The Information Age

Four sections: 1. Germanic myths – hero warriors 2. Online Gaming 3. Virtuality: JPEGs, Dogecoin 4. Acronyms

What metaphor should we use for the nexus for change in English.? Previous metaphors have been “the forum” and “the melting pot”. Perhaps now we should speak of the “chat room”, or “The Massively Multiplayer Online Game” (MMOG).  

Germanic myths – hero warriors

JRR Tolkien revived Germanic mythology when he rediscovered the idea of Middle Earth, now one of the best-known places on the planet, although it exists only in virtual space.. Norse mythology located humans in Midgard, below Asgard, the realm of the gods, one of the nine worlds and somewhere in the middle of the world tree Yggdrasil. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are his most famous books. The One Ring that corrupts and enslaves its wearer, is very similar to Wagner’s use of the same myth. In the ring cycle, the dwarf Nibelung smelts the one ring with gold stolen from the Rhine maidens. Wotan steals it, loses it to giants and schemes to recover it. Finally the Valkyrie Brünnhilde returns it to the Rhine maidens. JRR denied any influence from Wagner and expressed loud opposition to the Nazis.

Tolkien: original sin, pessimistic, conservative; Wagner was socialist/ nationalist, briefly Christian in Parsifal

JRR Tolkien came to Birmingham by chance to live with his mother’s family when his father died suddenly in South Africa, where JRR was born.  He is associated with King’s Heath, Sarehole, and Bag End to name but a few places. In his early teens he became interested in constructed languages, starting with Animalic, an invention of his cousins, followed by Nevbosh and Naffarin. His career work at Oxford was mainly in Old English. Tolkien was an unlikely exponent of Germanic paganism as he was devoutly Catholic and his wife Edith converted. His paternal ancestors were from Prussia, migrating from Danzig to London in the 1770s and the surname probably means “son of Tolk”.

The popularity of Lord of the Rings has brought back early Norse mythical creatures – elves, dwarves, dragons, sentient trees, halflings and orcs. The last of these are malevolent beings, described in Beowulf.  JRR vigorously articulated the Germanic hero Beowulf, stressing its poetic value.   The mythology then extended into Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop game by Gary Gygax that remains influential, with a fifth edition in 2014. Then the mythology transferred to RPGs (role playing games), MUDs (multi-user dungeons). and MMOs (massively multiplayer online game). World of Warcraft is a dominant MMOG with up to nine million monthly subscribers worldwide. 

Dragons are a very persistent belief in nearly all word cultures. Germanic dragons’ traits are often a hybridization of avian, feline, and reptilian features, and may include: snakelike features, reptilian scaly skin, four legs with three or four toes on each, spinal nodes running down the back, a tail, and a serrated jaw with rows of teeth. They often guard hoards of gold. I live near a dark stream valley called Drakelow.  Worm was an alternate Old English form, perhaps reflecting a belief that their young lived in the ground. Several modern scholars believe they were derived from huge extinct or migrating crocodiles. The word dragon was used to translate the Chinese lung (龙, Pinyin  lóng; Kowloon means “nine dragons”), which are associated with good fortune and are thought to have power over rain but do not have wings or fire. The Welsh dragon may have its origins in a windsock carried by Alanic horse archers, who worked as mercenaries for Rome. 

Germanic mythology: the hero warrior. Beowulf . The Dream of the Rood. Northman. QAnon (picture below). Azov Battalion. Male manual workers now have few validated social roles, may be attracted to hero warrior nostalgia. Work: valued jobs, dignity of risk. Breadwinner. Father, but CPSA. 

Stormfront blogger Yggdrasil’s criteria for what qualifies as a good white-nationalist film include: “Positive portrayal of whites in defense against the depredations of liberalism, crime, and attack by alien races”; “Positive portrayal of heterosexual relationships and sex, marriage, procreation and child rearing”; “Portrayals of white males as intelligent, sensitive and strong – in positive leadership roles and or romantic leads”; and “Particularly intense portrayals of white female beauty, in non-degrading roles”. Disqualifying themes include homosexuality, racial mixing, negative portrayals of Christianity and portrayals of white people as inferior.

