Surf with style - just don't become a mouse potato :-)

When I arrived at Dartmouth College as a freshman, there was a new vocabulary I had to pick up.

Not fancy academic terms or literary theory speak, but the language of e-mail and the Internet. At Dartmouth, our e-mail was called "blitzmail," and "blitz" was arguably the most common word on campus.

It could be a noun, verb, or adjective (as in "blitzable"). The term, by the way, bore no relation to troop maneuvers or the German language. Teachers told me to blitz them my paper. Friends wanting to meet up would yell across the green, "Blitz me and we'll do lunch." Late-night procrastination was encouraged by "blitzwars," and foreign languages picked it up: Je vais te blitzer plus tard (I'll blitz you later).

I've gradually phased blitz out of my vocabulary, but other Internet expressions have taken on a life of their own. Cookies, links, and bugs have new meaning; when I'm writing a real letter, I sometimes want to include a smiley face. Many Internet users "personalize" their e-mails with sideways smilies and other emotives. :-)

With so much more time spent on the Internet (see today's cover story), it's not surprising that new vocabulary has come with it. A brief search on the Web reveals multiple sites devoted to "Netlingo" or "Geekspeak."

According to most Web dictionaries, one of the most pervasive additions from this less-formal communication form is the ubiquitous acronym. Not just FYI or BTW, but also BCNU (be seein' you), IMHO (in my humble opinion), and ROTFL (rolling on the floor laughing), among others.

A University of North Carolina dictionary of "netspeak" lists these other common - or not-so-common - Web-based vocabulary terms:

Flaming - sending angry and sometimes abusive messages by email or posting them on a discussion forum;

Four-oh-four - used to describe a person who is clueless. This comes from the Netscape error message, "404 Not Found;"

Mouse potato - the online generation's answer to the couch potato;

Cracker - someone who illegally gains access to a computer system and does damage to specific files or introduces a virus.

If spam still makes you think of a food-based product, and you are unfamiliar with the method of adding emotion to your writing by using asterisks - *smile* - you can brush up on your netois at - or be happy you haven't yet been captured by Net culture.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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