January 2020 news: a robo-generated episode of Lingthusiasm, Lingthusiasm Discord server, LingComm Grant, and xkcd hovertext

Hello!

I got namechecked in the hovertext of an xkcd comic this month, which may have resulted in more congratulatory messages from friends than when my book was reviewed in the New York Times, so, you know, it's good to see that everyone has their priorities on track.

My Wired article about code being based on English got translated into Japanese for Wired Japan. I can't actually read it, but I suppose that's the point. Here's the English version again if you missed it. 

Several exciting Lingthusiasm-related announcements! 

Our main episode on Lingthusiasm was an interview with Janelle Shane, who the Very Online might recognize as that person who gets neural nets to come up with weird names for ice cream flavours, colour terms, and other delightfully strange experiments. We talked about how machines understand language (and don't) and her excellent new book You Look Like A Thing And I Love You.

We also challenged Janelle to train a neural net on Lingthusiasm episode transcripts, which Lauren and I performed to great hilarity in a special bonus episode (technically February's bonus, but released at the same time because we didn't want to make you wait). Here's a short excerpt:

Gretchen: “We’re gonna start with the question of, ‘How do we spell “soup”?’ How do we spell soup?”
Lauren: “Yes. I had to say ‘soup’ in the first 10 minutes or so of this episode because I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! I just can’t spell “soup.”’”
Gretchen: “Oh, my gosh! I just can’t spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I just cannot spell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “Oh, my gosh! I just cannot spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I do not know how to spell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “I know how to spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I have never been able to sell ‘soup.’”
Gretchen: “I’m sorry, Lauren, but I can’t spell ‘soup.’”
Lauren: “Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry.”
Gretchen: “Thank you, Lauren.”
Lauren: “We are very sorry. This is a problem.”
Gretchen: “Sorry, Lauren.”
Lauren: “Can I borrow you some soup?”
Gretchen: “Yeah.”
Lauren: “And soup.”
Gretchen: “And, you know, I think it’s a good question.”
Lauren: The thing thinks we’re very into soup.
Gretchen: We’re in a soup loop.
Janelle: I love it.

As you may have noticed, GPT-2 did okay at figuring out the tone of a Lingthusiasm episode and the back-and-forth turntaking between me and Lauren, but as for the content...let's just say that we don't vouch for any of the linguistics in this particular episode. But we do vouch for the hilarity. 

Technically, January's bonus episode was about predicting the future of English, so you effectively get two bonuses this month! Make sure to also read Janelle's blog post about making the robo-generated Lingthusiasm episode.

We also made a Discord server (easy to use chatroom) for Lingthusiasm patrons, thus solving the problem of "Your podcast got me into linguistics, but now I don't have people to fan out about language with! Where do I make lingthusiastic friends?" Here's how to join.

Finally, we announced the LingComm Grant, a $500 (USD) grant that we're giving out to help another linguistics communication project, thanks to the support of the Lingthusiasm patrons! See the announcement thread or check out our new LingComm.org website for details.

I started the year by attending the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting, this year in New Orleans. As usual, I ran a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon and judged the Five Minute Linguist competition.

This month's media list, which is finally calming down again to something resembling normalcy:

National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters:

  • Math With Bad Drawings – roundup “Books I loved in 2019”– 1/6

  • Dan Pink’s Pinkcast newsletter – roundup “my 4 favorite books of 2019”– 1/7

Local Print/Online:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month's photo is the obligatory screenshot of the hovertext in the xkcd comic containing my name.

Thanks for coming along!

Gretchen

ok okay xkcd

2019 Year in Review

Featuring Because Internet highlights and more internet linguistics

2019 was a very big year for me.

My book about internet language, which I'd been working on since 2014, finally came out into the world! Because Internet hit the New York Times bestseller list and was one of TIME's 100 books of 2019, plus tons of other media.

