Episode 15: ~fanspeak
Elizabeth and Flourish interview Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist who studies the way people speak online. Topics covered include Cabin Pressure, the use of the tilde, ship and fandom names as linguistic markers, and why linguists are so incredibly chill about everything! Plus she answers some listener questions—and throws a few unanswered ones back out to the audience.
Elizabeth’s article for International Fanworks Day will go up on February 13, so make sure you read it!
The interstitial music here and throughout is the US Air Force Band playing “Wabash Blues,” and it’s in the public domain.
Gretchen’s Tumblr is @allthingslinguistic, and that’s where you can find all her metas (we will link some of them in these notes too!) Or, she has a site—gretchenmcculloch.com. If you want to read things Gretchen has written for websites, here are her author pages at The Toast and Mental Floss.
Actually you know what, why don’t we just list all (OK, many) of the things Gretchen has written about? The rules of summoning Benedict Cumberbatch. Language on the internetz. Welcome to Night Vale. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Harry Potter. And also, general meta about linguistics!
If you want to know more about why linguists are so chill, you might consider checking out Gretchen’s tag about prescriptivism!
Pretty please, review us on iTunes! (And look at the sad post we made to beg you to, uh, review us on iTunes!)
Flourish Klink: Hey, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for and about fandom!
ELM: WOO! Episode 15.
ELM: Yeah! Which we are calling “Fan Speak.”
FK: No no, “~fanspeak.”
ELM: Can we talk about the tilde for a second?
FK: Yeah, because the tilde is really important to my conception of, of the title of this episode.
ELM & FK [unison]: …of the title of the episode! OK. So, all right, tilde, right?
FK: Li’l wavy thing.
ELM: That goes on the top of Ns, right?
FK: Isn’t it, is it called an eñe then?
ELM: I don’t know, I took French.
FK: OK. Go on.
ELM: You know, you know, tilde. I have started using them a lot and I know that you have too, but I started doing it because my newsletter partner Gav uses them all the time—and she uses them to denote sarcasm.
ELM: And after our last newsletter, someone was asking what we were doing, and I was like, “Oh, it’s sarcasm, I just learned about this,” and someone else chimed in, “Oh, I was doing that ten years ago on LiveJournal.” And she sent this article on the history of the tilde. But it was tildes on both sides of the word instead of just one tilde in front.
ELM: That seems different to me, and I remember that from LiveJournal. But this one tilde thing, I feel like it’s new to me.
FK: That’s interesting! I feel like I have seen it with not just the single tilde in front of the word, but also with the two tildes on either side, and even more than that with like tildes and asterisks? Like ironic sparkle text?
ELM: I actually wanted to make the title of our newsletter have those, cause it felt, like, old-school to me? You know? And then Gav was like “NO, the tilde is sarcastic to me.”
FK: Yeah! Having the sparkle text is totally sarcastic! That’s what it is!
FK: And then that degraded into having two tildes with no asterisks, and from there it degraded into just having one tilde.
ELM: Just one!
FK: Like “Yeah, whatever,” cause we’re all old and tired.
ELM: Oh, you think it’s because we’re old.
ELM: I dunno, Gav’s pretty youthful. She’s Scottish!
FK: [laughs] Are Scottish people notably youthful?
ELM: Vim and vigor? No!
FK: Any more than anybody else?
ELM: Uh, no, I guess I don’t think of—having lived in Scotland—it’s not an incredibly youthful-seeming country.
FK: OK, OK, but we actually probably should talk about our guest who is coming on this podcast…
ELM: No, I’m just gonna tell you my perceptions of Scotland. Uh, so. No no no. Our guest, Gretchen McCulloch, as promised a couple episodes ago, who is a linguist! An internet linguist. She broadly writes about language on the internet and how it’s shaped, and has written something specifically about fandom linguistics.
FK: If you are familiar with her, it might be from when she wrote about smash ship names, or as she called them, “blended ship names,” on The Toast.
ELM: Blended pairs, I believe they’re called. On The Toast.
FK: OK, well, whatever they’re called, everyone knows what we mean: the plague that started as “Brangelina” and then became things like “Harmony,” “Larry Stylinson”…
ELM: You think that Brangelina was really the first one?
FK: I don’t feel like I ever saw one in fandom before Brangelina!
ELM: When was Bennifer?
FK: Oh, it could be Bennifer. Anyway, but the point is, I think it came from the tabloids into fandom, don’t you?
ELM: Yeah! Well, that’s a question I guess. Does it come from tabloids?
FK: I don’t know. Gretchen might know!
ELM: Yeah, we’re gonna have to ask her. But more importantly, we don’t like these things.
FK: You and I do not. We’re not big fans.
ELM: I think actually, we were Tumbling about it and someone reblogged it or maybe left a comment—an answer, cause it was, like, an ask post, and it was something like, “You’ll have to pry the slash”—and it was like a little, like a /, like the keystroke—“from my cold dead hands.” [FK laughs] It was like, “YES, me too!”
FK: I don’t really mind it so much in pairings that are new to me since the advent of smash, blended, whatever ship names, it’s only when it goes back retroactively and, like, insinuates itself into older fandoms that I start getting angry. Because that’s not what it’s called, goddammit.
ELM: Right, but is that too get-off-my-lawn? Languages change and evolve, Flourish.
FK: It’s completely get-off-my-lawn. I am fully aware that it is me being a jerk when I say that. And, really, probably all of us being jerks when we say it, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get to be jerks. Sometimes.
ELM: Oh, I know. Wait, did I tell you about this post I wrote—it may go up by the time this airs!—that is a total get-off-my-lawn? It’s for the OTW, actually, we should say, because I think this will be the only episode before it airs. But I think it’s February 15, is the OTW is doing International Fanworks Day, did you know about this? I don’t know how these things come about. In any case, it’s International Fanworks Day—
FK: And the OTW is celebrating it.
ELM: And they’re celebrating it, and they have all this stuff, so I guess this episode will be coming out… about a week before that, maybe? Half a week? I’m not looking at a calendar. Doesn’t matter. Anyway, I wrote a guest post for them about fanworks, and it started off so innocently, where I was just talking about my Sweet Valley High fanfiction—which I reveal more details about by the way, so get excited. [FK gasps] And the first time that I read someone else’s fanfiction and how confusing it was. And it devolves into me being like, “I don’t understand anyone who just is new to fanfiction!” It’s probably not as bad as I remember it, but it makes me feel bad thinking about it.
FK: I think that all newer fans and younger fans have to put up with us a little bit, just as we have to put up with people who are like, “Back in my day we had filk-sings, and you don’t understand the properties of having real conventions, and the internet has ruined fandom,” and, like, that’s fine.
ELM: Do you know what post I love so much? And actually someone commented on this. Have you seen that post that’s been going around Tumblr, I’ve seen it on my dash maybe 50 times…? Someone was like, “Can you imagine if they had Tumblr back in the 70s?” Do you know this post?
FK: [laughing] Yes, I do!
ELM: And you know, “They’d have ship wars—Han and Leia and Luke and Leia and all this stuff—“
FK: [laughs] Someone was like, “Oh, sweet summer child.”
