Saturday, March 8, 2008

On the Pronunciation of Internet Acronyms

The above YouTube video serves two purposes as the introduction to my post. Its first purpose is to help illustrate precisely what I mean when I talk about the pronunciation of Internet acronyms. The second is to inflict upon you a merciless earworm that will continue to torment you long after you depart my blog.

As I hail from a group of exceedingly nerdy friends, and tend to associate with websites and online communities were geekiness is reveled in (not against, as I hasten to note), I have come across real-life (or, in a tone befitting this post, IRL) pronunciations of acronyms coined mostly for ease of communication online. Among these: LOL (Laughing Out Loud), ROFL (Rolling On Floor Laughing), LMAO (Laughing My @$$ Off), and PWN (Not technically an acronym, but likely derived from a typographical error in the spelling of "owned." It has the same meaning). The Internet literati seem to be of two minds concerning such spoken cultural allusions. Some treat them as pure acronyms and speak each individual letter. LOL is Ell Oh Ell; ROFL is Are Oh Eff Ell. Others turn them into words, slurring their individual letter sounds together and creating neologisms. LOL is Lawl, ROFL is Rawful. The above video is an example of the latter, though it does take it to a slight extreme. It takes some terms and phrases generally only spoken in letter form (such as DM--Dee Em--and WTF--Doubleyou Tee Eff) and tries to sound them out phonetically, despite their derth of vowels.

I've noticed a few oddities and idosyncracies in these pronunciations, however. Certain acronym phrases, especially those consisting of three words or letters, tend to have spoken equivalents that are neither phonetic aproximations or letter-by-letter re-spellings. Instead, they're something... else.

Take the example video above. One of the terms it uses is OMG, short for Oh My (insert your favorite expression of shock that begins with a G here--Goodness, Gosh, God, Gadzooks, et cetra). Two common real-world pronunciations of OMG exist--Oh Em Gee, and "ohmig." In my experience, Oh Em Gee is the more common of the two. However, seemingly more prevalent than "ohmig" is the phrasing used in the video above: "Oh muh guh." This pronunciation actually appears to be a form of the full phrase (most likely "Oh My God" in this particular case) in which the syllables of the second two words have become slurred and assimilated with those of the first, resulting in a kind of "half-spoken" version of the full phrase.

Other phrases this tends to happen to (as demonstrated in the above) are FTW (For The Win) and WTF (What The... well, I'm sure you can guess). It is slightly more difficult to make the "assimilation" argument for FTW, as a true assimilative version of FTW would probaly sound more like "Fer Ter Wer" as opposed to "Fuh Tuh Wuh." Instead, the spoken form of FTW sounds more like a reversed version of WTF's: "Wuh Tuh Fuh." (For WTF, one could possibly make the case for abreviation as well).

I wonder what causes these pronunciations to come out like they do? I'm not sure--it's not like I've done research on this sort of thing--but I can say that it does seem to have some common mental genesis for all of the geeks who use Internet acronyms in their everyday speech. I know that I was mentally pronouncing "WTF" as "Wuh Tuh Fuh" long before I ever heard it out loud, and I wasn't the least bit shocked when I finally did that my suspicions were confirmed.

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