1 on (similar to Like) No Make sure you Plus One our website
Share Share something on Google+ Yes Did you share that on Google+
Add to a Circle Add someone to your Google+ account so you see their posts. No You should add them to your Circles.

Twitter

Tweet Post a Tweet No Did you Tweet about it?
Follow Click Follow & add them to your stream No* Make sure you follow them
Unfollow Remove someone form your stream No* They Tweeted too much, I unfollowed them

Foursquare

Check-in Mark your current location No* Did you Check-in to the concert?

Tumblr

Post Write a blog Post Yes You should post that to your Tumblr

Wikipedia

Wikipedia To look something up on Wikipedia No Let's Wikipedia it

IMDB

IMDB To look something up on IMDB.com No I can't remember the actor's name - IMDB him.

Blog

Write a Post To write a blog post N/A I wrote a blog post today

 

Memes

The last frontier of Internet-speak citizenship is the understanding of Memes.

Memes are the shared jokes of the Internet that are pop up on a regular basis and are usually beaten into the ground just as quickly through overuse. Some memes stick around and stand the test of time (like Chuck Norris) but most come and go rather quickly. If you are really interested check out http://knowyourmeme.com. In general there are far too many to try to keep track of and unless you spend your entire life on 4chan there are a few tricks to avoid looking dumb around memes. 

The first trick is to make sure you are pronouncing the word correctly. Take a look at this video if you need help.

The next is to recognize when Memes are being discussed. The general giveaway is when Internet hipster folks are laughing at stuff that isn't funny or doesn't make sense. Usually they are laughing because of shared knowledge of some meme. Don't laugh along if you haven't heard of the meme as you may get lost and called out in the ensuing conversation, just nonchalantly say something like "Oh is that a meme?" or, if you're sure it's a meme, say "Oh, I haven't heard of that one." Since the Internet moves quickly you won't be expected to know all the current memes, and someone will jump at the opportunity to explain, in most likely overly tedious detail, where the meme popped up from and why you should think it's funny. 

Did you know? The TL;DR at the top of this post is a Meme that got started by lazy internet folks who are upset with having to read more than a few sentences. It's short for "Too Long; didn't read." It's now sometimes used to provide a summary for those same folks who don't have attention spans that last more than a few paragraphs.

There you have it - all you need to not flop around like a fish out of water when things on the Internet are being discussed.