ELM: Yeah! The way it’s been going down, someone commented on this, I saw this, it’s been reblogged and it’s got like different iterations. And they were like, “I love that every time this goes past my dash, some other fandom elder is telling some different story about how this actually happened.” And it’s true! Every time it comes around, it’s someone being like, “Yes, this happened to me! I was this Luke/Leia shipper, and then whatever movie came out and I was really upset!” So it’s nice, it’s nice to see. No one was mad about it.
FK: There’s truly continuity. But then you also look back at, I don’t know, the Brontë sisters writing RPF or whatever, and you’re like, “They had the same feels as we have!”
ELM: Is that how you feel when you see fandom elders?
FK: Yeah, a little bit! It makes me feel like I’m in a continuity of fandom.
ELM: That’s really sweet.
FK: Sometimes I forget that, and I yell at people to get off my lawn, forgetting that they too are part of this continuity of fandom, but that’s OK.
ELM: Yeah, I guess what I was writing about is that this is a very deeply natural inclination to me. And it’s part of coming at it from a—you know, whenever I write about fanfiction in book spaces, there’s always people being like, “That’s wrong, and I don’t understand,” and like, “You’re devaluing the characters,” and I’m like, “Well, first of all, go fuck yourselves. And second of all, this is what I want to do when I get really invested in a text.”
FK: These are also people who probably thought that Adaptation is an incredible movie, but they don’t understand why fanfiction is good. And that means that they can jump off a cliff and die. Because Adaptation is a great movie, and—
ELM: You know why Adaptation is a great movie? Is because I was tweeting about this, Flourish’s husband keeps trolling me—
FK: Yeah, that’s cause he sees you as a rival for my affections.
ELM: Ha! Because I currently and previously work for The New Yorker, so he likes to troll me about The New Yorker, which apparently he despises. So the other day, he said that Adaptation was a great depiction of The New Yorker. And if you remember, there’s a scene with a New Yorker dinner party, where everyone wears a black turtleneck and it’s incredibly pretentious, and then she weeps in the bathroom. And I don’t see what, like, what’s wrong with that depiction of a New York media dinner party.
FK: You know, it’s not—they don’t actually all wear black turtlenecks, they all wear black turtleneck like things.
ELM: Maybe they all—wait, is it not all of them, just a couple of them?
FK: Yeah. But actually what was funny about that scene was I was like, “This is exactly what New York dinner parties are like in my experience!” Because it totally is. I mean, the house is nicer than anybody’s house that I go to, but like, the way that people dress, the shit they talk about, the way they talk, it was perfect.
ELM: Yeah, I think that’s fair!
FK: I was like this dude goes to New York dinner parties.
ELM: Yeah. I have no problem with that.
FK: It’s like seeing a Woody Allen movie and being like, I know these people.
ELM: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. So, Nick, you can’t hurt me. You can try! [all laugh] Anyway, anyway, this is super off topic, this is not about language—
FK: And we should probably talk to Gretchen about language instead of about, you know.
ELM: The OT3, it’s like a triangle, not an OT3.
FK: How do you know it’s not an OT3, honey? [all laugh]
ELM: ALL RIGHT! OK, so let’s call Gretchen and learn about linguistics, because I think we could use it.
FK: Let’s do it.
FK: All right! So, we’d like to welcome Gretchen McCulloch to the podcast. Hey, Gretchen!
Gretchen McCulloch: Hi!
ELM: Hi, Gretchen!
ELM: Thank you for joining us!
GMC: I am so excited to be here!
ELM: Let’s start at the beginning. What’s linguistics?
GMC: Linguistics is the study of language in many shapes and forms; the study of how we as humans have the ability to do language and other animals don’t; and how language exists in social dynamics, and how we acquire language—a whole bunch of different areas with respect to how we use language as humans.
ELM: OK. So I guess different linguists do different things. Right? Like, you just described a bunch of different things. Maybe you don’t do all that stuff?
GMC: Yeah, so, there are a whole bunch of different areas of linguistics. I consider myself kind of a generalist because I explain linguistics to a general audience as my job. I write about linguistics. So linguists do different things, but I, as a linguist, try to inhabit multiple spheres of linguistics and explain a whole bunch of different linguists’ interesting research to the general public.
ELM: Gotcha. So is your full time job writing things?
GMC: Yeah. So my full time job is writing pop linguistics; I have a masters in Linguistics from McGill where I did complicated syntax things. Now I write pop linguistics and especially internet language for the internet.
FK: Wow, that’s, like, livin’ the dream.
GMC: It’s pretty cool! I like it a lot. And I am currently writing a book about internet language which I am super excited about.
ELM: Congratulations on your book deal, by the way!
GMC: Thank you!
FK: OK, so here’s a question that’s related to that, which is: how does the internet change the way that language—OK, this is a really broad question, but I actually mean something really specific with it. It feels like the internet is a different way for people to communicate with each other; it seems like maybe it would speed linguistic change up, or slow it down maybe? I don’t know, it seems like it must have a big impact on the way that language changes. I mean, is that true? Is it, is it, like, unique, or is it just an extension of stuff that people have always done?
GMC: Yeah, uh, language has always changed, there’s no static version of English that has always been the version of English, language is always changing, English or any other language. But the internet itself, I would say the big thing that a lot of internet language is doing is—so, historically we have kind of two versions of spoken English: we have informal spoken English and we have formal spoken English. You have one big version of written English, which is formal written English. And there’s not really very much of an idea that you can have an informal kind of writing, because by the time you’ve gone to the bother of getting paper or printing something out, you need to proofread it and you need to do all this stuff, so the informal stuff exists very marginally within writing.
On the internet there’s so much informal writing going on, and that’s really weird in the history of written English—and that’s what I think makes a lot of people very worried about language on the internet, because they see all this informal writing and they’re like, “Oh my God, kids don’t know how to write these days, English is going to the dogs, this is terrible.” And what’s really happening is that the informal spoken stuff which we’ve always had—you know, informal spoken language is the basic form of language, everything else is just an add-on—we’re now representing that informality in writing as well. And that’s just super cool! And it’s making stuff visible in a way that we didn’t think about that very much before when it came to writing, because writing was this very separate register. You know, plurality of registers. They all have multiple registers. But in general, informal writing is this big area I see the internet being very good at.
ELM: I see, that’s super interesting. I heard this guy giving a talk where he was saying—this is similar, but this is a theory that maybe you wouldn’t even fully subscribe to—he was arguing that texting was actually transcribed spoken language.
GMC: Yeah! That’s—
ELM: He said when you’re texting, you’re not writing. That’s putting spoken language into words. Which blew my mind.
GMC: Yeah, that’s John McWhorter’s TED talk, “Texting is Fingered Speech.”
ELM: That’s what it was! It was a TED talk. I wasn’t going to say it was a TED talk cause I was embarrassed.
GMC: I have quoted it many times.
FK: The world knows about how basic you are now.
GMC: I like that TED talk, I think it was one of the things that helped me get to the idea that internet writing is informal writing, but I have a slightly different approach to it, because he talks about it as fingered speech, which is really—he’s using speech as the metaphor for informal things. But really we’ve always had two registers in speech; for a long long time we’ve had two registers in speech already. You have the kind of speech you do casually when you’re in conversation talking with people, and then you have the kind of speech that you do on radio or public speaking or oratory or, like, epic poems, like—there’s been a formal spoken register for a long, long time. It’s just that we haven’t had as much of a duality in writing as we’ve had in speech. I like John McWhorter’s idea; I think it’s super cool; I feel like I’m building on it when I talk about informal writing.