I wrote two op-eds for the New York Times and continued writing my Resident Linguist column at Wired, and we made two special video episodes of my podcast, Lingthusiasm.

Book: Because Internet

There were over 200 media hits for Because Internet in 2019, at final count. Here are a few highlights:

Short-form Writing

Wired Resident Linguist column:

I also co-wrote an academic article with Lauren Gawne, Emoji as Digital Gestures in the journal Language@Internet [Open Access].

Events, Talks, and Videos

In January, I did a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon and judged the 5 Minute Linguist competition, both at the LSA annual meeting.

In March, I gave a comic talk at the festival of Bad Ad-hoc Hypotheses (BAHfest) about why we should make English spelling more weird and confusing, which you can watch online. Recommended if you like Unicode jokes.

In May, I recorded the Because Internet audiobook! Here's a thread with my linguistic thoughts about the process and an audio sample of me reading the audiobook. 

In July, I went to the LSA Summer Institute in UC Davis, to do a lingwiki Wikipedia editathon focussing on articles about underrepresented languages, a talk about effective communication of linguistics to a general audience, and MC'd the 3 Minute Thesis event. Plus, I had book launch party in Montreal with Argo Bookshop!

In September, I did a book event in Toronto in conversation with Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame), featuring a packed house with many old friends at The Ossington with Flying Booksn. I also went to XOXO fest in Portland, and did two talks about the book in Seattle, with Textio and the Seattle Review of Books and Elliott Bay Books.

In October, I was on a panel about busting language myths through podcasting at Sound Education in Boston. I was also on panels about Using Language for Worldbuilding (moderator) and “What did we say before we said Cool?” at Scintillation, a small speculative fiction convention in Montreal.

I now have a speaking reel! So if you've ever wondered what it's like when I'm giving a talk about internet linguistics, you can now watch a five minute highlights video here!

I collaborated on several Language Files videos with youtuber Tom Scott:

Lingthusiasm Podcast

We celebrated our third year of Lingthusiasm, a podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics which I make with Lauren Gawne. New this year were two video episodes, about gesture and signed languages, so that you can actually see them!

Here are all 24 episodes from 2019:

  1. How languages influence each other - Interview with Hannah Gibson on Swahili, Rangi, and Bantu languages

  2. The verb is the coat rack that the rest of the sentence hangs on

  3. Why do we gesture when we talk? (also a video episode!)

  4. Pop culture in Cook Islands Māori - Interview with Ake Nicholas

  5. You heard about it but I was there - Evidentials

  6. Why spelling is hard - but also hard to change

  7. Emoji are Gesture Because Internet

  8. Putting sounds into syllables is like putting toppings on a burger

  9. Villages, gifs, and children - Interview with Lynn Hou on signed languages in real-world contexts (also a video episode!)

  10. Smell words, both real and invented

  11. Many ways to talk about many things - Plurals, duals, and more

  12. How to rebalance a lopsided conversation

Bonus episodes on Patreon:

  1. Naming people (and especially babies)

  2. How the internet is making English better (liveshow from Melbourne)

  3. Adapting your language to other people

  4. How do radio announcers know how to pronounce all the names? With guest Tiger Webb

  5. Talking with dogs, horses, ravens, dolphins, bees, and other animals

  6. North, left, or towards the sea? With guest Alice Gaby

  7. Words from your family - Familects!

  8. Welcome aboard the metaphor train!

  9. Behind the scenes on Because Internet (Q&A)

  10. Jobs, locations, family, and invention - Surnames

  11. Reading fiction like a linguist

  12. The sounds of sheep, earthquakes, and ice cream - Onomatopoeia

We also made new Lingthusiasm merch, including items with the best esoteric Unicode symbols on themadding socks, mugs, and notebooks in all our prints (IPA, tree diagrams, and esoteric symbols), onesies saying Little Longitudinal Language Acquisition Project, greeting cards that say “thanks” or “congrats” on them in IPA; the pun-tastic “glottal bottle” and liquids for your liquids bottle/mug; and shirts/mugs/bags that say Linguistic “Correctness” is just a lie from Big Grammar to Sell More Grammars. (See photos of all the Lingthusiasm merch here.)

