An article by Gretchen McCulloch in WIRED this week looks at the phenomenon of “Voldemorting” – or – choosing to use alternative words when referring to a certain subject in order to abstract it (much like “He Who Must Not Be Named” from Harry Potter).
Here’s an example of synonymous words hiding in plain sight:
“I’m so tired of all the bad news on birdsite.”
“Yeah, there’s just too much about The Cheeto.”
McCulloch cites this quirky internet habit to a paper from Researcher Emily van der Nagel, and describes two different approaches to this subversion of language becoming increasingly common on social media:
On one hand, internet users may choose an abstracted term in order to subvert the power dynamics of a subject or person they reject. But interestingly, the tactic can also be used simply to evade brands, accounts, or users who may be highly attuned to a certain keywords. McCulloch writes, “Slightly different words make it difficult to find any particular one through search. While search engine optimization uses keywords and hashtags in a competition to make your post or website the most relevant, Voldemorting is the anti-SEO, the anti-keyword, and the anti-hashtag.”
WHY IT’S HOT:
As search algorithms have gotten smarter, and with it our increased ability to seek and find information, so to has the topic of every conversation to be traced. Voldemorting is the ultimate SEO-“dis”.
McCulloch wisely ponders, “What does it mean to be a human brain supplemented by the extended memory of internet search? This was a big question in the earlier days of the internet. Now, perhaps, we have an answer: It means that we can find things, but others can also find us. Cultural references that were once opaque are now easily cracked open for ingenious wordplay, and that same ingenious wordplay can restore a sense of local community by keeping our complaints within their intended audiences.”