FK: Right, this is why, like, when Ancient Romans write about people speaking they sometimes are like “Yeah, THAT guy, he’s such a crappy speaker, he’s weirdly feminine, that’s weird…”
GMC: A lot of languages, and this isn’t even just an English thing or just a Western thing, have a long oral tradition of poems and stories and stuff that gets told in a kind of higher register of that language. That’s a thing that’s forgotten in some cases: what that formal register sounds like—although now we think of it as, like, BBC newscaster voice, or NPR voice, or preacher voice. There’s a lot of formal registers that also exist.
ELM: OK, so let’s zero in a little bit, I guess, cause we’ve gotta veer this towards fandom. And I mean, I guess, well—first of all I would ask you, this is kind of taking a step back a little bit, but I think Flourish and I were discussing, it’s our understanding that you do write about fandom but broadly you write about the language of the internet. It’s not—it’s just because fandom lives on the internet. Is that—
ELM: Or is it also because you’re fannish and so you’re interested in that, or…?
GMC: Yeah I think both of those are true. I think fandom lives on the internet, so it’s an interesting microcosm of internet language sometimes, and a lot of times I’m analyzing the language I see on the internet and I see fandom stuff—and then I’m also doing what I think is a slightly different thing, which is when I write meta about shows as a fannish activity, I’m often writing linguistic meta. I’m analyzing the linguistics in those shows. Like, I analyzed the linguistics in Cabin Pressure, every single episode of Cabin Pressure, actually, so you can see that on my blog if you want. I analyzed the linguistics of Welcome to Night Vale, I analyzed the linguistics of, like, Benedict Cumberbatch’s name, on The Toast—those are fannish in the sense that I’m analyzing something produced by fandom or that has a fandom, that I’m a fan of, but they’re not—they don’t rely on the internet, necessarily, to exist. They’re analyzing something else that’s going on.
ELM: That’s interesting, though—you would call that meta. I mean, I guess this is a question of meta in general: when is it meta and when are you, like, doing a literary analysis of Harry Potter. You know what I mean? It’s also, like, a weird… It can get tense when you talk about meta, cause you’re like, “Why is this called meta and this called someone paying money for this analysis,” you know?
GMC: Yeah, if someone wants to give me a definition of “meta,” then I’m all into it. But…
ELM: But, maybe it’s an intention—maybe it’s intent. So you say “I’m writing meta and this is the way I do it,” I have people on my dash who are film scholars or English professors and so they use their tools.
GMC: I think meta is kind of—it can be at least a cover term for any kind of analysis of writing, which, I mean, I liked English class, I don’t get to do that anymore. So I write stuff with literary terms as well, that’s fun.
ELM: Like a nonfiction fanwork!
GMC: Yeah, nonfiction fanwork is—is one way to describe meta for sure. I think the stuff where I point out, if I point out this allusion is here, this allusion is there, sometimes people will pay for it and sometimes they won’t. Like, the Cabin Pressure stuff was just—I was participating in Cabin Pressure advent, where you listen to all the Cabin Pressure episodes before the last one comes out, and I decided—which was really fun—and I decided after around Episode 2, I was like, “Wait a second, there are some linguistic patterns here!” So I realized that maybe I could come up with them for all of the episodes, and I managed to do that, and it came to the attention of Don Finmore himself, which I was pretty pleased about?
ELM: Oh my gosh!
GMC: He found the thing!
ELM: That’s really exciting!
GMC: Um, I’ve analyzed linguistics in the Rainbow Rowell books as well, and she’s found those, so.
ELM: Yeah, you did that amazing analysis you were doing of Carry On, the—
ELM: The best part of Carry On, in my opinion.
GMC: I had so much fun!
ELM: That was so good. We’ll have to link to that—if anyone hasn’t read it, or Carry On, they should go read both right now.
FK: OK, so, you study language across the internet, not just fandom. I have this strong sense that fandom has its own very peculiar language that’s, like, very deep and very, like, nuanced and weird, and I guess that must be true for other things also? But I don’t actually know entirely? Like, does every subculture on the internet have their own specialized language? Is this something that literally every subculture shares: really specialized, intricate, weird linguistic quirks?
GMC: Well, there are other linguistic subcultures on the internet for sure, not just fandom. Um, one of them is, like, parenting subculture on the internet. There’s, like, mommyboards, discussion boards, I think BabyCenter is one of them, I was looking this up for an interview I did recently—
ELM: And they, wait, and they have, like, special—
GMC: They have special vocabulary!
ELM: Just like we say “rarepair” they have, like, some terms—
GMC: They have all this vocabulary for referring to their kids, so they use like “DH” and “DD and “DS,” which stand for “dear husband,” “dear son” and “dear daughter,” or “darling husband,” “darling son,” “darling daughter,” depending on who you ask. They have, like, stay-at-home mom, SAHM—
ELM: I’ve seen that one before.
GMC: But there’s also FTM, first-time mom, it does not refer to a trans person, which confuses people—
FK: That must be very confusing for some people!
GMC: It confuses some people, but on the mommyboards it means first-time mom. There’s a whole bunch of stuff related to fertility... There’s NAK, nursing at keyboard, for when you don’t type very well because you’re one handed because you’re nursing... There’s lists of this stuff, there’s glossaries of it, I don’t even understand it, I’m not a parent, but I’ve seen little bits and pieces and I did some more research for that article, and it’s been going on for a long time. I’ve found posts from the early 2000s about it. Some of the kids of those people who were on the early mommyboards are now old enough to have their own children, if they’re starting young, and be on mommyboards, at least in the next couple years.
GMC: So this is a long history and it’s, it flies under your radar unless you’re reading parenting forums.
ELM: Well, so then I guess the question is, Stay At Home Mom—that abbreviation is, like you said, in the mainstream. But I feel like a lot of those other ones I have no connection to, I know very few parents but my own parents—[laughs] I mean, very few contemporary parents. But, like, I feel like a lot of the language, especially in the last year, a lot of the language of fandom has really aggressively bled into the mainstream—
ELM: In a way that, I’m wondering if you see that elsewhere. And I think that causes some tensions too. I’m thinking about people talking about shipping or OTPs or stuff like that, and just meaning very very different things. And it’s not like their meanings are false, it’s just not—it’s not just, “Oh, it’s not historically not how we did it,” it’s not how I’m doing it right now. You know. Because they’re picking it up with a different context, I guess.
GMC: I mean, I think mainstreamization of fandom terms comes with the mainstreamization of fandom in general, you know. There’s more attention to people writing fic, there’s more attention to people doing fanart and various fannish practices, there are creators, you know, Lin-Manuel Miranda, people like Rainbow Rowell who are responding to their fandoms more and getting more engaged with that. So as fandom gets more mainstreamized, fannish terminology—at least some of the things get into the mainstream as well, in that it comes with a kind of fragmentation of meaning or people meaning different things by the same term, in the sense that people mean different things by their experiences as a fan as well.
ELM: Right. I mean, I think very specifically someone I know, who is smart and great and lovely, asked me—she, I can’t remember if she asked me or if I just felt the need to chime in, asked if you could “ship an AU,” I believe was what she said.
GMC: Woah, woah.
ELM: I was like WHAT!
FK: It’s funny because I recently was, like, looking at somebody on a forum who was saying, “I always get canon and ship mixed up. Which means which?”
