Why DoggoLingo is used in Dogspotting (Dogspotting Capstone Project Recap, 1/2)

My capstone project is about DoggoLingo and Dogspotting Facebook group management. I got an A-, which feels like winning the lottery because I don’t think I deserve an A; but then there’s a minus, which made it feel like getting the lottery money then realising the money is stacks of used banknotes. But it is still like winning a lottery nonetheless.

Before sharing my research results, I must say thanks to the following lovely people (if you are not interested please scroll down):
My capstone project advisor Professor Carmen Lee, who told me to work on Dogspotting instead of other topics after I explained to her about the group looking like I was possessed (#we are not a cult);
Dogspotter and Linguistics major Alma Perez Verdugo, who reached out to me immediately after I posted the Dogspotting survey. She told me about memetics and made me realised that I should be even more excited about this topic than I should be, because DoggoLingo is part of a never-seen-before linguistics phenomenon made possible only because of the Internet. She suggested me to read The World Made Meme, and without reading the book the whole essay could not have possibly be written;
My biatch number 1 Pinky Lui, who helped me get my shit together and proofread my essay;
Dogspotting moderators and administrators Jeff Wallen, Reid Paskiewicz, Coco Thorpe, and Molly Bloomfield, who let me post my survey in the group and answered all of my questions about Dogspotting history and group management, (especially Reid, who gave me motivation to get a good grade):

And finally, to all the wonderful Dogspotters, especially those who answered my questionnaires, for creating and contributing to such a wonderful and uplifting online community.

Some notes on formatting before we start: 
If something is underlined, it is a link.
If something is highlighted with the words “Shirley Lee responded” at the side, it is a random side note.

Ok. So here we go.

What is Dogspotting, and why is it worth researching?

On Facebook, there is a really cool group called Dogspotting. It’s cool because a) dogs, b) dogs being spotted is treated as serious sport, c) group moderators and (most) members are excellent, and d) spotters are using a special English language variety to talk about their spots. No one has ever received formal education on how to use this language variety, but most members (of 102 nationalities all using English to talk about the dogs they see!) seem to know how to use it.

On 25 July 2016, Dogspotter Joey Faulkner posted his Dogspotting data in the group. In the comments, I asked the moderators if I can study the language variety used in Dogspotting. A dogspotter (who is an admin!) replied,

As the admin most perturbed by the “lingo” that ever threatens to memify our fair sport, I wholeheartedly endorse this research in the hops that it will lead to a cure!

Two conclusions can be made from this quote: 
a) not all the members like this special language variety; and 
b) members (at least an admin)identify this language as a “meme language”. 
I have been active on 9gag and tumblr for more than 9 years, and I did not make the association between memes and this language variety until this point. Time to figure out why.

The Story of Memes

From Wikipedia.

This is biologist Richard Dawkins.

In 1976, Richard Dawkins wrote a book about genes called The Selfish Genes. After talking about the real science stuff about evolution and genes, Dawkins reckoned that writing a food for thought unrelated to biology would be pretty cool. So he made up the word “meme” from the Greek word mimema, which means “something that is imitated”. Dawkins defined memes as ideas that are spread like genes. Dawkins says memes spread in a “highly deterministic” way, meaning that these ideas replicate themselves and spread without a particularly good reason. Religion is a meme. Fashion trends are memes. Susan Blackmore, a meme scholar, said that hotel toilet paper folding is a meme. At this point, the concept of meme serves an explanation how ideas are transmitted.

And then, it gets interesting — people discovered that some jokes are spread and transmitted like memes. And then it gets even more interesting — people discovered that these ideas are funny (or at least pleasant) because the ideas are spread memetically. Now we are getting closer to the so-called Internet memes. But ideas like these occur way before there’s Internet. Here’s an example:

If you have been around the U.S., you might have seen this graffiti in many places:

No one knows exactly what “Kilroy was here” means. Who is Kilroy? Why does he need to announce his presence? Why is it always scribbled with a little man with a long nose looking over the wall? Every person who drew this may not know the story, but they all know that it is a graffiti thing. This graffiti was the most popular during WWII. No Internet back then. But “Kilroy was here” was copied so many times that it is recognised even nowadays. But why do people scribble so many times in so many places? Here are some possible reasons:

