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By: Kaitlyn Hull

Social Media and the American Vernacular
     New words are frequently added to the English language, whether this be the formal
addition of a new term into an official dictionary, or the adoption of a recent phrase into the
vernacular of English. The process of a new word coming into a language is called actuation, and
this encompasses both “the motivation for language change” as well as “the context” in which
that word originates (Grieve, et al., 2018, section 1, par. 4). Social media has been able to
become one of these contexts, one that stimulates language innovation among all sorts of
different groups of users. While there are some exceptions, it is not likely that the words born on
these platforms will lead to official terms, at least not immediately, but they are places where
informal language can develop, namely slang. This type of language is an excellent example of
how actuation works, as every-day lingo has to start from somewhere and is always coming and
going. In an interview with Shae Tervort, an English teacher at Fremont High School, Tervort
stated that those slang words “creep their way” into being, eventually becoming “adopted so
well, they kind of just become words.” In order for a word to actually stick, there needs to be a
sizable population of speakers that can keep that term going, otherwise it will fall into disuse. Social media provides that population, and once a word begins circulating, it is hard for it to fade
away completely.

     Just recently, there have been many examples of this, with new words popping up on
social media platforms and quickly gaining popularity. Just this last year, in 2023, Oxford
Dictionary named “rizz” as the word of the year. “Rizz” gained surprising popularity over the
past couple of years, primarily because it was “widely used online” (Mouriquand, 2023, par. 3).
This isn’t the only slang word that has snuck its way into everyday language either. Now there is
a name for a person who is a fan of the currently popular singer Taylor Swift, namely “Swiftie.”
Even in my own high school classes, students have discussed their status as either being a
“Swiftie” or not. Another relatively new term that has increased in usage at a local level is the
word “situationship,” which was used to describe the beginnings of my own relationship. Both of
these terms have also gained popularity due to their presence on social media, which suggests
that as time goes on, “more words derived from social media and internet culture will be used in
everyday language” (Mouriquand, 2023, par. 6). It is a pattern that cannot be ignored.

     In 2018, a group of researchers from the United Kingdom looked at a massive collection
of American posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, and used that data to get an idea of where
some of the recent internet slang originated in the United States. One word involved in the study
was “cosplay,” a term that has rapidly grown in popularity since its introduction online. Based on
the study, this term was originally most popular on the West Coast of the United States, as well
as the New England region. Over time, it spread to most areas of the country, aided by the ability
for social media users to connect with just about anyone anywhere. (Grieve, et al., 2018,
Appendix II, part 2). Another term covered in the study was “baeless,” an informal term that
means the same thing as “single.” This word originated and became popular almost exclusively among social media users in the Southern region of the United States (Grieve, et al., 2018,
Appendix II, part 1). This study’s results were particularly interesting, as they were able to show
that regional differences still held more power than the unifying properties of social media. The
word “baeless,” for example, is a term that is pretty much completely unheard of in the Western
region of the United States, but one that is very common in the South. The researchers of this
study found that there were in fact “relatively clear regional patterns” that remained fairly
consistent (Grieve, et al., 2018, section 5, par. 6). According to the data, the West Coast was seen
as a “hub of innovation” for the English language, possibly caused by the cultural significance of
the area and the influence of large “entertainment and technology industries” (Grieve, et al.,
2018, section 6, par. 2). Many of the vernacular terms found in this study that were popular
throughout the South and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States had their roots in African
American culture, which is nothing new even before the introduction of social media. Based on
the data, the Northeastern region was trailing behind in terms of language innovation, and
informal words didn’t appear to last very long. (Grieve, et al., 2018, section 6, par 4).

     It is important, however, to note that slang has always been present in the American
vernacular, so it comes with no surprise that there are new words popping up all the time. One
example of this is the term “OK,” which has now become one of the most widely known words
throughout the world (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, n.d., par. 3). During the early 1800s, there
was a trend of abbreviating various words and phrases, one that is seen regularly in modern
times. Strangely enough, many press companies didn’t just abbreviate words, rather they also
purposefully misspelled those words to create unique sets of abbreviations. “OK” actually was an
abbreviation for “oll korrect” and quickly gained in popularity, even before the internet, let alone
social media ( (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, n.d., par. 7). Therefore, social media isn’t really creating slang, rather it is just giving people a space to create and share informal language and is
allowing that process to work more quickly than before. This technology allows many groups of
people from all over the country, even all over the world, to connect with each other
instantaneously. This creates the possibility of new words being spread more quickly and more
widely than ever before, even more so than the press originally could. Meadors described that
despite her familiarity with the trends of her students, “language shifts so fast,” that she doesn’t
always “even hear about” many of these new slang words.

References Page Not Included