ELM: Both of these things, both of those examples, it’s like WHAT?
GMC: Those are very different!
ELM: What do you think that means?
FK: Like, you know, when I’m listening to someone who’s talking about skateboards or something, and I’m like… I don’t know, like, everything that skateboarders talk about sounds like “alley-oop” to me. “Oh, I did an alley-oop!”
ELM: [bursts into laughter] Thanks, Grandpa!
GMC: Any subculture is gonna have its terms, and you can’t learn all the terms from all the subcultures perfectly. Like, you just don’t have time in the day to learn all the terms.
ELM: It’s because it’s, like, becoming culture, I think, that’s the thing that is confusing to me.
GMC: Yeah, and—I have no roots in any sort of comic-book type superhero subcultures, so all of those terms still confuse me, mostly.
ELM: Comics terms? Like what?
GMC: Yeah, like…
ELM: I can’t even think of any. Panels?
GMC: Like the characters, like, Peter Parker, which one is he again?
ELM: Yeah, but that’s not—I mean, that’s not linguistic confusion.
GMC: It’s not linguistics. Just in terms of references. Which references do you get and which references do you not get.
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. I have a question for you about fannish linguistics, I think. OK. I guess this ties back to the informal language on the internet, and this is only a half-formed question in my mind, so apologies in advance. I guess I’m just thinking that the language of fandom and the way we express things—there’s very little difference between the emotion and the thoughts in your head, and what actually comes out, right? Which I think is not how—it’s not how I would write in a more formal context. I would never write that in an email to my boss. You know. But there’s, there’s so little distance between your immediate emotion and what you are physically writing down and the language you use. Does that make sense?
GMC: Yeah, no, I think that does make sense. So I think with the emotion thing, I think that’s a characteristic of internet language broadly speaking, not just fandom, because if you think about people texting with each other or instant messaging with each other, if you send someone a really cool link and they like it, they’re gonna respond emotively, dramatically, as they’re doing it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a fannish link or whether it’s just a cute dog, they’re gonna get that kind of emotional response.
And I think that’s something that comes with the informality of language on the internet, because historically, who represented emotions in writing? It was, like, writers, novelists, fiction writers. Right? And if you’re writing a novel you have an editor, you have this revision process, you have all this stuff that lets you really get to choose the right words for that emotion and get really subtle about it. But you’re not trying to do that, generally, while you’re having the emotion at the same time. You know?
ELM: The distance is important in fiction.
GMC: Oh, absolutely.
ELM: That’s key to, like, narration and perspective, right?
GMC: And even if it’s affecting you the first time you write it, you go back and you revise it again, and so on, but with reacting to things in real-time—so that’s another thing, real-time communication in writing is weird, right? We didn’t used to do that much.
GMC: Like, passing notes in class being one of the few examples of near-real-time communication in writing? Whereas online, you do near-real-time communication in writing all the time. That’s what’s cool about the internet, you can send someone something and they get it right away rather than an owl that arrives much later.
ELM: [laughs] Is that the way it was in the past, an owl arrives?
GMC: I dunno, so I hear. I didn’t live in these days. [all laugh] A postal worker arrives at your house.
FK: But there was something about that, right. I feel like there’s been this sort of, this slow transition between people expecting a more, I mean— I do mean more considered, I don’t mean that as “Oh, it’s better to write things that are considered,” necessarily, than to write things that are immediate, but it seems to me like that’s been a major source of tension online, right? That, like, some people expect all written communication to be considered and other people are like, “Well, you know, I just shitposted on Tumblr, like, what?”
GMC: Yeah, I mean, it’s a big tension in language in general, is that people think the formal version of language is the only acceptable version of a language. That “good English” is formal English. That’s not a perspective that linguists have. Linguists say all language is interesting, all language has patterns, all language is worthy of analysis.
ELM: Or, like, white—like formalized white language as opposed to vernacular.
GMC: Yeah like, white language is quote-unquote “better,” men’s language is quote-unquote “better,” women shouldn’t say “sorry,” what is it with gay speech, why are straight white men a default? That’s our culture, that’s not an inherent property in the language.
ELM: So, curiosity about linguists: Do you think the majority of American linguists or—sorry, North American linguists, I’m so sorry—
GMC: I’m Canadian!
ELM: I’m so jingoistic—do you get those tensions? Do you have like old white guy linguists who are like “Oh, there is a correct—“
GMC: No, no, no. No no no no no.
ELM: No? Is everyone cool and liberal?
GMC: No, if you are a linguist, you are analyzing language as it is.
ELM: And you don’t try to impose your politics into it?
ELM: Oh, that’s great.
GMC: You beat that out of them in the first class.
FK: So unlike us, you guys don’t have any negative feelings—excuse me, unlike us, you guys (as in linguists) don’t have any negative feelings towards—
GMC: So, officially, as a field—
FK: —blended ship names. [Elizabeth bursts into laughter]
GMC: Officially, as a field, linguists don’t have any negative feelings about any form of language, because it’s all super cool. It’s like going up to, if you’re a whale researcher, going up to a whale and being like, “You’re doing it wrong.” [all laugh]
FK: Fuckin’ whale! Get out! Stop singing like that, you’re off-key!
GMC: You know, like, “This bird’s singing wrong.” You’re just going to study the birds how they are or study the whales how they are.
One of the founders of sociolinguistics, Bill Labov, who is an old white guy, when he was founding the field of sociolinguistics, was pointing out how African-American English had all these patterns and you should take it into consideration in the educational system, which was very controversial—still is controversial—and let’s not be racist about this and stuff like that. That being said, like, linguists are humans and live in our society, so subconsciously do some linguists probably still think this? Yeah, it’s possible. But, like, the ideal of what you’re doing in linguistics is just analyzing language how it is and not how someone thinks it should be.
ELM: Linguistics sounds really great!
GMC: Linguistics is really great! I like linguists a lot.
ELM: So we’re gonna need to take a break in a minute, but before we do—oh, and in the second half we’re gonna throw our audience questions at you in a rapid-fire, aggressive way. Just FYI.
ELM: But we have our one important question that we need to talk about for a couple minutes: why are you making us get behind these portmanteau ship names? I can’t do it.
FK: WHYYYYY? WHY, WHY, WHY?
ELM: We don’t like it, Gretchen!
GMC: So, I mean, partly cause I just think they’re super cool, cause you can analyze them, and there’s really cool patterns you can do, and it’s just like this really interesting thing to analyze, because—as I pointed out in the article I wrote for The Toast, which was quoting this brilliant academic paper by Cara Digirolamo, who is also a friend—ship names are just this really cool test of what do English speakers do when they’re forced to smush together two words that maybe don’t really wanna be smushed together, and it’s kinda awkward when they do that. How do you deal with putting two names together when they really don’t sound very good together, or they have weird spellings cause English spelling is wack, and what do you do? It’s just such an interesting linguistic problem. As a linguist, I’m just like, “It’s so cool!”
ELM: It’s interesting, we were talking about this with you on Twitter yesterday and that guy was talking about those old—what are they called? Like WolfStar. Flourish, you know what I’m talking about?
FK: They were, they were, that was funny because it was a specific... It was on the FictionAlley boards. I don’t think that other fandoms have them other than Harry Potter. I think it was a highly localized phenomenon. Because the FictionAlley board for shipping really took the metaphor very seriously and every ship was named something, like the HMS Pumpkin Pie or the HMS WolfStar.