  1. It attracts attention because it doesn’t make sense. The whole graffiti made your brain asks the list of questions above. The first time you see this, you may dismiss it as a random scribble; the second time it starts to get your attention. Then, as you see it more often, you may think about it and talk to other people about it. This results in active engagement.
  2. It is scribbled all over the place because it is easy to copy. “Kilroy was here” is a catchy tagline; drawing a guy with a long nose do not require much artistic talent. People draw the whole thing because they can.
  3. All the people who scribbled this on walls now have one thing in common: they all know that “Kilroy is here” is a cool thing. They may not know each other, but they are all connected by this thing. Humans crave connection, and that’s why the fact that knowing “Kilroy is here” was cool among the group. To put it academically, an imagined community of Kilroy scribblers are formed. Kilroy is now their “inside joke”.

From the example of Kilroy, we can understand that why some ideas that seems boring at the first glance may become a funny thing at last. Here we can say,

People spread a random idea because a) it is easy to spread and b) it makes them feel special (or at least good). The idea is encouraged to spread like a meme, and this makes it a meme.

And things like these spread crazily with the help of the Internet.

The Story of Internet Memes

Internet memes can be more easily studied because most of the things are recorded and can be traced.

One of the earliest instance that memetics was used to explain how the Internet spread ideas is Godwin’s Law. Mike Godwin, American attorney and author, who has been also an avid user of the Bulletin Board System, decided to lay down the Godwin’s Law repeatedly on online posts that compare things to Nazis, in order to stop people from comparing everything to Nazis. According to Godwin, it worked.

Then, the word “meme” seems to be used to refer to some of the recurring Internet jokes. Limor Shifman, who wrote Memes in Digital Culture defines memes as online content that 
a) share similar content, form, and stances;
b) were created with awareness of each other; and 
c) were circulated on the Internet by many users.

No one knows for sure when people start to use the word “meme” to refer to Internet jokes. Whitney Phillips, who wrote an Internet Troll book, said that memes probably originated from 4chan, a site where most of the Internet trolls frequent. In fact, not many people know about memes either. When Ryan M. Milner presented his PhD dissertation proposal on Internet memes in 2010, his dean said to him, “with most candidates I have some ideas what they’re talking about; I have no idea what you are talking about.” Poor Milner.

But we are quite sure the reasons why Internet spread memes faster and better:

  1. Internet memes are much more easier to create and spread compared to offline memes like “Kilroy was here”, because technology. Image macro memes can be quickly created with online meme generators; way more people see and read memes on sites like tumblr, reddit, and 9gag; images and messages can be captured, copied, sent, uploaded within a second because, well, Internet.
  2. Here’s something that should be new to you: recent Internet spread information based on “attention economy”, which means things that garnered attention would be rewarded with attention or even money. Think Facebook algorithms, Reddit upvotes, Tumblr reblogs: the more people pay attention to it, the more it spread. YouTubers make their living with video views, and many people would love to watch them spooning cinnamon powder into their mouths and choking. Internet content creators know that if they include create stuff related to the current online memes, more people will watch it. As they create new content related to a meme, the meme is spread even further.
  3. While trying to get attention with memes, Internet communities also ask its content creators to stay creative in order to gain attention. If the meme is just a copy, nobody would read it. However, if you add something of your own to a meme, people will find it creative and like it. Some people may mix several memes together, just to stay original. Shifman called the craft of being original while using memes “networked individualism”. This is why Internet memes stay fresh and entertaining.

After we cleared all that up, we can finally understand how DoggoLingo entered and developed in Dogspotting.

The Story of DoggoLingo

I think that most of the Dogspotters are familiar with DoggoLingo. I used 3 pages of information to explain the language features to my advisor, but I don’t think I need to do that for you guys. Here’s a screenshot of that part of the essay to prove that I laughed for 3 hours straight while figuring out how to explain these words:

But something that we all want to know is where DoggoLingo comes from. That’s why I put up a survey on Dogspotting to get some information on DoggoLingo during the last week of November. I got a hecking total of 6212 responses. Let’s see where members first see these words:

And how many members have used them in the group:

Seems like the Internet is the right place to look. But nearly half of the responses say they see the words in the Dogspotting groups (Dogspotting, Cool Dog Group, and more recently, Dogspotting Society) for the first time. We need to explain why some members use DoggoLingo after seeing them in Dogspotting groups as well.

