Acronyms, the Internet, and the language

Except for the so-called dead languages, like Latin for instance, any continuously-spoken language is a living thing, evolving constantly because people use it in creative and non-standard ways. Language purists decry the dumbing-down or contamination of the language by the common man, while the common man, because of his superior numbers, always wins out in the end, leaving the purists to bemoan their view that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. So words that come into common usage eventually make their way into the “official” books that define the language, the dictionaries, and thus the language grows and changes.

Last year saw the word “blog” make its migration into respectable usage, and now television news programs and sometimes even talk shows discuss what’s going on in the blogosphere (another newly acceptable word, meaning the collective world of blogs). A few influential bloggers (those who blog) were invited to participate in both the national political conventions during last year’s Presidential Nomination cycle. And bloggers had a major impact on causing CBS’ Dan Rather to retract the story he reported about President Bush’s National Guard service back in the 1970’s. Drunk with their new influence, bloggers have since engaged in a self-referential debate about their power versus that of the MSM, i.e. the main stream media such as TV News and Newspapers.

It’s hard to dispute that the Internet has influenced the language. As people all over the world connect via this medium, we influence each other in the way we talk and how we spell. And English, the de-facto lingua franca of the Internet, has been influenced the most by this new connectivity.

Since email has largely replaced hand-written letters as the predominant means of written communication, the shortcuts that people take in email have made their way into all our writing. Because I confess to having a bit of the purist in me, I continue to resist the tendency to use the email shortcuts in my writing, but I acknowledge that I am tempted to type btw rather than “by the way” or afaik rather than “as far as I know.” But still I resist because I realize that it is the digital record of our writings that is most likely to provide the record of our times, much more so than what has appeared in print or what we have communicated to each other in belles letters.

And all this brings me to the main point of this post — acronyms. As with any specialized endeavor, the Internet has a slew of acronyms that people throw around, sometimes without even knowing that they mean. I believe that if we’re going to use these things we should know what they mean. I’d like to address a few of them in this post.

One of the most significant of such acronyms is HTML. It stands for HyperText Markup Language. And it is the authoring language by which we create web pages that display links and other formatting conventions in web browsers. By placing a starting tag in front of a word or phrase and an ending tag at the end of it, we cause the text to display, when viewed in a browser, as we intend it, whether that be as a link to another URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) or as a formatting convention such as italics or bold. A particular kind of URI is the URL, which provides the location or address on the Internet of a particular document or resource.

To return to HTML for a moment, it was Ted Nelson (no relation) who coined the term hypertext in the mid 1970s in a project he called Xanadu. You can learn more about him and his project at this link. A real pioneer, he is legendary for his contribution to what we now know as the World Wide Web, though it remained for Tim Berners-Lee to actually create the web in 1989.

Another recent acronym that is taking on increasing significance is XML, which stands for Extensible Markup Language. This site, W3 Schools, is an invaluable link to know about and to visit if one has any interest in learning about the mystery that is the Internet.

Finally, I’d like to refer once again to RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication. Though many Internet users have yet to appreciate the value of RSS and to begin to use RSS Aggregators, in combination RSS and RSS Aggregators make following what is happening on the Internet infinitely more feasible and easier. As I’ve done many times, I’ll plug the aggregator that I use, FeedDemon. Though it is merely one of the many options available for following many different sites, it is one of those tools that once you have begun to use it make it difficult to return to just browsing sites sequentially as many people do when they surf the Internet.

Although this discussion of the significant acronyms commonly used on the Internet is woefully brief and inadequate, it should provide you some food for thought, particularly if you follow the links I’ve provided and read the links found at those links. One of the great things about the Internet is that if you have the interest in doing so, you can begin at one link and from there spend your entire day learning many wonderful things as you follow link after link, or maybe it is one of the not-so-wonderful things about the Internet in that you never seem to get to the end because there is always one more thing to learn. But then that is a lot like life, isn’t it? Just when you think you know something, there is always something else to learn. Education never ends as long as you are still breathing.

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