ELM: Anyway, the point is, that’s interesting, I used that as a counter example as, “Oh people still do that because StormPilot is the one people are using for Finn and Poe.” Because, I only bring this up because—
FK: Pinn or Foe?
ELM: You can’t make a portmanteau of Finn and Poe, right?
GMC: Yeah, I see people on Tumblr saying Finnpoe or Poefinn, they squish them together like SwanQueen where you just… Cause it’s hard to put together—what’s the other example of that? Soccercop, which is one of the ships in Orphan Black, Soccercop - it’s like soccer mom and the cop character? I don’t remember what their names are, I haven’t actually seen more than one episode of Orphan Black, I’m sorry.
ELM: I also saw one episode, but someday.
GMC: Someday! So there are a few examples, when you have names that are really difficult, people just give up. But they often go to really creative efforts first, trying to use the last names instead, or—
ELM: That’s the problem with Finnpoe, there’s no last names.
GMC: Yeah, lack of last names, and a lot of people are headcanon-ing that Finn is taking the last name Dameron anyway, so that won’t help. I just think they’re super cool. I also think there’s this kind of old fandomish tendency, and I want to say I like, I think old fandom’s super cool, to say, reminisce about how great things were back in the old days.
FK: [snorts loudly] They were not.
GMC: And how kids these days just don’t understand fandom anymore.
GMC: And I think the tendency to romanticize the non-portmanteau names is just cause you aren’t as familiar with them? Like, there’s this attitude in fandom, there’s this famous quote that is:
“Your kink is not my kink but your kink is OK.” I think we could have more of “Your language is not my language but your language is OK.”
ELM: I just think some of them are aesthetically gross—so in the kind of transition period was when I was in Torchwood fandom, and I don’t know if you guys have seen Torchwood—
ELM: My ship was a canonical main pairing, Jack and Ianto, I-A-N-T-O is how you spell Ianto. So some people called it “Janto,” which I just despised with a fiery passion. And I don’t think that’s just because I was coming from a place of putting slashes between their names, I just think that sound stupid. I think some of them sound stupid!
FK: I don’t, I don’t know about that, Elizabeth.
FK: I wanna be very clear, which is that we have different feelings about this [Elizabeth giggles] because I don’t want people to think that I share the same feeling as you, which I disagree with.
ELM: I’ll say Johnlock. I don’t need to—John/Sherlock is too unwieldy.
FK: OK, OK, I get that.
ELM: See? It’s a case-by-case basis.
FK: For me, for me it’s definitely the get-off-my-lawn feeling. I don’t like it when people are using it for pairings that I found under a different name, and I understand that that is completely irrational. But that’s OK. Cause we’re allowed to have irrational feelings and sometimes say “Get off my lawn.”
GMC: As long as you recognize that what you’re really saying is “get off my lawn” and you don’t have any, like, superior logic, it’s just what you’re used to.
ELM: Yeah, no, you just heard my logic was simultaneously people were using both names and I thought one of them just sucked.
FK: And you are into the term “Johnlock” so there’s that.
ELM: Yeah, Johnlock’s fine. I would probably write John/Sherlock still, because I’m just, I’m never gonna change, but.
GMC: The other thing is, people use language to indicate a whole bunch of things, and one of the things you use language to indicate is stuff about your identity. So if you’re writing John/Sherlock, you’re indicating that you’re a certain kind of Sherlock fan. Or if you’re writing MSR for Mulder Scully Relationship, you’re indicating that you’re a certain kind of X-files fan, or you understand original X-files, or something like that. You’re using it to indicate something about yourself, that is that you know how things used to work or you were in fandom earlier or something like that—
ELM: Or that’s just something you’re used to and you don’t like changing.
GMC: Or that’s what you’re used to and you don’t feel like changing, but I still don’t think that makes anybody wrong here?
FK: But that makes, that actually makes sense to me too, because we were just talking about the HMS WolfStar or whatever, and those ship names were completely—I mean everyone also used the, you know, Remus/Sirius or Lee Jordan/whatever, everybody used those as well. But the named ships were about, like, “I hang out on this website and I have this community so I’m gonna use this term that illustrates this.”
ELM: I definitely think—speaking from the WolfStar example because that’s the pairing I was in for so long—if you used WolfStar, you were writing a different kind of fic. Not necessarily, but it was more suggestive to me that you were writing the kind of story that I wasn’t interested in. So that was a marker even when it was simultaneously used, right?
GMC: And people use language like they use clothing or other types of things that can indicate your identity, particularly on the internet where you don’t have visual characteristics, people’s appearance, or stuff like this—in many cases you’re using language to assert your identity and who you are, where you’re from or how long you’ve been in this fandom or something like that.
ELM: All right, this is very rational and reasonable. [all laugh] I GUESS.
FK: Let’s take a break, and then we should listen to some reader questions—ha, reader questions. Then we should read some listener questions! [all laugh]
ELM: Thanks, Flourish.
GMC: I’m excited!
ELM: So we are , and we posed the question just yesterday and we got a ton of responses, questions for Gretchen. We couldn’t use all of them, some of them possibly were not questions for a linguist, though I think—Flourish, is it correct that we’re maybe gonna publish all of them, and if anyone has any answers…?
FK: Yeah, I think that would be a great way to spark debate—and even if they aren’t all linguistics questions we should talk about them! They’re all really good questions.
ELM: Yeah, they’re all great questions, so. And then, also, we wanted to say that in the interests of clarity and time, we’re kinda paraphrasing some of the things people asked.
FK: The first one is actually sort of where we got the title for this episode a little bit—Emily Hope and youngadultescent both asked about the way people express tone and emotion online, which we’ve sort of already been talking about. But young adultescent specifically wanted to know what was up with the internet’s use of the tilde, and the title of this episode is ~fanspeak—so.
ELM: And then we tilde debated. Tildebated.
FK: So what is up with it, Gretchen? You must have some point of view that is probably way more educated than ours.
GMC: Yeah, so there’s a whole bunch of things up with the tilde. I think the one you’re referring to is the tilde before a word, the single tilde before a word?
ELM: Mm hmm! Or the ones on either side.
FK: We weren’t talking about a single one after, cause that’s different.
GMC: Yeah, that’s different. So the one before the word is generally used for the sense of irony or dismissiveness or distancing yourself from that particular thing before a word, so if you want to talk about… Let me think of an example… So if you wanna say, like, “My boss just came up with a ~great idea,” you probably don’t actually mean that idea is great.
ELM: That’s how I use it.
GMC: Probably not! Conversely to that, exclamation marks are often used for sincerity, so “My boss just came up with a great! idea!” probably does mean that the idea was great.
ELM: When are you gonna use that? Just be honest.
GMC: I dunno. Some people have good bosses! I don’t have a boss.
ELM: I like my bosses! They’re great, I just—I think the idea is—anyway.
FK: You’re the only person who has a boss who is in this conversation right now, Elizabeth, this only reflects on you.
ELM: You don’t have a boss?
FK: No! I own my company.
ELM: So you’re the boss who has the really shitty ideas that people are like—
FK: Yes. I am, in fact. I am 100% sure. I’m 100% sure.
GMC: You can substitute boss for any noun you want! That’s the great thing about nouns.
