May 27th, 2007


On the grammar of image macros

On the grammar of image macros

Whether the language of cat macros is a pidgin, a creole, or a dialect and whether it is derived from MeowChat, B1FF, L33t, Engrish, some combination, or something else is best left for others to debate. Instead, I will here examine the rules of grammar that are generally followed in what I here term "Macran," the language used by the most successful image macros, particularly cat macros. (By "most successful" I mean the funniest or most often imitated.)

While it has been posited that the simple rule of image macro grammar is to mangle grammar as much as possible, if anything, Macran is--particularly for the funnier image macros--more regular than English in that it normalizes many of English's exceptional cases and constructions. The lack of a formally codified grammar reference has resulted in inconsistent usage--especially among the less-funny image macros--which has muddied the waters, but a general review of image macros reveals certain patterns to be common enough to be considered a coherent set of grammar rules.

General rules
1. Except where noted, Macran follows English rules of grammar and word order.
2. These rules do not apply to descriptive text (e.g. "Invisible bike", "Monorail cat", "Ceiling cat is watching you"), only to text that, like word bubbles in comics, is intended to be read as a transcription of speech or thought.
3. The fewer words (and letters) that can be used without actually omitting any, the better. (e.g. "I R watching" is preferred to "I's only looking")
4. There are exceptions to every rule. Even this one. Especially when an exception results in a funnier joke.
5. Less is more. If a joke is funny with a minimum of misspellings and grammar errors, adding in lots of each makes the joke more forced, and thus less funny. (It may also make the text significantly harder to parse, thus ruining the joke for a significant number of viewers. Making text extremely difficult to parse is a fundamental intent of L33t, but image macros are typically made with the intent of widespread dissemination and appreciation.)

1. Plurals are formed by adding -s, -es, -ies, or -ses, depending on the base word's final letters, and regardless of what the normal English plural form is. (e.g. buckets, broccolis)
2. The verbs used in gerunds are rarely prefaced with "to". (e.g. "I likes swimming" rather than "I likes to swim")

1. Reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, etc.) are not used.

1. "A" is preferred over "An", even when preceding words that begin with a vowel, though there are many exceptions.
2. Articles are often dropped, especially in longer phrases or when doing so does not significantly change the meaning of the phrase. (e.g. "I has a carrot", but "I has cheezburger")

Verbs: To be
1. "Are" is used with singular nouns in present tense constructions, though it is typically spelled "R". (e.g. "I R serious")
2. "Be" is used with plural nouns in present tense constructions. (e.g. "We be jammin")
3. "Was" is used with all nouns in past tense constructions. (e.g. "I was robbed!")

Verbs: Person
1. The 3rd person singular form of verbs (listens, has) is greatly preferred, though exceptions to this rule are especially common. (e.g. I listens, you listens, he listens, we listens, they listens, I has, you has, he has, we has, they has)

Verbs: Tense
1. Present simple (I eats, I has [in the meaning "I possess"]), Present continuous (They be eating), and Simple past (I eated) are the only tenses that are commonly used.
2. Conditional tenses are uncommon, and typically use "can" rather than "could" or "would".
3. The Present perfect tense (has eated) is rarely used.
4. The Simple future tense (will eat) is rarely used; because of its primary use in juxtaposition with pictures, Macran heavily emphasizes in-the-moment statements or references to the very recent past, thus reflecting the action in the picture.
5. Past-tense verbs are formed by adding -ed, regardless of what the normal English past-tense form is, unless the normal form normally ends with the -ed sound. (e.g. eated, made)

Verbs: Voice
1. Active voice is preferred, and is always used to describe actions performed by the speaker. (e.g. "They be taking mah bucket!")
2. Passive voice may be used to describe actions that are not performed by the speaker, though this is relatively rare. (e.g. "My bucket be taked!")

Verbs: Mood
1. The subjunctive mood ("I wish I were an Oscar Meier wiener") is not used.
2. The imperative mood is relatively uncommon, except where hunger and thus a demand for food is involved. ("Gets me mah dinner!")
3. For the interrogative mood, questions involving an auxiliary verb (can, be, do) either do not involve inverted word order ("I can has cheezburger?" rather than "Can I has a cheezburger?"), or insert an extra auxiliary verb--typically a form of "be"--to be used for the inversion. ("Is it can be hugs tiem now?" rather than either "It can be hugs tiem now?" or "Can it be hugs tiem now?")

1. All adjectives are intensified into comparative and superlative forms with -er (or -ier) and -est (or iest), regardless of what their normal comparative and superlative forms are.
2. More and most are not used, or are only rarely used.

1. Simplified phonetic spelling is common, but far from universal. It is generally used for longer words and is generally not used when it would overly obscure the original word or would cause the phrase to read more like Southern or urban dialect.
2. Simplified spellings from IM and phone text messages are common, but are not required (e.g. PLZ for please, SRSLY for seriously, LOL, BRB, etc.)
3. Silent e is dropped, or is moved to be before the final consonant. (e.g. time becomes tiem)
4. When a silent e is moved in this way, the vowels may be altered in the process to something more phonetic (e.g. more becomes moar rather than moer)
5. Diphthongs that are normally written with a single vowel may have another vowel inserted to be more visually phonetic. (e.g. hi becomes hai)
6. Long a is usually written as ay.
7. When a word is normally spelled with an s but the consonant is pronounced as a z, it is instead spelled with a z. (e.g. please becomes pleez)
8. Are is usually spelled R. "R" is always capitalized.
9. For gerunds, -ing is changed to -in or -en, whichever is phonetically closer.
10. "Help" is spelled "halp."
11. Th- is often replaced by d-, (e.g. the becomes da, that becomes dat, there becomes dere)
12. "My" is spelled "mah."
13. "Kitty" is spelled "kitteh."
14. "You" is spelled U. "Your" is spelled UR. Both U and UR are always capitalized.
15. "Oh no" is spelled "Oh noes."
16. "Yay" is spelled "Yayez."

Feudalism: Serf & Turf