Social media has made a huge impact on our everyday lives, from the speed at which we communicate to the spread of information. However, one of the single most important effects has to be how it has changed language. From introducing new words such as “photobomb,” and acronyms like FOMO (fear of missing out), social media has changed the way we write and speak. Of course, there’s one question that we need to ask: Is social media wreaking havoc on the way we write or actually helping us do it better?
The English language is evolving faster than ever
A huge amount of the written language we encounter is on our computers, smartphones, and tablets. We use Twitter, Facebook, and Whatsapp. We Instagram and we Snapchat. So it’s no surprise that the evolution of language is happening through our interactions with technology.
Words and phrases have been coined on social media and have since passed into general usage, and even our dictionaries. “Selfie,” for example, was named word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Two years later, their “word” of the year was the “tears of joy emoji,” which is further proof of how language is evolving thanks to social media.
ICYWW, here’s what’s changed
Acronyms enter our language every day. (Oh, and if that last one had you scratching your head, it’s short for “in case you were wondering.”) But not all stick around long enough to make an impact. LOL and OMG have stood the test of time, but early texting hits like GR8 and M8 have almost completely lapsed into obscurity. Photobomb, that relatively new compound noun we mentioned earlier, seems to be finding a permanent home in the English vernacular.
Social media hasn’t just invented new words. It’s also transformed the meaning of existing ones. “Friend” is no longer just a noun that means companion. Thanks to the Internet, it’s now a verb meaning “to friend someone on Facebook.” Meanwhile, when we talk about tweeting, we’re rarely referring to birds. Likewise, if someone mentions a troll, they’re far more likely to be referring to someone harassing people online than an odd creature living under a bridge.
It helps us communicate more effectively
Much of social speak has developed from a desire to text and communicate quickly on our phones, or to stay within Twitter’s 140-character limit. Purists might shake their head at the younger generation’s ability to invent and propagate new words, but it’s no real cause for concern.
That’s because English is a living language that is constantly evolving. You won’t find many people bemoaning the fact that “doth” has slipped out of usage, or that “find” has replaced the less archaic “findeth.” The language of social media is likewise evolving daily and seeping into the mainstream, sometimes to replace outdated predecessors.
Plus, let’s not forget that many of the words that entered the English language a mere 20 years ago are pretty mainstream now. These include shopaholic, voicemail, foodie, and Google. One day, we might feel the same way about IMHO (in my honest opinion), TL;DR (too long; didn’t read), and NSFW (not safe for work).
We’re getting better at communicating
Social speak is now the mainstay of quick, informal communication — like you’ll find in Facebook posts, tweets, emails, and texts. And while more formal writing still has its place in business communications, you can’t ignore the way that language is evolving. A better solution is to adopt it selectively to demonstrate that you’re evolving too.
So while professional communicators shouldn’t jump on every trendy new word, phrase, or abbreviation, sprinkling in a few here and there can’t hurt. After all, there’s no evidence that social media is ruining the way we write. On the contrary, depending on how you look at it, it might even be making our language and writing all the richer and more interesting.