When pressed to list the most lurid cultural phenomenon of the decade — this is scene, after all — I made the usual rounds: reality television (too obvious); celebrity sex tapes (too pillaged as a genre); American Apparel (too personal); Miley Cyrus (too damning); hipsters (too hipster). Indeed, it’s difficult to write about our latter-day vacuity without falling victim to its snarkiness. Regardless, after trudging through the pop culture morass, one thing continues to amaze: our perverse addiction to acronyms. Obviously these are by no means a 2000s invention. But when I recently received a text message from my recovering-Evangelical mother including “OMG!!!” I began to wonder how, in recent years, LOL became a cornerstone of Western civilization.
Like any adept virus, our ’90s AIM acronyms have survived through frequent mutation. By the 2000s, Internet Creole has become so pervasive and mercurial that our language requires a kind of software update to stay relevant. Just imagine the embarrassment of interrupting a ROFL (already passé!) conversation peppered with FMLs, only to broach the question, “Wait, what?” FYL!??? Better yet is another recent invention: abbreviations that pseudomorphically approximate acronyms. You know them well: obvi, totes, awkies, ridic, poss, gorg, abs, def, kk — and so on. Here we are at the end of a decade with a Damien Hirst-like medicine cabinet of these linguistic particles, each more addictive and expendable than the next.
But pardon my condemnatory tone — acronyms are a BFD, and we need them for reasons other than mere zeitgeist confection. Beyond a kind of postmodern cachet (they’re totes Pynchon), as words of their own right, they exhibit the plasticity of language across changing platforms and experiences. Arguably this is the next evolution — or at least a temporary cul-de-sac, even if it eventually becomes a vestigial appendix, that help(ed) us digest this decade’s more unpalatable pop culture offerings.