The term “goblin mode” started out as a joke. A photo-edited headline falsely claimed actress Julia Fox had split from her ex Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, because he didn’t like it when she went into ‘goblin mode’ .
“Julia Fox opened up about her ‘difficult’ relationship with Kanye West: ‘He didn’t like it when I went goblin mode’,” read the fake headline, shared on Twitter by user @meowmeowmeuw on Feb. 15. . The image also appeared on Reddit around this time.
Goblin mode, which refers to someone who is generally messy, probably showerless, and acting “wild” due to laziness or an aversion to the outdoors, has been used for years on sites like Tumblr and Urban. Dictionary. But the recent Fox meme has given the term new momentum online.
This cycle of a joke term entering the vernacular of the Internet and, at times, making the leap into offline vocabulary has become more common. New terms, like “cheugy”, are accidentally coined all the time on social media – whether the word is used seriously or as satire.
Some experts say this happens because words that attach language to something that had no expression before have the potential to gain traction.
“If you use a word and people see that it captures so precisely and succinctly the feeling of a moment or a feeling or a style, then that expression really takes on power and it’s really easy to s ‘hang on to it,’ Kristen Syrett, an associate professor of linguistics at Rutgers University, said.
Social networks are a breeding ground for new words
On Urban Dictionary, an early entry for goblin mode defines it as a term for when a person becomes lost and resorts to becoming a goblin. Some entries describe the term as meaning someone who has become mischievous and goblin-like, while other more raunchy entries define it as a sexual act.
The term has also been widely interpreted as a way to describe someone who is careless, neglectful, and lazy. While some see it as a harmless way to describe a messy phase, some have suggested the phrase is offensive. One argument is that some people who live with mental health issues or have disabilities live in “goblin mode” not by choice but rather because of circumstance.
The broad definition of the term likely stems from the fact that the Fox meme was a gag that offered no specific definition of what goblin mode meant, leaving it open to interpretation. The vague nature of the phrase, into which people might insert their own definition, is just one of the ways social media can give rise to a new term.
Young people have always been a major driver of language change, Syrett said, but social media has been like gasoline on a flame.
“What we see in online communication is a younger generation who have taken over this medium because it is a way for them to express themselves quickly in a way that is not defined for them,” Syrett said.
Memes also frequently invent terminology that is part of our regular vocabulary. In addition to goblin mode and cheugy, the “OK boomer” insult is a product of memes and the internet.
These phrases defined the indefinable, which might explain why goblin mode became common, Syrett said.
Once you have a word for something, it can be shared. It becomes reality.
Shane Tilton, author of “meme life”
“The fact that you can have a term like goblin mode and have an image that captures that so perfectly…it just captures it in a way that [feels like] “I can’t define it, but it is what it is,” Syrett said.
Although memes are generally meant to be nothing more than jokes, the style of communication can sometimes express an abstract feeling that no existing word articulates. So when a meme accidentally uses a word that associates vocabulary with a feeling, it spreads quickly.
“Once you have a word for something, it can be shared. It becomes reality,” said Shane Tilton, associate professor of writing and multimedia studies at Ohio Northern University and author of “Meme Life.” . “It was abstract, and you made it real.”
Will terms created on the Internet stay in place?
Although these phrases can spread quickly on social media, Syrett said the real test is their stamina. Many words disappear or are relegated to a certain time period or niche group on the internet, and they won’t always stand the test of time.
Syrett recalled a debate that members of the American Dialect Society had focused on this very issue. When selecting a word that would define 2021, some members suggested that cheugy best sums up the year, while others were furious at the suggestion.
“There was this really dichotomous reaction about this particular word, which was, is it really a word that people are using, or is it being used in a way that won’t allow it to be productive at- beyond the next year or two?” she says.
Tilton argued that a phrase like goblin mode, which can apply to many situations in a person’s life and can offer a way to describe a feeling or situation that previously had few descriptors, could have more longevity than some might expect.
However, he said it’s likely that this specific phrase will have cycles, fading in and out of the vernacular.
Language, he says, “goes as fast and as slow as we can explain our experiences.”