Skip to comments.Cats Can Has Grammar [Image macro]
Posted on 04/28/2007 7:50:46 PM PDT by Daffynition
If you spend any time at all observing net culture, then you'll have been unable to miss the recent explosion in popularity of lolcats. This relatively recent phenomenon is the convention of taking pictures of cute animals, most frequently cats, and overlaying absurdist captions on the images.
The core behavior has existed for some time; "Image macro" is a generic term for this kind of folk art, and cats have always featured heavily in these types of Internet in-jokes. But a few distinct categories have sprung up that have helped amplify and popularize the phenomenon.
The rise of these new subspecies of lolcats are particularly interesting to me because "I can has cheezeburger?" has a fairly consistent grammar. I wasn't sure this was true until I realized that it's possible to get cat-speak wrong.
Incorrect kitty pidgin jumped to my attention the first time I saw a reference to Dune being used with a lolcat image. The caption on the linked version of the image, "The spice must flow." is fine, if not particularly cat-like. But the caption on the version I saw first was much more verbose: "I are dunecat. I controls the spice, I controls the universe." Besides being an awkward attempt at overexplaining the punchline (I've never read Dune or seen the film, but the joke is obvious) this was just all wrong. The fact that we can tell no cat would talk like this shows that kitty pidgin is actually quite consistent.
I was having a conversation with Ben and Ben a few weeks ago where I suggested this consistent grammar for lolcats could be a "cweeole". Knowing a bit more about such things now, I realize this isn't a creole but more likely a pidgin language, used to help cats talk to humans. And since "pidgin" is already a cutesy spelling of a mispronunciation, there doesn't seem to be any really cute way to rename it to reflect its uniqueness. "Kitty pidgin" might be the closest thing we have to a name for this new language.
There's a consistent visual vocabulary to the construct, as well. If it ain't Impact or Arial Black or some other nondescript sans serif font, it ain't lolcat. White letters with a black outline are a must. But codifying a design guide for lolcats is well beyond my abilities.
Unfortunately, the evolution of these grammars online can be very difficult to track down; This kind of nascent web culture is generally frowned upon by Wikipedia (witness the deletion of the I'm in ur base article since the Ask MetaFilter thread just a few months ago) and there are no other sites designed to collect definitive collaborative reference material. It's going to take time to document kitty pidgin with any degree of accuracy.
I've just started bouncing the idea of kitty pidgin off of Erin and Grant, two of my favorite word experts, but I'm confident that someday we'll have kitty pidgin dictionaries. Perhaps we'll even get all the niceties that Klingon and Elmer Fudd-speak enjoy, like a Google translation, a Microsoft Word dictionary, or a cat-native version of the Bible or Shakespeare.
Okay, go out and look at some of the finest kitty-related content:
I'm helping it come up dear! ;-)
I can't take this fool of a human anywhere!
I love cats and some of these are cute, but frankly I'm tired of cat image macros already.
I love the kitties...but the bird warming his feet in the macaroons always makes me laugh!
This is what I think of your rabbit and all this silly mayhem.
I am drinking a glass of wine...lol!
Im on th Intrnet wyztng tym.
Cats are so five minutes ago.
Le Huegenots était gai.
LOL! The emocat looks like my cat.
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