Online Gaming

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a dystopian futuristic setting that tends to focus on a “combination of low-life and high tech”. Earlier SF was more optimistic, but JG Ballard was a major influence on post- apocalyptic scenarios.   Successful films included Judge Dredd, Blade Runner and the Matrix trilogy.  The linguistic community seems to be a generation of tech-savvy urban dwellers whose identities are mostly online. MMO gaming and cyberpunk tend to generate a degree of exclusivity through acronyms and memes.

Another influential fantasy is Star Wars, where the young heroes had to use “The Force” to succeed against the empire. A curious small being called Yoda personifies the wisdom of ancient Jedi knights. He is given by the scriptwriters syntax in the Subject- Object -Verb pattern, for example: “the force strong here is”.  This seems quaint but somehow wise to the listener. Yoda seems to have ancient wisdom, perhaps because some old Germanic speech has this syntax.

Japan is the world centre for computer games, including consoles

Pokemon derives from English “pocket monster”. Pikachu two Japanese onomatopoeia: pikapika, a sparkling sound, chūchū, a sound a mouse makes.

What might you buy from a gold farmer and where would you find one?

Have you been pwned? What did you do about it? Anime is short for animation.

Cosplay is dressing up in Pokemon roles. Manga (漫画) means whimsical pictures.

What nationality is a chatbot?

Virtuality: JPEGs, Dogecoin

Kabosu, the female Shiba Inu dog featured in the original meme, is a pedigree puppy who was sent to an animal shelter when her puppy mill shut down. She was adopted by Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Satō, and named in a 2010 blog after the citrus fruit kabosu because her round face was like the fruit. Variations using overlaid Comic Sans text were posted from a Tumblr blog, Shiba Confessions. The intentionally misspelled “doge” is from a 2005 episode of Homestar Runner’s puppet series. A 2010 in a post on Reddit is titled “LMBO LOOK @ THIS FUKKEN DOGE.”

Dogecoin was created as a joke by IBM software engineer Billy Markus, from Portland, Oregon, and Adobe software engineer Jackson Palmer.  The initial coin production at launch on 6 Dec 2013 schedule started with 100 billion Ð coins. Its cryptography uses a “proof-of-work” principle, but not the Secure Hash Algorithm2 used by NSA and Bitcoin. Its cryptography uses scrypt (pronounced “ess crypt”), a password-based key derivation function created by Colin Percival, originally for the Tarsnap online backup service. The algorithm was specifically designed to make it costly to perform large-scale custom hardware attacks by requiring large amounts of memory. Like other cryptocurrencies, it uses a distributed ledger and blockchain, in which all transactions are processed in parallel by hundreds of servers. New coins are created by “mining”. A successful hack on 25 Dec 13 was followed by a fund-raising campaign, “Save Dogemas”, which raised enough money to refund all stolen Dogecoins. It was used prominently by Reddit users on the WallStreetBets forum earlier this year as small investors boosted shares in GameStop.

 You can buy it from eToro.  Its capitalisation was US$85,314,347,523 on May 5, 2021, so it is worth more than Ford, BP or Tesco and equivalent to the annual economic output of Sri Lanka.

Elon Musk raised Dogecoin’s profile by posting a picture of Doge on the moon, planting a flag with the logo and the word: “literally”. However, he said “Dogecoin was a hustle” on Saturday Night Live on May 8, 2021 causing it to drop 34%. SpaceX announced a completely Dogecoin funded rideshare mission to the Moon on May 9, 2021.


RADAR, ASDIC, SCUBA make syllables, hence words. BBC, VTOL, TV need inserted vowels and no full stops. “Chiz” in Line of Duty.