I celebrated my seventh year blogging at All Things Linguistic and wrote a series on Weird Internet Careers.

[Substack says that this full Year in Review post is too long for email, so if you’d like to see the twitter thread and blog post highlights, see the web version here.]

Missed out on previous years? Here are the summary posts from 20132014201520162017, and 2018. If you’d like to get a much shorter monthly highlights newsletter via email, with all sorts of interesting internet linguistics news, you can sign up for that at gretchenmcc.substack.com.

Thanks for coming along,

Gretchen

December 2019: NYT op-ed on Writing How We Talk, many year-in-review booklists, and a special leather-bound edition of Because Internet

Seriously, this leather-bound edition of Because Internet 😍

Hello!

I wrote a second op-ed for the New York Times this month! It's part of their 2010s retrospective and it's called We Learned to Write the Way We Talk. Here's a quote: 

Language snobbery is not inevitable. It’s not that people who cling to lists of language rules don’t want love as well. It’s that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods for how to get it. In high school English classes and writing manuals, we’ve been told that being “clear” and “correct” in language will help people understand us.

But understanding doesn’t come from insisting on a list of rules, shouting the same thing only louder like a hapless monolingual tourist in a foreign country. Understanding comes from meeting other people where they are, like being willing to use gestures and a handful of semi-remembered words and yes, even to look like a fool, to bridge a language barrier with laughter and humility.

We’ve been taught the lie that homogeneity leads to understanding, when in truth, understanding comes from better appreciating variety.

(Read the whole thing, or see my twitter thread with excerpts if you don't have a NYT subscription.) 

My latest Wired column was about how boomerspeak became a recognizable style for younger people to parody. Here's an excerpt: 

Boomerspeak's canonical features include the dot dot dot, repeated commas, and the period at the end of a text message. It can also involve random mid-sentence capitalization, typing in all caps, double-spacing after a period, signing your name at the end of a text message, and confusion between the face with tears of joy emoji and the loudly crying emoji.

But it's not just a question of intergenerational strife. Watching boomerspeak distill and crystalize into a distinct genre this year can help us understand a bigger phenomenon: how distinctive ways of speaking bubble up into the popular consciousness and become available for commentary or imitation, a linguistic process known as enregisterment.

(Read the whole thing and watch out for that last line!)

It's year-in-review-booklist season, and Because Internet has indeed made some lists!

Here's part of the blurb I wrote for Wired's roundup list:

There's always a risk, when it comes to Explaining The Youths, that said Youths will turn around and decide your explanation makes the thing no longer cool anymore (ahem, "ok boomer"). When I decided to write a book about internet language, I was worried this would be people's response. But that's not what I've been told about Because Internet. Instead, people tell me it's helping them bridge generation gaps.

It was also very very fun to see people's photos of giving or being given Because Internet as a gift, or finally having time to read Because Internet around the holidays! I've tried to like/comment/reshare as many as possible on twitter and instagram, and do feel free to keep tagging me there! 

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about how to rebalance a lopsided conversation (helpful for all your smalltalk needs!) and the bonus episode was about onomatopoeia and sound symbolism.

We also made one of last year's bonus episodes, our Melbourne liveshow about internet linguistics, available to everyone as a special treat - click here to listen. Here's a thread summing up all 24 episodes of 2019. We also enjoyed seeing everyone's glottal bottles, IPA socks, and other Lingthusiasm merch gifts coming in! 

I did two new videos in collaboration with Tom Scott, one about gesture and the other about priming and the replication crisis.