FK: OK, so do you have any idea where this comes from? We were talking about how we thought it came out of LiveJournal, but…
GMC: There was an interesting article about it that I should have dug up ahead of time—but I did not. But I will try to find it to link to you, that kind of goes into… I think it’s a Buzzfeed article that goes into the tilde—
ELM: Yeah, that’s the one I was referencing! But that was mostly about the tilde going on both sides.
GMC: Oh, was it? It didn’t do the before one?
ELM: I’mma have to read it again. Cause I just—
GMC: Maybe I’m thinking of a different one.
ELM: It was on Buzzfeed, though.
GMC: The tilde on both sides, I think, is more of a, what a colleague of mine calls sparkly unicorn punctuation. Like, it dresses up the words, it makes them look fancy. Sometimes that’s used for irony, because you don’t actually feel fancy about them, but sometimes it’s used just for dressing them up—like, I think of the tilde on either side as, like, an instant messaging away message type thing.
ELM: Mm hmm. Coupla bullets on either side?
GMC: Oh yeah. You put some song lyrics in there.
ELM: Oh yeah.
FK: Oh yeah, oh yeah. And ideally you put some HTML so the colors are different?
ELM: Ooh, ooh. [laughs]
GMC: And you get it to blink a little bit? Ohhh.
FK: Blink tags no longer supported!
ELM: Flourish, I have a hack for that if you want!
FK: [gasps] I want.
ELM: It’s some fancy CSS because my friend and I make pretend Geocities style webpages for each other.
FK: OK, but we actually have to ask the next question, because otherwise we’re gonna run out of time.
ELM: Yeah, let’s move on, we’ve got a big list.
GMC: So yeah, I think you should link to the tilde article, and if it’s insufficient, I’ll see what else I can dig up, but I think that’s something I’ll have to look into more.
FK: So the next question comes from Meredith—shit, I’m gonna say her last name wrong. The next question comes from Meredith Le-veen—
FK: SHIT, I always say it wrong! The next question comes from Meredith Le-VINE, and she wants to know if there are any rules people follow when coming up with names for fandoms, like, not ships but fandoms, like Swifties, Clone Club, Whovians, X-philes—are there rules?
GMC: Sometimes they follow similar rules to the names people come up with for inhabitants of particular cities or countries, and those don’t really have very good rules. [all laugh]
ELM: Like Whovians or Swifties.
GMC: Yeah, so if you want to talk about inhabitants of, there’s Bostonians but New Yorkers. Why isn’t it Bostoners or New Yorkians?
FK: It’s not Bostoners because in fact Boston is not—well.
GMC: Boston is more old than stoners are! So they could have done it.
ELM: Mancunians, can anyone explain that to me?
GMC: Mancunians. So some things are older historical forms of the word?
FK: There is Cantabridgians, that’s the weirdest, I think.
ELM: I think Mancunians is baffling!
FK: How is Cantabridgians not weirder than Mancunians? CUNIANS.
GMC: Particularly for older, like, older places, sometimes the denonym—that’s the name for residents—comes from an older form of the, like, city, and then the city name changes and the denonym changes on separate trajectories. And so sometimes that’s why they’re really weird, which is not an old enough thing to happen in fandom, I think. There’s kind of a set of suffixes in English that you can apply to words that you’re a resident of, like you add -er, you add -en, you add a couple different variations on those, so you stick them onto your target root and then you try to figure out which one sounds most reasonable based on other words in the language and stuff.
FK: You know it does, it does seem sometimes like these things are contested though, right? I don’t know, Elizabeth, I think I remember a time when people called Harry Potter fans Potterites and Potterphiles and Potterheads and now it all seems to be Potterheads.
ELM: Yeah, I don’t like Potterheads.
FK: I don’t either.
ELM: Potterites is one I’ve heard.
FK: But the universe has spoken.
ELM: Yeah, but I feel like a lot of them now, specially looking at this list, not Whovians, because we’re not forever, but Clone Club? Did the fandom come up with that or did BBC America come up with that?
FK: I dunno!
ELM: But I think a lot of these—I don’t know. I was thinking about how Cumberbatch fandom has changed its name per his request.
FK: Yeah. From Cumberbitches to…
ELM: I don’t know. No one knows. He said “Cumber collective,’ but.
FK: He didn’t like Cumberbitches, though.
ELM: Yeah, but…
GMC: Yeah. Someone suggested Cumbercookies, so together they would be a Cumberbatch, which I thought was pretty cute.
FK: [gasps] That’s adorable!
GMC: Yeah. Isn’t that cute? Nobody would use it, though.
ELM: Yeah, cause they were talking about it when he was on Graham Norton with Chris Pine, and Graham Norton was like—musta been when Star Trek came out. And he was like, do your fans have name? And Chris Pine said, “Pine Nuts.” [all laugh] Like, did you—did you come up with that yourself?
FK: You know, actually this was true though. East Los High was a show that I worked on and we definitely decided we were going to refer to our fans as ELH Addicts, and I don’t remember why we decided that, it’s a really dumb name, actually.
FK: But it totally caught on and that’s what they call themselves now.
GMC: A lot of YouTubers come up with names for their fans because they want someone to address in their videos, they’ll be like “Hi, whatever-my-fandom’s name-is,” even if they don’t have very many watchers yet.
ELM: Hm, that’s interesting. I guess that gets you out of the language question into the—
GMC: Like, the sociology of what sounds good?
ELM: Yeah. I’d be curious also to look at when fandoms name themselves vs. when they are named, whether that’s by the media or by a content creator.
GMC: Yeah. I think it’s a combination of both. Like, if you’re gonna add a suffix, you’re trying to see what doesn’t sound weird, and if you’re gonna change a noun or give yourself a word for yourself I think it has a lot to do with what other words sound similar to that, you know, so you wanna—like, with Clone Club you’ve created alliteration, or with Cumberbitches it’s nice because you’ve altered just one sound from Cumberbatch, even though maybe the connotations aren’t right—you look around, in the ship names article there’s this idea of “lexical neighborhood,” like what other words are around this word that sound similar, and is that a good thing or a bad thing, do you want that similarity.
FK: You know what I just realized, we managed to get through this entire conversation without mentioning the great what-do-we-call-them debate of historical fandom, which is Trekkers versus Trekkies.
GMC: Oh my God.
ELM: I’ve heard this is a point of contention.
FK: I don’t even think we should get into it, but people should look it up.
GMC: I think the thing with Trekker and Trekkie is they both, like, they both sound like a good way to add that suffix. They’re both a good suffix to add. Like “Trekkian” is pretty weird, or “Trekkan”—
GMC: That’s weird.
GMC: You can tell why that didn’t catch on! But Trekkie and Trekker both sound like legitimate English words, and it becomes, like, again we talked about the history of your engagement with that fandom, which one you got exposed to earlier, which one your friends like, a lot of these social factors.
ELM: Mm, that’s interesting.
FK: OK, so should we move on to the next question!
FK: So a person who asked to remain anonymous wanted to know, they noticed that fan terms get used across different languages, so like terms that are active in Japanese fandom get pulled over into English and vice versa and all through, and wanted to know whether anyone had studied the way that language on the internet and particularly fannish language travels across different languages. You know what I mean.
