Words that the Internet totally redefined

As much as we may hate to admit it, the Internet has had a huge influence on our language and how we choose to express ourselves. A new slang word is born online seemingly every day. But while the World Wide Web has become a breeding ground for fresh slang, it has also given rise to a number of new definitions for already existing words. If you thought it was difficult to explain terms like “twerk” and “vape” to your Nana, try telling her that “feed” has another definition that has nothing to do with food.

1) Feed (n.): a data format used for providing users with frequently updated content

Let’s review this term first, for your grandma’s sake. Once just a word that meant “to give food to” or “to supply something with items necessary for its operation,” feed now also refers to a type of online setup used for aggregating information. It can be short for “web feed” or “news feed” or “Facebook won’t stop feeding me updates about my distant relative’s new Schnauzer and it’s driving me up the wall.”

2) Friend (v.): to add (someone) to a list of contacts associated with a social networking website

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have at least a dozen songs performed by artists who are barely out of middle school. Greyson Chance, also known as “That Kid Whose Paparazzi Cover Got A Bazillion Views On YouTube,” is one of them, and he recently released an album with a song titled “Unfriend You.” What boggles my mind is that, just a few years ago, that name wouldn’t have made sense to anyone. The verb “to friend” only came about recently with the rise of social networking sites, and has since developed real life applications (i.e. “if you take Emma to the Wiggles concert instead of me, I will mentally unfriend you”).

3) Viral (adj.): relating to or involving an image, video, piece of information, etc., that is circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another

Yes, “viral” meaning “involving an image, video, or piece of information that has gained sudden popularity on the Internet” is fairly new, but it’s not too far off from the original definition: caused by, or relating to, a virus or viruses. When a video of a cat on a vacuum cleaner goes “viral,” it means that it is spreading to the population quickly, as a virus might. It also means we, as a society, probably need to have an intervention about our collective cat obsession.

4) Troll (v.): make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response

While a bridge troll may demand payment or an answer to a riddle in return for crossing privileges, an Internet troll asks for nothing but your solemn promise to react irrationally and emotionally to whatever bait they throw your way. To troll someone on the Internet means to say or do something with the sole intention of riling up other users.

5) Refresh (v.): an act or function of updating the display on a screen

At the end of The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg’s character sits down in front of his computer and repeatedly hits “refresh” to see if his ex-girlfriend has accepted his friend request. Laurence Scott, a writer for The Guardian, pointed out how, though the word “refresh,” meaning “to reinvigorate,” used to have positive connotations, its use in the computer world has given it a bleaker definition:

6) Mute (v.): to turn off online notifications; to render someone or something online “invisible”

This one, I personally find very interesting. Mute has always referred to the act of muffling or softening a sound, but in the age of the Internet, it has also come to mean disabling online notifications. If one of your college acquaintances friends you on Facebook and you want to accept but you don’t want to be inundated with all of their hourly posts about politics or their evening plans, you can “mute them, essentially cutting off their stream of posts without inspiring one of those awkward “Wait, why didn’t you accept my friend request?” conversations.

7) Surf (v.): to navigate through the World Wide Web

You do not have to get on a surfboard or put on a wet suit to Google something. There are no sharks or exotic sea kittens lurking in the World Wide Web (though you may find a troll or two). And yet, we call mindlessly scrolling through baby photos and news articles “surfing the web.” Why? It’s all thanks to a librarian named Jean Armour Polly who, after writing a paper on technical computer functions, needed to find an appropriate name for her paper:

Inventing words isn’t hard when you have a library card, everyone. Take note.

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(Featured image via meme generator.)

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