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Internet Pop-Culture Memes

The unique language of LOLCats at ROFLCon.

Friday, April 25, was the first of the two-day ROFLCon, an event featuring the people behind current memes of pop Internet culture. The conference, organized by Harvard students and taking place at MIT, was a high-energy crowd of mostly college-age attendees touting signature red ROFLCon lunch boxes.

A panel this afternoon looked at the current popularity of LOLCats, a website that lets users post cat photos paired with clever, referential captions written in a unique baby-talk-cum-text-messaging language. The language is supposed to represent how a cat would talk if it could (with poor grammar and misspellings). LOLSpeak has evolved since the website took off last year, with phrases such as “Facebook ur doin it wrong,” “I can has cheezburger?” and the familiar “kthxbai!!!” becoming commonplace. The website was recently featured in Time magazine.

It’s the first language that started out written, then became spoken, and it has attracted inquiring linguists, according to Ben Huh, CEO of the LOLCats website.

“It’s an expression of the Internet through the actual construction of language,” adds Martin Grondin of the spinoff LOLCats Bible.

Some of the phrasing becomes downright cryptic, especially for newcomers (a snarling ferret in a pot captioned “kreme uf angree suop” is “crème of angry soup”), but members of the LOLCats team, of which there are eight, are “fluent.”

Panelists included those who did other spinoffs, including LOLTrek, the now-defunct LOLSecretz, and LOLCode. When asked about the future of LOLSpeak and Internet dialects, the panelists seemed to agree that words would get “dumber and shorter.” Huh envisions Internet language becoming entirely referential and “all meta”; it would look like a secret language to those on the outside. To the newcomer on LOLCats, it might seem as though it’s already here.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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