YANSS 194 – How memes, text messaging, emojis, and internet culture are expanding the range of human expression and, ultimately, our minds

Our guest in this episode is Gretchen McCulloch, who is a linguist, but also, I’d say a MEME-ologist, evidenced by that the fact that in her New York Times Bestselling book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, she spends a good portion of the book tracing the history of memes and how we have used them all the way up to right now, which is part of her her overall exploration of how language itself has changed since the advent of text messaging, SnapChat, TikTok, emojis, gifs, memes, and the internet as a whole.

McCulloch explains how texting, emoji, apps, social media, and the meme economy are all expanding our abilities to communicate ideas and ~express~ ourselves to one another. So, if you still put periods at the ends of your texts and refuse to change your ways, you will definitely enjoy this interview, and if you fancy yourself some kind of memelord, this is certainly the episode for you

I lately lost a preposition.
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
And angrily I cried, “Perdition!”
Up from out of in under there. 

Correctness is my vade mecum,
And dangling phrases I abhor,
But yet I wondered, “What should he come
Up from out of in under there for?” 

Morris Bishop

Gretchen McCulloch is an internet linguist: she explores the language of the internet for the people of the internet. She’s the author of the New York Times bestselling book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, which was published by Riverhead (Penguin) in July 2019 and has been reviewed in the New York Times, the New Yorker, theEconomist, TIME, the Atlantic, NPR, and Science Magazine. Because Internet was also named a Best Book of 2019 by TIME, Amazon, and the Washington Post.

McCulloch writes the Resident Linguist column at Wired and has also written for the New York TimesNew York MagazineSlate, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The Toast. She has a master’s in linguistics from McGill University and has spoken at SXSW and EmojiCon. McCulloch is the creator of the daily linguistics blog All Things Linguistic, and the co-creator of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics. She is Canadian and lives in Montreal, but also on the internet. You can follow her on Twitter @GretchenAMcC.

Because Internet paperback 3D rendering

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

From Riverhead Books (Penguin, US) and Harvill Secker/Vintage (Random House, UK), available now in paperback!

“Gretchen McCulloch is the internet’s favorite linguist, and this book is essential reading. Reading her work is like suddenly being able to see the matrix.” —Jonny Sun, author of everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too

Because Internet is for anyone who’s ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It’s the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that’s a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are.

Language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. Internet conversations are structured by the shape of our apps and platforms, from the grammar of status updates to the protocols of comments and @replies. Linguistically inventive online communities spread new slang and jargon with dizzying speed. What’s more, social media is a vast laboratory of unedited, unfiltered words where we can watch language evolve in real time.

Even the most absurd-looking slang has genuine patterns behind it. Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer “LOL” or “lol,” why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.



Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Spotify – Patreon –  SoundcloudOmny

Previous Episodes

Gretchen McCulloch’s Website

McCulloch’s Twitter