GMC: Yeah, yeah! Gets borrowed from one language to another. It’s definitely very common for words to get borrowed from one language to another, one dialect to another, I don’t know of anyone who’s studied that in particular—let’s put it out there, because maybe someone can tell us? I’d love to know this!
ELM: I wonder how much—do you have any sense of fan studies intersects with linguistics? Do you know of anyone who would say they’re in fan studies who’s a linguist?
GMC: I know a few linguists who have written papers that could be arguably fandomish papers, but I don’t know of ones that have gotten published in fan studies journals or public domain linguistics journals.
ELM: Or go to the Fan Studies Network [conference]?
GMC: I only discovered acafandom and fan studies and stuff through fandom myself, not as much through linguistics, so maybe there are a few, but I don’t think a whole lot. Which is a pity, cause I think it would be great.
ELM: It seems to be pretty—not isolated, but for an interdisciplinary field it does seem to live in specific corners.
GMC: Even people doing linguistics on the internet, you’ll often get linguists who’ve written, like, one paper about linguistics on the internet, and then they have to do the rest of their linguistics on serious stuff so they can get a tenure track job, because academia’s ridiculous.
FK: Yeah, right? Isn’t the internet the most important linguistic thing happening right now? I definitely talk to more people on the internet than I talk to under any other circumstance.
ELM: And in better, interesting language.
GMC: You’re talking to the person who’s writing a book about it, so I agree with you!
FK: I’m just sayin’, like!
GMC: There are lots of things if you want to impress the people who might be on your tenure committee or trying to hire you that are not thinking that, so.
FK: Old people.
GMC: It depends what you think.
ELM: If anyone knows anyone who’s doing research in that part, though, I think you guys should let us know. Right?
GMC: Definitely let us know!
ELM: The reason I brought up fan studies is there seemed to be a lot of work done with East Asian fandom.
ELM: Crossing over to the West. So I’m curious on a language level if anyone has looked at that. I definitely feel like, how do you even say it, yah-oy?
FK: Yao-wee. Yaoi.
ELM: I feel like I used to see that used in tags a lot, like in the early 2000s.
FK: I think so too, because I think yaoi—I think that was the first time those two things had collided, so—anyway!
GMC: I think “kawaii” is one of the earlier words I heard on the internet. I don’t know if that’s fandom specific—
FK: Like “kawaii” for cute?
ELM: But I would see people using it [yaoi] in the tags for their fanfiction stories.
GMC: Oh yeah?
ELM: Like, especially if it was Hogwarts students, so they would be underage. I mean, they’d both be like 16, you know? And then they would use that term. Instead of saying “This is slash.”
FK: But there’s also things, I feel like people would use the term “boys’ love” sometimes, which was kinda weird because I feel like it’s a Japanese term? But it’s English?
ELM: That came from English? It’s like when you translate a term and go back and forth with it?
FK: But we’re—anyway hopefully someone will have this!
GMC: Words often kind of change their meaning in translation, like if you borrow something, English uses “sushi” to refer to like a bigger category than Japanese uses “sushi” to refer to, because technically a lot of it is sashimi or maki or something like that, so sometimes—or Japanese will borrow a term like “boys’ love” and have it mean something—
ELM: It’s boys loving, right?
GMC: —or have it mean something more specific than it means in English, or… Words do all sorts of weird things when you port them from one language to another!
FK: OK, so the next question is actually sort of relevant to this idea of words traveling—Elizabeth, do you want me to read all of them, or do you want to read?
ELM: I can read this one! This one was from a user called madamehardy, who asked if anyone has tracked how fan terms spread through different fandoms, like “shipper” traveling from X-files to wider use. Which is something I just learned about last week!
GMC: Yeah, apart from the “shipper” example I’m not aware of it? But maybe I’m missing something? Yeah, I’m not aware of any actual studies on it, I don’t think? Which would be a cool thing to do study-wise! I mean, how linguistic terms diffuse from one community on the internet to another is this big question that I think we’re still figuring out.
ELM: Can it be as simple as, I mean, it’s probably… The way that I join new fandoms is, I follow fanfiction writers when they start writing in a different fandom. So can it be as simple as, you learn these terms in one fandom and you move on to write somewhere else? I mean, that’s just fanfiction.
GMC: I think that’s very plausible. If you’re on both Tumblr and Twitter, you borrow terms back and forth from another, or you see people putting screenshots from Tumblr on to Imgur or Reddit or something. I mean, similarly, so if a bunch of people who are in one fandom move over to another… Sometimes, like, media fandom corner of the internet will be seized by a new fandom, like a lot of people are posting about Star Wars now, or before because of the new movie, or posting about X-files who were dormant before—
FK: We will always rise up! [all laugh]
GMC: Or the Harry Potter fandom periodically rises, phoenix-like from the ashes again… So people join multiple fandoms and, yeah, pass words between each other—I think this makes sense. And you get people talking about feral fandoms, you know, the Twilight fandom where people haven’t been in a fandom before, so you expect they’d have a different vocabulary, probably, to talk about fandom, or maybe they’d be influenced by a few people who had been fans of other things before to bring in a few terms?
FK: Yeah, I was just gonna bring that up, because I feel like that’s probably part of the yaoi thing—and , to some extent, don’t you see that between fanvids and AMVs, right? Like, people who are used to making anime music videos and then encounter fanvidders and back and forth, there’s more of that encounter now, but when YouTube first started it was a huge culture clash, right, and there were different terms and different communities and “What is this thing that looks sort of like what I’m doing but doesn’t relate to it at all?” Yeah.
GMC: One example I can think of is that Lizzie Bennet Diaries really popularized the term “transmedia” for using, the characters having Twitter accounts and other things beyond just the vlogs it was based around.
GMC: And all of a sudden you have this kind of very obscure term, transmedia, which had been a very niche interest at the time, now referring to kind of a slightly different thing than from what the original transmedia-ists thought of it as referring to? Referring to that Lizzie Bennet style thing of do they have Twitter accounts, or do they have Tumblr blogs or something.
ELM: Right, and how it’s not one source text and a bunch of like—what’s the word? There’s some term for it, right?
FK: Yeah. I think that this is, I think that that’s a tricky one because it’s also related to the way that the term “transmedia” got used in a very, in the very specific entertainment industry setting, because it’s meant different things to different people and—
ELM: I think it gets abused a lot in the entertainment industry.
FK: Yeah. Some people would say that, some people would say that it had been a buzzword for awhile, like, I mean—
ELM: The term—
FK: You’re talking to someone whose former company had “transmedia” in its name, so! [laughs]
ELM: That’s what I’m saying, maybe a more linguist way to think of it is not “abused” but just “interpreted differently.” I’m trying to be a zen linguist right now.
GMC: Yeah, there doesn’t have to be a right way to do things. Just because it’s older doesn’t mean it’s the right way of doing things.
ELM: Look, I’m gonna tell the whale that he’s doing it wrong.
GMC: Don’t make the manatee sad!
FK: OK, so actually, this is funny, because I think we’re backing into the next question, which I think means that we ordered them in the right way, so good on us. Cause the next question was about language errors. Mojoflower wanted to know whether language errors that, like, show up in fanfiction repeatedly, like spelling “rein” with a G when you really mean the kind that’s like a horse’s trace—
GMC: Or my favorite example, which is “wonton” and “wanton”?
