11 Ordinary Words That Have New Meaning In Social Media

“The language is perpetually in flux: it is a living stream, shifting, changing, receiving new strength from a thousand tributaries, losing
April 12, 2011

“The language is perpetually in flux: it is a living stream, shifting, changing, receiving new strength from a thousand tributaries, losing old forms in the backwaters of time.”—E.B. White, The Elements of Style


Business has a way of inventing its own vocabulary. Often the results are disappointing—long, Latinate words like formalize and utilize and monetize, or Frankenspeak like impactful or learnings. (I’ve written about this before; you can read a whole slew of words to avoid here and here.)


But at the same time, words can shift and expand in meaning, too.


Perhaps nowhere has that flux been happening with more speed and agility than in the world of business. Social media marketing and technology are driving much of the shift—particularly of common words that existed for generations with a single, specific meaning but now find themselves with a complexity of depth and meaning that might surprise even the words themselves—that is, if words had the capacity to self-reflect.


Take "friend," for example. For generations, a “friend” was simply an ally. A supporter. Someone to regard with affection and trust.


Then Facebook comes along, and suddenly the meaning of “friend” is called into question both in an existential way as a noun (Is someone a “friend” even if I’ve never met them, but only know them online?) as well as a verb meaning to add someone to the list of people with whom you're connected to online.


What other words have expanded and morphed in our newly social world? Tagging, recommend, traffic, fan, post, wall, hacking, influence, search, link, viral, link, visitor, surf, blast, ping, feed, alert, tweet, find, status, and vote to name a few. But here are 11 are my favorites:




Was: To lurch, walk unsteadily, or misstep. My favorite bar in college was the Stumble Inn.


And also now: To discover, recommend, and rate Web pages, photos, and videos on the personal recommendation engine StumbleUpon.




Was: To circulate or move around (verb); a supernatural creature who often has large ears, a foul smell, and is known to take up residency under municipal bridges in the seedier parts of town.


And now also: Someone who intentionally provokes others into an emotional tizzy or elicits heated response in various online forums or on social networks—and apparently gets off on it.




Was: A data transmission rate; the maximum amount of information that can be transmitted along a channel.


And now also: The capacity of a person to handle tasks or issues, either actual or emotional.




Was: An Internet search technology company and platform (noun).


And now also: To search the internet for information (the verb “google,” lower-case). Sometimes, the nickname for a nerdy know-it-all.




Was: To cite or make reference to (verb).


And now also: The act of citing or referencing a brand or individual on social platforms; an indicator of how many advocates and fans your product or service or a person has (noun). More is better. Of course.




Was: Used as a function word to indicate presence or occurrence in, on, or near (preposition).


And now also: The act of directing an online communication toward a particular person or brand, particularly on Facebook or Twitter. In this way, “at” has risen to a surprising position—it’s kind of the Rebecca Black of prepositions.


Stream (as a noun)


Was: A body of water with a current that’s confined within a bed.


And also now: A constantly flowing body of updates, photos, images, and other content on social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


Stream (as a verb)

Was: To extend, wave or float outward.


And also now: To continuously transport unedited data real-time—generally video or audio.



Was: Compressed mystery meat snugly sheathed in tin housing.


And also now: Unsolicited messages sent via email or, more recently, strewn about like litter on social networking sites.


Plus One


Was: A friend or date one brings along to an event or party.


And also now: A new initiative that allows anyone searching Google to publicly endorse web results they like. It’s a kind of digital shorthand for a thumbs-up.




Was: The act of reporting your presence with a desk officiant—generally at airports and hotels.


And now also: The act of using any of several social location networks to tell everyone in your network where you are at every blessed moment of every single day, including churches, smoke shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, state parks, nursing homes, offices, dance halls, pizza shops, bakeries, dog groomers, train stops, bus stations, airports and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.


Your turn. What others might you add?


Image credit: ikrichter