After checking, it seems that DoggoLingo is the remix of these Internet meme trends:

  1. Animals saying imaginary bad English. The most famous example being LOLcats, and the catchphrase “I can haz cheezburger?” is the most popular. The language variety used for this is now called lolspeak. The Internet loves funny cat pictures, and Cheezburger Network, the company which hosts lolcats.com and Know Your Meme, is said to be making $4 million every year. I should have discovered memes earlier.
Examples of LOLcats image.

2. Intentionally spelling animal words wrong. An understandable development after LOLcats. The idea of animals speaking bad English is very funny and should be popular. As a result, “dog” is intentionally misspelled as “doge”, and the “Doge” meme was born.

The first Doge image macros, according to Wikipedia

Other than dogs, reddit thread /r/anmals also make use of this idea to create funny posts. A duck is called a “durk”, and a snake is called a “snek”.

3. Interior monologue captioning is mixed with the idea of animals speaking bad English. Animal pictures with the animal’s dialogue in Comic Sans floating around ensue. “Doge” is the result of this mixture. But wait, there’s more variations:

I am not lying when I say I am proud of this project

The word “doggo” is, surprisingly, created in Facebook, to make fun of people who are serious about the “Doge” meme. Facebook page Ding de la Doggo was created in 2014 for this purpose. The word “doggo” is now made popular for denoting the meaning of dog. “Doggo” memes become a trend separated from “Doge” memes when it is circulated back to reddit.

Doggo memes.

And in the “Doggo” memes, we finally see the features of DoggoLingo. However, DoggoLingo is still a unique language variety in Dogspotting because in the Dogspotting group, these language features are used not to imagine what the dogs are saying, but to describe the dogs members spot.

After learning about the history of DoggoLingo on the Internet, we have to come back to the group itself. Why do most members who see this language variety use it in the Facebook group? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Attention economy. DoggoLingo is a meme in the group. People notice that if a spot has more DoggoLingo, it will have more views/likes/points. So they follow suit.
  2. We are already speaking DoggoLingo in real life. Yep. Think about it. Before you joined this group, when you saw a dog, you may say “Hello Doggie!” or similar. As mentioned by an Dogspotter interviewee who saw the words for the first time in the groups,
“I actually thought I found a group of people who speak my language . Not that I say the exact same words, but similar. Like ‘doggie’.”

There are two reasonable explanations why we speak a dumbed-down version of language to animals (similar to why we do baby talk (or caretaker speech) to babies): 
a) We do baby talk because babies can only distinguish words when they are pronounced slowly and repetitively, or spoken with an easy version of English. Dogs also understand commands and names with fewer syllables better. This habit of speaking an easy version of our languages to little humans or animals we take care of become so deeply rooted in our culture that, if we see a cute living thing, we will babytalk to them.
b) We do baby talk to signify to other adults that we understand the babies or animals will not completely understand what we are saying, and that we are talking to them mostly to express our affection. If we discuss philosophy and politics with babies and dogs with profound English grammar, we would look like huge idiots to other adult human beings.

We can now see that the common habit of baby talking to animals makes DoggoLingo acceptable. Whitney Phillips says throughout her troll book and in someone else’s meme book that Internet memes usually become popular because they “line up with an already-established set of linguistic and cultural norms”.

3. Because DoggoLingo is a unique language variety used in Dogspotting, using DoggoLingo in the group tells other members that you have hanged around the group long enough to know what is going on. Using DoggoLingo tells other people you belong to the group. Out of 6212 respondents, 4792 of them strongly agree or agree (77%) that DoggoLingo “helps build their identity as a Dogspotter”.

It seems that the story of DoggoLingo was all fun and games, rainbow sprinkles and heaven. Except it was not, and to explain that we will need to go to part 2 to explain the story of DoggoLingo in Dogspotting.

If you like this article, please click on the heart thing at the bottom to recommend it to other Medium readers. You can also share this article to other Dogspotters and your friends! The absolute best thing you can do is to follow me on Medium. I will probably do an article on microwaving eggs because it was another essay I have written last semester (what a wild ride).