FK: Or “poured over,” like “he pored over the book,” except it’s that he poured, like, a glass of water—wanted to know if this is potentially a ghettoizing marker of people who read and write fanfic, because you don’t find those errors in edited books, or if we’re seeing language shift in action, or how to think about that.
GMC: Yeah, like, homophones are weird. And English has a lot of them, because we have a lot of silent letters and we have a lot of—English spelling is only kind of phonetic, it’s really mostly historical. Because we have all this weird stuff going on with English spelling.
I think it has to do with what happens when you remove the gatekeepers from writing. Right? So if all you’re exposed to is edited writing, you have a bunch of people who, in order to get a job editing at a publishing company or a newspaper or something like that—you have to know all this stuff that gatekeepers have historically decided was important. You have to pick that up again if you want to be a new gatekeeper. But with the internet in general, and with people publishing fic, and maybe they get it betaed, but maybe their friend who betas it is also a teenager or is also, like, you know, has a similar level of exposure to stuff. And so they point at a few things and they don’t point at some of this other stuff, you kind of get a democratization of getting writing up there.
And I think that’s good in general. I like more people being able to write things. There’s no particular reason why the one kind of rein needs a G in it and the other doesn’t, it’s entirely for historical reasons, so there are currently words in English where we have several legit spellings and you just don’t really care you can use either one or the other—so maybe some of these homophones will become multiple legitimate spellings? You have to start out somewhere.
ELM: My favorite word to use on the internet is “tho,” T-H-O. Do you think that that will become a legitimate spelling someday, outside my tweets?
GMC: I think it’s possible! We had—“donut,” D-O-N-U-T, is considered a completely legitimate alternative spelling of “doughnut,” D-O-U-G-H-N-U-T for similar reasons. Like, why is this GH silent? Because it was pronounced in Old English. Why are all these GHs silent? Because we actually used to have a sound that GH made and it doesn’t make that sound anymore.
FK: What was the sound?!
ELM: Can you say it?
FK: Say “doughnut” like in Old English!
ELM: Yeah, just like Ye Old Doughnuts.
GMC: The GH sound was kind of like a “heyeh” sound, so if you think of German, it’s like the sound the CH sound makes in German, “night” or “light” is “Licht” and “Nicht” in German, so the GH in English is there for the reason the CH was there in German, is still there in German. But in English some of them changed to F, like “laugh” and “cough,” because “heyeh” sounds kind of like “fuh,” and some of them went silent, some of them became kind of a “yuh” sound for awhile, there’s a whole bunch of stuff, but you know, why do we have silent letters? Silent letters are ridiculous! We don’t need silent letters! Um, many languages get by perfectly well without silent letters! They’re much easier to learn! It’s just, it’s historical and it’s because once you’ve learned the rules then you have an incentive to try and enforce them because, well, YOU learned them, so that makes you look good.
ELM: So we should probably wrap up right now, I guess?
FK: Yeah, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Gretchen, this was awesome.
GMC: Thank you for having me, this was so much fun!
ELM: Yeah this was wonderful, and we have a million more questions for you, so please come back.
GMC: I will totally come back.
ELM: And can people, oh, here’s a question, if our listeners would like to ask you questions, where can they get in touch?
GMC: Yeah, so I have a Tumblr blog, allthingslinguistic, which is at allthingslinguistic.com, um, I’m also on Twitter @gretchenamcc, my blog also has a Twitter if you just want pure unadulterated linguistics posts and not me rambling about whatever I want which is at @allthingsling, but that’s probably the easiest way to do that? I’m also if you want to see all my writing for other places you can go to GretchenMcCulloch.com and read everything I do there!
ELM: Awesome! We’ll put all of those things in the show notes too and, uh, people can bombard you with—we got SO many questions, so.
GMC: I’m gonna reblog this on my blog anyway, so.
FK: Great. Well, we’ll talk to you later, Gretchen!
ELM: Bye, Gretchen!
FK: All right, so that was everything I possibly could have hoped it would be!
ELM: Yeah that was fascinating! Also, linguists? Are so chill.
FK: SO CHILL. They’re like—
ELM: Gretchen, she wasn’t just like “yeahhhh,” she had a lot of things to say, but they were all so tolerant, peaceful…
FK: Not yelling at any whales, zero whales were yelled at…
ELM: So sweet! It’s nice to hear. It’s reassuring cause I feel like everyone else is so angry all the time.
FK: By “everyone else” Elizabeth means “herself.”
ELM: Nah, I mostly mean you.
FK: Hey! Don’t be mean now. Hey, hey, hey! But before we finish up this episode though, we wanted to thank everybody who sent reviews to us on iTunes—
FK: So for those of you who didn’t—
ELM: Let’s tell them about this, because we didn’t actually say it on the show, you just posted the post!
FK: OK, that’s true.
ELM: Flourish posted this lovely post that was like “look at this sad screenshot,” and this picture of how we didn’t have any reviews on iTunes—
FK: —which is how on iTunes podcasts get ranked, right, so, like, if there’s no reviews for something, no one ever sees that because iTunes doesn’t have any information.
ELM: It’s called “discoverability.”
ELM: That’s a buzzword for you right there. So Flourish wrote this really nice post, and a day later I looked and we had gotten a whole bunch of nice ratings, and three people wrote us really lovely reviews!
ELM: So thank you so much to those people—
FK: But there could always be more. And there should always be more.
ELM: Definitely more. If you guys would like to take a couple of minutes it would be really, really lovely.
FK: And it makes a huge impact on other people finding this podcast. Right. I mean, it’s like, there’s a lot of stuff that’s nice, we love hearing from you guys, that’s super helpful because we can talk about it on air, and it brings up cool ideas, this is helpful in a different way because it helps other people find this podcast and… join the… Fansplaining… community? I dunno.
ELM: Yeahhhh, that’s right, the community. I heard, the Night Vale guys were talking about how they grew, I guess they had one iTunes review that was really important, and it was something like Prairie Home Companion meets—have you heard this? I don’t remember what it was meets. Something supe—like X-files or something like that. You know, cause it’s like, supernatural stuff.
FK: Yeah, totally.
ELM: And he was talking about it—what’s the guy, Jeffrey Cranor, is that his name? I think it was him. And he was saying “my mom wrote that review” and it turned out to be really important. So that was really funny.
FK: Aww. So your review could be as important as that review was to Welcome to Night Vale. Wouldn’t you love—
ELM: Are you speaking to our mothers right now?
FK: —to be the person who’d done that for Welcome to Night Vale? There’s our pitch.
ELM: You don’t have to. But if you enjoyed this episode or this show…
FK: You do have to.
ELM: You don’t! But it would be really nice. You don’t have to!
FK: You do. Kinda—
ELM: It’d be really nice.
FK: But really guys, thank you for listening and for all the wonderful questions for Gretchen and keep them coming! We love hearing from people, not just in review form but also in comments and concerns, shitposts, gifs…
ELM: We don’t like shitposts…
FK: We don’t really like nightblogging as much as we like shitposts.
ELM: Are you just trying to show you’re down with the kids?
FK: [squawks] I’m down with the kids!!!
ELM: You are Larry AF.
FK: I am… and on that bit of mockery for me, maybe we should hang up so that I don’t stab Elizabeth in the face through Skype with a fork!
ELM: [sighs] Bye, Flourish.
FK: [laughs] Bye, Elizabeth.
FK: The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Stratus Media Ventures, Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or our employers, or anyone’s except our own.