nineties

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No Diggity (1996) :: Blackstreet, featuring Dr. Dre, and Queen Pen

Oddly, for an internet style guide, Wired Style isn’t available anywhere online. The companion website beloved of my teenage years no longer exists and most of it isn’t even on Internet Archive. The book itself had two print runs, in 1996 and 1999, but hasn’t been produced since, and its e-text isn’t available for nefarious googling nor money. But a decade or two later, depending on how you count, I wanted to see how it stood up to my memories. As a text that tried to predict the future about how we’d write online, would it be eerily prescient or laughably dated? And as a text that had such an impact on me, was it worth the fond memory that I’d been holding it in for so many years?

So I bought myself a used paper copy, second edition, five dollars, and I finally read it cover to cover. Verdict? Well, to use the slang of this era in homage to the previous one, it’s one part hearteyes emoji and one part cryingeyes emoji.

The hearteyes parts were kind of like reading one of those nineties-kid Buzzfeed quizzes: “Oh my god, I remember when we used to talk about meatspace! Hotlinks! Web rings! Cyber- everything! Portals! Newsgroups and chat rooms! Vaporware! Netiquette! Palm Pilots! Chatterbots! The Jargon File!” It’s straightup Web 1.0: no blogs, no Wikipedia, no Urban Dictionary, no Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. Google makes it into the introduction as “an innovative search-and-rank engine developed at Stanford” but the entry for search engines omits it in favour of AskJeeves, AltaVista, Go.com, HotBot, and Inktomi. And I was fascinated to learn that “a librarian named Jean Armour Polly was the first to use surfing to mean exploring the internet” although, alas, the link to her original Well post is now 404’d.  

The cryingeyes parts were things like: “Oh dear, you managed to get email and homepage right, but you’re still writing Web site, the Net and the Web?” (I’ll forgive them the capitalized “internet,” because I’m still fighting with my phone’s autocomplete on that one.) “A list of bookmarks is sometimes called a hotlist.” Ahahaha nope. Big Blue as a synonym for IBM is considered “acceptable on first reference.” Yeah, not anymore. “As the Net caught on, and as more and more people started speaking in ASCII…” is not quite the cutting-edge descriptor you think it is. “Talking f2f is sometimes called facemail.” Lolwut. And, in possibly the most internet-nineties sentence ever written: TEOTWAWKI stands for “the end of the world as we know it” and is “the shorthand of Internet survivalists who believe Y2K spells doomsday.”

There also some so-close-yet-so-far parts for which I lack an adequate emoji. An entry for wireless but not wifi, for WTFIGO (what the fuck is going on?) but not plain wtf, for userid and handle but not username, for newbie but not newb or n00b, for OTOH (on the other hand) and IOW (in other words) but not btw, for spam and mailbomb but not DDOS or doxxing. I-Phone stands only for Internet Phone, aka the precursor to Skype. LOL — “this shorthand for laughing out loud is big on AOL.” Meme is only in the Dawkins sense. Viral marketing — “this term plays on the idea of the meme as an advertising tool.” “We accept the prefix smart-, but worry about its overuse.” Bless your nineties hearts, how were you supposed to know we’d be in for smartphones and smartwatches and Upworthy?

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Wired Style: A Linguist Explains Vintage Internet Slang

I’m on The Toast talking about retro internet language and how I became a descriptivist. Read the whole thing here - how many do you remember? 

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Baby Got Back (1992) :: Sir Mix-a-Lot

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Let’s all take a moment to remember the Dorling Kindersley Tyrannosaurus

The DK T. rex was a major star of the educational children’s book industry in the 1990s, much-beloved for his signature “mouth wide open, tail curved” pose. However, increasing weight gain and a hadrosaur meat addiction began to take its toll. The arrival of younger, cheaper CG tyrannosaurs in the first years of the noughties were the final nail in the coffin of the DK T. rex’s career.

Today, he can be found on stock image websites, featuring in poorly thought out graphic design portfolios, and reminiscing about the good old days when he was the tyrant lizard king of our hearts.

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Fade Into You (1993) :: Mazzy Star