Text dominates speech for internet use, but typing is slower than speaking. Text messaging favours brevity in the form of acronyms, such as “LOL” for “laugh out loud”, or “BTW” for “by the way”. “Jaypeg” is now nearly a word, so which other acronyms will emerge as speech? Those that can be pronounced are the best candidates. LAN (local area network) and DOS (disc operating system) do not need explaining in many offices. 

Translate this SMS into English: TYSM 4 MSG. LOL& ROTFL, TMI. CUL8R.

JPEG  is a digital image using data compression algorithm of the joint photographic experts’ group. It appears as the acronym in the Cambridge dictionary, although “jaypeg” is easy to say and might become a word. A JPEG is not itself visible, but its data can cause illumination of RGB LEDs (Red Green and Blue Light Emitting Diodes). As the most common way of describing a digital image, it may replace photograph.  

flop in the 19th century it was probably a variant of flap, meaning “fall or drop heavily”; then it a commercial failure in theatre; in electronic usage a flip-flop has two bistable states, so it came to mean the converse of “flip”; then the verb flop in politics came to mean moving to the opposite positions; but flop in computing has an incompatible meaning of floating point operation. 

pixellated  an image with digital units pixels are visible to the eye; may replace blurred in analogue emulsion-based images; also slang for intoxicated or confused.

unfriend is the act of removing someone from a list of friends on social networking profiles of Facebook, MySpace or Bebo; it was the Oxford dictionary’s 2009 word of the year; the previous antonym of the verb befriend is snub or estrange;  the Facebook sense of friend is more like the previous sense of acquaintance; such wholly new verbs are unusual, but revisions of meaning are more common.

Is it possible to quantify gains and losses in the English lexicon? Does the Oxford English Dictionary ever discard words? It says “some words truly have no place today, so it makes sense for the Oxford English Dictionary to have dropped them. As examples: growlery, cassette player, Eurocommunism, halier, glocalization, script kiddie, threequel, video jockey, S-VHS, and millennium bug. I am somewhat confused by the OED here, as there a couple there that I use regularly. How do we quantify words that reverse their meanings, not merely when used ironically?  How did “wicked” come to mean “excellent”? Was it to do with sexual naughtiness? “Awesome” now means “impressive” rather than terrifying. The same has happened in Japan, which has a disproportionate share of natural threats:”Tsugoi” originally meant “terrifying” but now means the same as “aasome”, as it would be pronounced in the USA.

Programming languages invariably use typed English words, even if the programmers speak Japanese, Urdu or Russian. Source code uses phrases like

FOR a =1 to 5 STEP 1 . . NEXT.

However, this is merely a way to make the computer’s tremendous capacity for arithmetical easier for feeble humans with a span of seven items in working memory. The loop above could be rewritten REPEAT … UNTIL, or DO … WHILE, but all of them reduce to statements of the kind IF (a < b) last command ELSE next command. Such source code is compiled into an assembly language, which then turns into millions of operations such as MOVE and ADD, quite unlike the syntax of a spoken human language. Counting numbers is not basic to syntax. “Three” is a difficult idea; “better than two” or “big-big” are more fundamental. 

What would be the result of executing this BASIC program?  10 X= £10.00    20 FOR X = 1 TO 10 X= X+ £1.00   30 GOTO 10    40 NEXT 

In the early days of the internet, the standard QWERTY keyboard allowed only Latin characters, so punctuation was mined extensively. The Smiley used the punctuation marks 🙂 or a similar combination for a face on its side. More ambitious uses of punctuation included //0‑0\\ for “John” (i.e. Lennon, wearing granny glasses).

Early teletypes had a very restricted character set. The computers of the 1980s had 128 characters. This included capitals A-Z starting at 65 and lower cases from 97, but not “£”. Control characters: “bell” was 08 or Ctrl-G, carriage return was 13. ASCII was very unfriendly to some scripts.