When the Internet was new, users developed a language of their own — a shorthand that was both descriptive and exclusionary. Internet geeks understood it completely, while outsiders were left scratching their heads. Internet slang has evolved and changed throughout the years, with those changes sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, but the basis has remained the same. The shorthand is quicker than typing out entire sentences and can be equally exclusionary, though that is slowly changing.

Internet speak is divided into two types — emoticons, text based “pictures” that represented an emotion, and acronyms that represented longer phrases. Some of this slang has made it into our speech, so much so that almost anyone can understand it, while others remain more contained to the Internet community.

In the early days of the Internet, as Internet jargon was evolving, it was interesting to watch new slang take hold. Since we were Americans speaking mostly to Americans in those days, it was easy for us to catch the meaning, so adoption of the shorthand was fairly quick. Today, it’s often not so easy. With the introduction of other cultures (including Asian Internet culture that has a well developed Internet language of its own) into our Internet society, we have witnessed a shift in geek speak. MMOs have also caused a shift; since they allow users to “emote” using commands, many of the old jargon has been replaced with command-based jargon.

Here are some examples of some of the differences between the old and the new:

Old: LOL — New: lawl or lawlzor (LOL stands, as most people know, for “laughing out loud,” but what in the world is “lawl” and “lawlzor”? Sound out LOL, and you’ve got your answer for the former; the latter is just the same with the random “zor” added to the end, which was something added by gamers.)

Old: {{{{Maggy}}}} — New: /hug Maggy (Both of these represent a hug, but in the old days, the brackets surrounding a name were like a virtual hug, surrounding your name as arms would surround your body. The new version is command-based, used in text conversation to represent the command that would emote the action to you.)

Old: Newbie — New: nub, nube, or n00b (All represent someone who’s new and inexperienced, but the new version is a shorthand of a shorthand that evolved from the sound of the original shorthand. Now, though, most people pronounce it as you would the “nub” of a pencil, which sounds nothing like the original form.)

Old: ;D, o;>, };> ;P, etc. — New: ^^, QQ, >.<, TT, etc. (All of these emoticons represent emotions, but many of the versions are adoptions from Japanese Internet culture. QQ and TT both mean the person is crying -- if you look, you can see that both represent tears falling from one's eyes -- and these came directly from gaming communties. QQ represents someone who's whining, and players often see comments such as "Stop QQing" and "Less QQ and more pew pew," with "pew pew" representing the sound a vitual gun would make. In other words, stop whining and just play." While QQ is used to insult someone, TT is what someone types when they're sad, so has no connection to ridicule.)

Some of the new jargon has actually come from common keyboarding errors. For example, “pwned” is Internet slang for “owned,” as in “I just owned you,” which means “I just beat you soundly.” Others are new shorthands like “leet,” which means “elite,” “ftw,” which means “for the win,” and “l2p” which means “learn to play.” ZOMG has replaced OMG (oh my god) — this change is directly related to the “zor” phenominon. If you sounded it out, this would say, “Zoh my godzor.”

Yes, really.

Geek speak, while constantly evolving, has become so much a part of our every day lexicon that many of us find ourselves using them in our rl (real life). I’ll never forget the time I was teaching a computer aided composition class at the University of Oklahoma in 1991, when someone in class said something very funny, and, instead of laughing, I said, “LOL.” My assistant rolled his eyes at me and called me a geek as he walked out the door to tell anyone and everyone he knew about what I had just done. Now, that wouldn’t be so unusual.

Internet speak permeates our lives so much that it was even used in the opening episode of last year’s South Park, which won an Emmy. Eric Cartman’s famous line, “Looks like someone’s about to get pwned” has been repeated countless times since the show first aired. Text messaging on cell phones and BlackBerries has increased the number of people who use and understand the “language.”

In short, it’s everywhere.

Because of the evolution of Internet slang, my Masters thesis, titled “The Rhetoric of Online Communication” is sadly outdated today. Internet lexicon changes so quickly that any documentation of it would have to evolve with equal speed in order to keep up. I can’t imagine how different it will be ten years from now.

So if you want a big kick, sign on to World of Warcraft and fly to The Barrens to watch some Barrens chat. You’ll laugh so hard at the craziness there that you’ll type “rotflmaopimpwtime” and mean it!

Before I go, here’s a funny book jacket. For these folks (obviously NOT Internet geeks), the title meant something completely different than what it means to the Internet savvy. For those of us who see omfg all the time, this is a hoot. If the authors had any idea, they’d be mortified!