Copy-editing with a twist

The ins and outs of being a copy editor

The nounification of ‘fail’ FTW

Posted by Noel Sanchez on October 24, 2008

In high school, I used to write in leet speak all the time. When it came to writing on message boards, chatting on Instant Messenger and writing notes to my friends (hand-written notes!), I thought I was about as l337 as a person can get.

I wasn’t so into replacing every letter with a number, but I used the abbreviations, the creative punctuation and the flavor-of-the-week slang. I understood the subtle differences between lol, lololol and LOLZ. In my writing, typos were not only accepted, but encouraged. Punctuation took on totally. different. effects. All that mattered was that other leet-literate people got it.

My casual use of Internet slang and memes is probably the reason why the use of the word “fail” as a noun did not strike me as the least bit strange.

In fact, it wasn’t until I read this article in Slate’s language section that it ever occurred to me that the common online use of “fail” in constructions like “epic fail” was totally ungrammatical.

The fail meme has been around for years, but more recently, the growing popularity of blogs like I Can Has Cheezburger? and the new Failblog has brought it to the mainstream. A look quick look at the Google Trends for “epic fail” shows a steady increase from 2007 to now.

So what does “fail” in the place of “failure” say about us? What do Lolcats and leet speak and Internet memes say about the way we use language online?

The Internet is treated so differently than our other established mediums. The language that flies online is so utterly different from the language we use in print. Of course, tendencies toward leet speak are not universally applied to everything online. No one would expect online publications or news sites to use language this way, but people still feel that they can bend the rules. We especially see the trend on blogs, in chats and on message boards, which are all exclusively online. Because the Web is so fast-paced, the language mimics the medium’s manic tendencies.

I don’t believe leet speak, in any of its forms, has taken anything away from the Internet. People still take the Web seriously. They still use it to get their news and are quick to use Google when they want a quick answer. But language on the Web is definitely more fluid than the printed word and, I imagine, more fluid than the spoken word. Text on a screen is static, and online users treat it that way.

As more people go to the Web for their media fix, I don’t know what this fast-paced evolution of online language will mean for editors or writers. I imagine it will involve a lot more rule-bending, recognition that readers are extremely Web-literate and some creativity when handling the idea that “fail” is in fact a noun on the Web.

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One Response to “The nounification of ‘fail’ FTW”

  1. Maggie said

    Did you mean to use “mediums” in the fourth graf? It’s apparently not wrong, and I honestly prefer it since we’re speaking (or writing) English and all. But I’m more interested in being right, so what’s the deal?

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