The English language is in a constant state of fluidity, and the internet has accelerated this natural process to an exponential degree. New words are created daily and thanks to the sheer magnitude of the internet’s ability to spread information, word meanings can change practically overnight. Some words have been so heavily bastardized by the internet that their original meanings have been obscured, and in some cases, forgotten entirely. Anyone who spends enough time on forums and comment threads will recognize the following 10 words as some of the worst internet crimes against vocabulary.
The word historic is supposed to classify things that are historically significant, or may become so in the future. For instance, the moon landing was a historic event; mundane, everyday events are not. People like to use words like ‘historic” (another good one is “legendary”) to put emphasis on events that they deem significant in some way, but may not actually be worthy of being called historic. Kanye and Kim naming their baby North West is an interesting cultural event, but it probably doesn’t deserve to be looped in with events like the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We all know what a hero is – someone who is above reproach and puts others before themselves (think Captain America or Superman). The internet’s definition is much more forgiving, as just about any act of goodness is bound to get that person labelled a hero. A hero is someone who continually and frequently puts others before themselves and isolated acts of bravery of kindness, while deserving of accolades and acknowledgement, do not necessarily describe a hero.
One of the most annoying words that inevitably comes up in every internet argument is “actually”. Used to denote something that is truthful or factual, the word is so overused in internet arguments that its meaning has become more associated with identifying someone as a “know-it-all”, as it’s mostly used in a condescending tone in order to discredit someone else’s opinion.
Okay, so this one is technically an abbreviation, but the term “OCD” is used so frequently as an adjective in everyday speech that it might as well be considered a word. OCD, in the traditional sense, refers to “obsessive-compulsive disorder”, an anxiety disorder characterized by irrational obsessions or compulsions. OCD, in internet speak, can now refer to any ritual, whether major or minor, when OCD actually only occurs in 1 to 3 % of the population, meaning that the vast majority of people are heavily misusing the term.
The word “Troll” used to conjure pictures of the fearsome troll under the bridge from the Norwegian fairy tale “Three Billy Goats Gruff”. While the internet has adopted the term to describe creatures just as loathsome, trolls are much different beasts now than the fairy tale variety. Nowadays, a troll is someone who purposely starts an unnecessary argument on the internet for their own amusement. It’s also become a verb, as “trolling” is the act of carrying out these heinous activities. To be fair, this is one alternate usage that the internet got right, as internet trolls are just as vile as bridge trolls, if not more so.
One of the most overused adjectives in existence is the word “epic”, which can describe everything from a walk down the street to the latest explosion-heavy movie trailer: everything is epic, all the time. Before it became so widely misused, “epic” used to refer to things that were heroic or grand in scale, as well as a particular genre of literature or film. Of course, it still has those meanings, but the gross overuse of the term to describe any and all events has diminished its effect.
The traiditional definition and the internet definition of “meme” are actually closely related, but there is enough of a difference to support the fact that the internet has completely highjacked the word’s meaning. The Oxford Dictionary defines a meme as “An element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means”. Before the internet, this essentially refered to the inheritance and sharing of culture. Now, memes are like viruses, funny pictures and videos that spread rapidly around the internet.
Do you have a beard, like indie music, or are partial to plaid? Congratulations, you’re a hipster as far as the internet is concerned. What once was used to describe a particular subset of millennial counterculture is now a catch-all label used to describe anyone who likes anything that’s not mainstream. The urban dictionary definition is gigantic, which only goes to show how fractured the entire concept has become. The label is practically meaningless now because if you’re a well-educated, liberal-minded man or woman living in North America (aka, the majority of young adults), you’re a hipster, whether you want to be or not.
The bastardization of this word is a 2 fold screw-up. There is the lesser, more annoying misuse of the “lifehack” term, wherein every little bit of useful advice is presented as some life-changing phenomenon. The more problematic misuse deals with computer hacking, which has become a blanket term for every kind of network failure imaginable. The problem with this is that actual hacking is very complicated and a lot of things that seem like hacking technically aren’t, like Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks on servers. All of this stems from an internet culture that really has no idea how hacking really works.
Arguably the most infamous victim of internet bastardization, this misused adverb’s meaning has literally (sorry) been changed by internet culture. Instead of its proper use, which is to define something that actually exists or happened, “literally” is now interchanged with the meaning of “figuratively”, which has the opposite meaning. It’s easy to see why the term has become so misused: describing something as literal puts emphasis on the thing being described, even if it’s not actually literal, but the misuse of “literally” is still the internet’s greatest crime against vocabulary.