5 Words That Lost All Their Meaning Because of the Internet

‘Debate’ is getting screamed at about rainbow beer cans, right?
5 Words That Lost All Their Meaning Because of the Internet

It takes the observational skills of a bat who spent their childhood staring at a solar eclipse to realize that the internet has hugely changed the world’s perspective. Some of it is in broad, unquestionably positive ways, like how quickly information can be shared. No more waiting for the newspaper to hit porch wood to find out what’s going on across the globe. If you’ve got some random question burning a hole in your brain like a hot, curious coal, you can usually find out the answer in seconds.

On the more specific side of things, though, the internet has greatly changed some pretty narrow parameters. One of the most affected areas is modern language. Sure, language is always evolving, internet or not. If it wasn’t, we’d be buying toothsome confections from Ye Olde General Store instead of buying Mega Warheads from the 7-Eleven. The internet’s the crowning development of our age, and so, it has a lot of control over how language has changed. Which isn’t always a good thing.

Here are five specific words or turns of phrase that have had their meaning completely ruined by the internet…

Social Experiment


Just a scientist, off on a journey of exploration via hair smelling!

There might not be a better bastardization of a formerly academic word than what “social experiment” has become. Years ago, if you heard it used, it was at least likely that some sort of actual researcher was involved, and results were being recorded on something other than an iPhone camera. Mentioning it might first bring to mind the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, even if the results are a lot more heavily questioned these days.

At some point, though, a bunch of assholes figured out that calling being weird to people in public a “social experiment” made them seem like curious minds and not just intolerable dickheads. Ever since, the phrase has been stamped all over YouTube, TikTok, Instagram — any site capable of hosting a video and monetizing traffic. Pretty much all of them are short stints of public terror that it would be generous to call them a “prank,” much less something anyone is learning from. It’s not an “experiment” if your hypothesis is “if I harass a woman on the subway, she will not like it.”



He would have loved your podcast, bro.

Another word stolen from academia by idiots to dress up their incredibly grating personality, the word “debate” gets thrown around the internet more than a bootleg Weird Al song on an old P2P file sharing app. In the past, the idea of a debate could either mean the physical event, or a tete-a-tete between two inquiring minds. It, in some semblance of the modern form, came out of Ancient Greece, which only made it more romantic in the eyes of people who think MENSA is something more than an expensive newsletter for pedants.

Arguing on the internet is generally not something that produces any desirable result. Despite that, plenty of people log on each day and ready their keyboards for what I guess they see as some great gladiatorial battle, when observing it feels more like watching two out-of-shape men sucking air and trying YouTube MMA moves on each other in a Home Depot parking lot. At some point, contrarians figured out that they could just call their disagreements “debates” and feel like they were furthering the capital D Discourse, instead of taking their opinions to it like a baseball bat to kneecaps. The kind of debate that happens on the internet is about as Greco-Roman as the wrestling that happens in a jello-filled kiddie pool.



Thank you for coming to my hour special taping slash first comedy show!

Is there a little personal bias loaded into this one? Almost indubitably. It’s also given that there hasn’t ever been much stopping the world’s least funny people from attempting comedy, like the sort of people who would read this and then comment, “Well, you would know!” Skill at humor aside, though, it used to have at least a somewhat clear definition: Somebody who performed comedy. Preferably to other people.

Now, it seems to be an automatic inclusion in the bio or self-description of anyone with a functioning frontal lobe. Humor is an essential part of human communication and life, and just because you’ve dabbled doesn't make it one of your identifying pursuits. I’ve plunged a toilet before, but I’m not telling people I’m a “bit of a plumber myself.” Collecting memes on the internet and “curating” them on your own social media accounts doesn’t make you a comedian. You’re a graphic T-shirt away from an uncle forwarding funny emails.



Me when I put pancake mix into a ketchup bottle for a no-mess experience.

“Hack” is a fun one because it’s a word that was both born, and ruined, by the very same technology. We can throw it back to the good old days of phreaking and the romantic idea of the computer hacker, bringing the word into the lexicon of cool. In a remarkably short amount of time, though, it went through the wringer to become something divested of any of those skills, to unrelated to computers altogether.

Maybe the most distasteful abomination it ever sprouted was the unkillable clickbait monster that is the “lifehack.” How one word made the journey to a point where it describes both launching DDoS attacks and shoving a bagel in an empty CD-R spindle is an inexplicable trail of linguistic carnage. If only the people of the past chugging bottles of snake oil and dodgy health tonics knew they were actually biohacking. You’re eating podcast-branded pond scum out of a plastic tub, not rewiring your brain.



Lets go with “Papa.”

Another thing about the internet: It is so, so horny. Everywhere and all the time. Something that has dragged many previously family-friendly phrases through the gutter, maybe none more so than “daddy.” It’s a word that’s moved from the toy store to the sex shop, and I don’t see it coming back unscathed any time soon.

Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian living in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.

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