As private Facebook groups with niche themes keep people entertained online, TenEighty explores the use of language in meme culture and why the letter ‘N’ is forbidden.
The linguistics of meme culture has continued to develop at a much faster rate than geographically-focused languages in recent years. From I Can Has Cheezburger? gaining its initial popularity in 2007, to lolspeak and doge memes in recent years, the grammar and semantics of conversations online have continued to evolve.
One of the more recent examples on social media is the substitution of certain phrases for ones with a heavier meaning, typically using more archaic words. In these memes “I’m 20 years old” becomes “I’ve been wandering on these lands for almost quart a century”, while saying you like “Thomas the Tank Engine” becomes saying you like “Sentient Locomotives”.
“i can’t go because of coronavirus”
“i’ve sworn an oath of solitude til the blight is purged from these lands”
– heroic, valiant
– they will assume you have a sword
– impossible to check if you really have a sword because of coronavirus
— soul nate (@MNateShyamalan) March 17, 2020
Words with lesser impact have become mundane online and are not only considered illegal or not allowed in this subculture, they are forbidden. One particular trend that has grown in popularity within niche online communities is the ‘forbiddem glyph’.
The incorrectly spelt word ‘forbiddem’ refers to the language game known online as lemgthbook. The main rule, according to those in the community, is to replace the letter ‘N’ with ‘M’. The two letters are phonetically similar and can be hard to tell apart without lip reading, which adds to the nuanced humour of the game in a way that is hard to describe.
“we do mot use the letter betweem M amd O – that glyph does mot have sufficiemt lemgth, amd we replace it with the lemgthier amd superior ‘m’.”
In a blog posted on Why Is The Internet, the unknown writer explains how nonsensical rules have become commonplace in meme speak. “Most of us could not articulate these rules if asked, but subconsciously, deep in our wonderful pattern-finding brains, we know that not only is ‘limguist’ not the correct spelling, it’s so incorrect that it’s literally impossible. This, too, is hilarious.”
According to lemgthbook, a website that directs users to Facebook groups centred around the language game, the trend began in 2017 in a group called lemgthy earth: a lomg earth discussiom group. “All this talk about flat earth vs ‘rou*d earth’ but have u comsider lemgthy earth,” the group description reads. “The letter * (half-m, before o) is stromgly bammed. amy other letters are acceptable amd we will mot emforce usage of replacememts but if you wamma, go ahead.”
The term lemgthbook has its own etymological path, coming from ‘lemgth’ and ‘book’, with ‘book’ used as a suffix to refer to something concerning Facebook, the platform where the game originated. It is always spelt in lowercase and according to the Why Is The Internet blog, it also leans on another meme trend.
“‘lemgth’ is the word ‘length’ following the game rules, which itself is a general grammatically-shifted referent to ‘lomgbois’, being any animal whose anatomy appears stretched out (‘lomg’) in some way. The game seems to have originated in a Facebook group specifically oriented around such images — hence, finally, ‘lemgthbook’.”
The lemgthbook website includes links to a number of Facebook groups that follow the rules, some of which include:
Famtastic Employedbois amd Wheremst They Work, described as: “a Lemgthbook group, meamimg we do mot use the letter betweem M amd O im the alphabet – we do this because that glyph does mot have sufficiemt lemgth, amd we replace it with the lemgthier amd superior ‘m’.”
Heckimg Amgerybois amd Where to Fimd Them, described as: “ome of the mamy groups im the lemgthbook. If you’re mew, you should kmow that the half m, or ‘forbiddem glyph’ as we call it, is mot allowed. It is used im the term ‘rou*d earth’ amd we here im the lemgthbook omly believe im lomg earth.”
BEEP BEEP GLYPH POLICE PUT YOUR HAMDS UP, described as: “the official home of the Glyph PD. Stay tumed, stay glyph free amd stay lemgthy.”
The rules for these lemgthbook groups usually explicitly forbid any use of the forbidden letter in posts or comments, and invitation to join on Facebook is only granted if users opt-in to the rules. “Thou shalt mot questiom the law agaimst the glyph,” one group rules state. “The glyph is forbiddem, am umholy scourge upom good lemgthy people. Dom’t thimk you are the first to questiom the law – it exists for your owm protectiom.”
While many group members enjoy posting creative examples of the lemgthbook rules in practice, group moderators are occasionally forced to remove offending posts. One Facebook user explained the frustration with posts that violate the rules. “I meam, sometimes I cam umderstamd the frustratiom with the forbiddem glyph. Especially for those of us with dyslexia, or visual impairmemt, or trouble spellimg or typimg im the first place. But the bad posts are pretty poimtless amd mot the best way to express frustratiom wit the forbiddem glyph.”
As meme speak continues to evolve, linguists are increasingly turning their attention to internet culture. Studies have already begun to look into the impact of language games and their growth from niche jokes to commonly used written systems, in the same way that lolcat joined the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014. For now, however, the forbidden glyph continues to wreak havoc on the internet.
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