I posted the latter part of my Weird Internet Careers series

If you want to get the Weird Internet Careers series as a 30-page document, plus bonus questions to ask yourself about starting your Weird Internet Career, you can sign up for these posts as a monthly newsletter

Full media list: 

Roundups

  • Esquire.com – roundup “The Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 Span Everything From True Crime to Scammer Culture” – 12/3

  • Popsugar– roundup “18 Quirky Nonfiction Books That Will Make Perfect Holiday Gifts” – 12/3

  • Science Friday – roundup “The Best Science Books Of 2019” – 12/6

  • Vox – roundup “The best books I read in 2019” – 12/6

  • AtomicDust– roundup “What We’re Reading, Watching and Listening To Over Holiday Break” – 12/11

  • Bloomberg– roundup “Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 for Contrarians and the Curious” – 12/16

  • Blinkist– roundup “The Biggest Nonfiction Books of 2019” – 12/17

  • Better– roundup “The 10 Best Books of 2019”– 12/24

  • Lithhub– roundup “The Booksellers’ Year in Reading: Part 1”– 12/24

  • Popsugar– roundup “45 Nonfiction Books We Couldn't Put Down in 2019”– 12/26

  • Read It Forward – roundup “Book Gifts for people who have everything”

  • Wired – roundup “12 Science Books You Should Read Right Now”

Features and Mentions

Podcasts:

Local Print/Online:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month's photo is of a very special leather-bound edition of Because Internet that my publisher had made just for me, in celebration of my book becoming a bestseller! It's the only one that exists and I am amazed. (They even raised the initial McC!)

Thanks for coming along,

Gretchen

because internet leatherbound closeup

November 2019: Emoji stats, speaking reel, Crash Course announcement, and Weird Internet Careers

Hello!

In November, I wrote a very deep-dive article about the growing pains of the new emoji approval process at Unicode for Wired, featuring a graph that I'm very proud of: New emoji are so boring — but they don't have to be

If you've been unenthused about the emoji of recent years, you're not alone. A flashlight? A toolbox? A fire extinguisher? A tin can? Who even uses these?

The emoji set to appear on your phone next year are similarly dismal. A screwdriver, a toothbrush, a bell pepper—seriously, what is this, a shopping center? When you think of emoji, you don't think of a laundry list of random objects. You think of iconic, sometimes weird, expressive faces, like the face with tears of joy, the thinking face, the angry devil, the smiling pile of poo, and the see-no-evil monkey, plus classic symbols like the thumbs-up and the heart. But the latest batch includes just three new faces and one new hand shape, compared with 49 new objects, from a roller skate and a rock to a plunger.

The reason for this slide into irrelevance? The Unicode Consortium—the organization in charge of determining which symbols our devices are supposed to recognize—has increasingly been measuring the wrong thing in the process of approving new emoji.

I also wrote a very short piece for New York Magazine's Futures issue (print) about memes and cultural references: In the future, we will have meme folklorists

I now have a speaking reel online! If you've ever wondered what it's like when I'm giving a talk about internet linguistics, you can now watch a short demo video, also embedded below. To book me to talk at your conference or company, please see the instructions on my contact page.  

I'm very excited to announce that there's going to be a Crash Course Linguistics minicourse on youtube in 2020! I'm even more excited to say that I'm involved, along with the excellent linguists Lauren Gawne and Jessi Grieser. 

linguistics crash course graphic

I guess we're heading towards the end of the year, because the "top books of 2019" lists have started to appear, and Because Internet is on some of them!

Because Internet also made it to the semifinals of the Goodreads Choice Awards despite not having been in the previous round, because apparently enough people wrote it in! I'm stunned and honoured. 

Other notable media included being interviewed on the Ezra Klein Show and having a review go up in Ars Technica. (Full list of all media this month below.)

It was our three-year anniversary for Lingthusiasm! A thread of which lingthusiasm episode you might want to start with, and a few choice quotes that people liked: evidentials in Tibetan languages, the French circumflex, and language is an open source project

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about the many ways of talking about many things: plurals, duals, and more and the bonus episode was about reading fiction like a linguist and our favourite lingfic book recs. We've also been very much enjoying seeing all of the Lingthusiasm merch that people are getting this month, especially the new lingthusiastic socks and BIG GRAMMAR tshirts, and the perennially popular baby onesies

I updated my FAQ to include a bit about how to get started writing a book, and also started writing a retrospective series on Weird Internet Careers. 

