de Vos: Biblical texts
July 1, 2016
I got a text message from my brother-in-law in lolspeak. It made me appreciate each of the 500 miles that separate us. If you’re wondering what lolspeak is, you might ask The American Dialect Society. The 125-year-old society studies English as spoken in North America. Since 1991 they’ve chosen one word annually to represent the language of the era. In 2005, for instance, they chose Colbert’s “truthiness”. Last year they awarded “lolspeak” as the Most Creative runner-up to the winner, “Googleganger”.
If you’re over four feet tall, you may not know that lolspeak is more or less English as spoken by your cat. That is assuming your cat had a callous disregard for niceties like grammar, punctuation and spelling. This ersatz language sprang from chat rooms where 12-year-olds demonstrated their lack of achievement in school through deliberate near-gibberish words and spellings that instantly turned the dumbest message hysterically funny – if you happen to be 12 years old. On the other hand, funny cat pictures on greeting cards with misspelled messages have made millionaires out of a lot of semi-literates.
http://speaklolcat.com/ is a translator, should you care to try out lolspeak. Type in something preposterous and press the “translate” button to see how your cat would say it. This is just a side note: if your cat does start talking to you, with or without errors in grammar, it could be time to reassess your pharmacological options.
If you think something like talking cats could only happen on the internet, think again. Everything old is new again, or is it the other way around? 150 years ago British photographer, Harry Pointer, created an international sensation with a portrait series of cats in amusing poses. He added humorous zingers as if the cats were talking.
But even more curious was the decade between 1830 and 1840 when Boston newspapers tried to outdo each other in comical abbreviations, very similar to today’s lolspeak. Journalists would take a phrase, throw out spelling rules, recraft it phonetically and then compound the confusion by abbreviating it, leaving the reader to puzzle it out. LOL.
One of these frazzled phrases found its way into the future to become one of the most common and versatile words we use today. “Okay”, in two syllables or two letters, can express agreement, doubt, hesitation, sincerity, and a host of other inflections and innuendos. The word was coined by an 1830’s Boston editor/hipster who took the words “all correct” and corrupted it into “oll korrect” and then abbreviated it to OK.
At the same time, “ok” and its phonetic alternate, “okay”, were stamped deeper into local lexicon by our eighth president, Martin Van Buren. He was known colloquially as “Old Kinderhook” after his native town of Kinderhook, New York. Van Buren was endorsed by Tammany Hall, an underground political group that used violence and force to get politicians elected and see they stayed that way. “OK” was their battle cry as they assaulted and beat up Van Buren’s foes and rivals. And we call Trump a bully.
“OK” gained still more popularity as Van Buren’s enemies retaliated, crafting their own flyers that screamed “OK is Out of Kash” and “OK is out of Kredit”, decrying the fiscal mess and corruption of Van Buren’s administration.
So if ever you think you’ve latched onto the newest fad, turn to the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1 verse 9 and read:
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”