ACES Logo

Death be not loud (or the new language of exaggeration)

December 1, 2015 By Matthew Crowley Resources

Where’s an undertaker when you need one? Maybe it’s a sign of hyperstimulation or an overwrought effort to break through the substantial digital din. But it seems “die” has died as an expression of extremity

Cue the dirge.

In a Nov. 29 New York Times article on Internet-text speech hyperboleJessica Bennett reported that “I’m dying,” which once suggested, “I’m breathless with shock” or “I laughed so hard I fell off my chair” has apparently come to mean only “I’m mildly interested” or “You’re not putting me to sleep.” Bennett’s 20-something research assistant attested to this.

A plastic skeleton with her own Instagram feed has come to personify how de rigueur (or de rigor, as in mortis) “dying” has become.

Omgliterallydead, featuring Skellie, who once existed anonymously as a Halloween prop, has attracted 300,000-plus Instagram followers with pictures of mundane, but evidently die-worthy activities. Based on her snapshots, which began circulating in October 2014, Starbucks lattes, workouts and dining out put the fun in funereal. As Elle’s Nora Crotty wrote, only a skeleton can pull off hashtags like #eatuntilyoudie or #starvingtodeath when faced with a bottomless buffet of sushi.

Dana Herlihey, the Torontonian who brought Skellie to life, I mean death, is the social media manager for Bitstrips, a startup that lets users create cartoon versions of themselves to share on social media.

“Skellie was a happy accident,’ Herlihey told Cosmopolitan online. “One day I decided to take a photo of her holding a Starbucks cup. The next day, I set her up wearing my cardigan, glasses, and toque. On a whim I decided to create an account entirely dedicated to the skeleton. It all kind of took off from there.”

Skellie, who is reachable by email (omgliterallydead@gmail.com) and not séance, chimed in on the interview, too. When asked whether she would see “Fifty Shades of Grey” on opening night, Ms. Bones and No Skin said, “YES! and YES! The theater (had) better have some sexy EMTs on hand because every girl is going to literally die and need some serious mouth-to-mouth.”

Who needs “funny or die” when just “die” will do?

Superlative downgrading has gone beyond “dying,” Bennett wrote. “Ever,” which like “I’m dying” also once signaled something rare, now seems to apply to everything. (Come on, isn’t this your favorite blog post ever?)

Even as ded (yes, that’s a variant) dies,  “I can’t even” stammers on, standing for “something (that) leaves you so emotive that you simply cannot even explain yourself,” Bennett wrote. On Black Friday, “I can’t even” surfaced on Twitter to express shopper-masses apoplexy. User @JessicaWiles posted, “There’s nothing quite like stalking people in the mall parking lot so I can get to work on time. ‪#BlackFriday ‪#icanteven‪#whydidiagreetothis.”

My favorite hyperbolic expression from Bennett’s story is “a;lsdkjfa;lsdkgjs,” which she said means, “I’m so excited/angry/speechless that all I can do is literally slam my hands/head/body against the keyboard” (and produce doggerel strings featuring a’s s’s d’s and k’s).

The Guardian’s Charlie Brocker suggests that perhaps we’re all “dead” to each other because only the most strident statements get noticed. (How else, he suggested, can anyone explain clickbait headlines?)

“We’re trying to fit in because exaggeration is the official language of the Internet,” Brocker wrote. “Generally, as a species, we used to avoid these kinds of exaggerated emotional outpourings. Still do, in person. But online, people routinely claim to have been reduced to tears by YouTube clips, Facebook posts, newspaper articles, and inspirational GIFs … If your face leaks that easily, step away from the keyboard and call a plumber.”

Matthew Crowley is a member of the American Copy Editors Society and the Editorial Freelancers Association. Follow him on Twitter @copyjockey.

Recent Posts

Nominations open for Executive Committee of ACES: The Society for Editing

Linguist Lynne Murphy, Separated by a Common Language blogger, to be keynote speaker at ACES 2018

Becoming a better editor through reading