I love hearing about all your Because Internet gifting plans! (So far, popular giftees include parents and teenagers!) 

If you want to get signed/personalized copies of Because Internet, you can order those through Argo Bookshop in Montreal and I'm happy to personalize them to whatever name you like, just indicate it in the "notes" field on checkout! (Signing is free, but shipping is at your own expense.) Argo recommends ordering by December 10 if you want the book to arrive internationally by December 25, if you're within Canada you can order as late as Dec 12. You can also, of course, get regular non-signed copies of Because Internet everywhere books are sold

National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters & Podcasts:

Local:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month's featured image is already above, an advance glimpse of the graphics from the planned Linguistics Crash Course

Thanks for coming along!

Gretchen

To get this monthly newsletter in your email, sign up at gretchenmcc.substack.com

October 2019: UK edition of Because Internet comes out, Sound Education & Scintillation conferences

Hello!

The UK edition of Because Internet came out this month! It will also be replacing the US edition in Australia, New Zealand, and other places that typically get UK versions of books. In celebration, I re-recorded a tiny portion of the Because Internet audiobook in a very posh, very fake British accent. You can get the real audiobook, featuring my normal voice, as well as all other versions of Because Internet here (or scroll to the bottom for a comparative photo of the US and UK editions!).

There was also some UK media around the UK publication! I did interviews in The Times (yes, that Times, the Times of London), the Observer/Guardian, BBC Science Focus, the Financial Times. Here's a quote from my interview in the Guardian:

Like many linguists, I have a difficult time turning the linguistics part of my brain off. If you get me at the pub, I may be trying to listen to what you’re saying and then get distracted by your vowels. So to be interested in the way people talk on the internet is just a natural extension of being interested in how people talk around me on an everyday basis. […]

I think it’s easy to see people doing something different from you, and assume it must be haphazard, random, or they must not know “the right way” to do it. In reality, people are acting for deliberate reasons, and I’m figuring out what those reasons are.

I was on panels at two conferences this month! I did threads about adding linguistics programming to not-explicitly-linguistic conferences and about how making public-facing work leads to interesting opportunities

Sound Education is a conference about educational podcasts in Boston, and I was on a panel about busting language myths through podcasting.

Scintillation is a small speculative fiction convention in Montreal, which I participated in for the second year now, and I was on panels about Using Language for Worldbuilding (moderator) and "What did we say before we said Cool?"

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was about smell words, both real and invented, and the bonus episode was about surnames. We were also recommended by Buzzfeed (!!), which called Lingthusiasm "joyously nerdy". 

Lingthusiasm also released new merch, including socks with our International Phonetic Alphabet, tree diagram, and esoteric symbols prints; greeting cards that say "thanks" or "congrats" on them in IPA; the pun-tastic "glottal bottle" and liquids for your liquids bottle/mug; and shirts/mugs/bags that say Linguistic "Correctness" is just a lie from Big Grammar to Sell More Grammars. (See photos of the all the Lingthusiasm merch here.)

I got inspired by the "ok boomer" shirts that have been going around to make "ok pedant" shirts (and people have actually bought them!)

Finally, but perhaps most excitingly, someone dressed up as my book for Halloween! I am ded. 

Long list of all media from this month:

National Radio/TV:

National Print/Top Online:

Newsletters:

Podcasts:

Local Print/Online:

Local Radio/TV:

Selected tweets:

Selected blog posts:

This month's photo is of the new UK edition of Because Internet (left) hanging out with the US edition (right) and a small stuffed wug.

Thanks for coming along!

Gretchen

because internet US vs UK editions and wug

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