We’ve been watching the ERMAHGERD meme evolve for a while now at Superlinguo, because we are very much into anything that involves language play and word transformation. And because its humour hasn’t worn off yet.
I mean LOOK AT THIS:
We thought we’d see if we could pull together some “rules” for how to spell in ERMAHGERD, to document its “grammar” (in inverted commas to acknowledge that it’s not a complete grammar, in the strict sense).
You might remember my fellow Superlinguist Lauren’s and her colleague Jill’s work deconstructing the way LOLspeak works and its use in online identity creation. They looked at language play and how a set of agreed rules, a “grammar” had been constructed and extended within the LOLcats paradigm.
ERMAHGERD has some similar hallmarks it would seem, though it’s a simpler cultural product because it’s really just about spelling words differently, according to the conventions co-created online, to create humour.
Expounding on this meme has created a longer post than usual - read on if you’re keen!
Based on our observations, here are some guidelines to getting your ERMAHGERD translations sorted, to elicit maximum lulz from your online buddies:
- The written representations of the vowels in a word are changed to represent a centralised vowel, the “ER” “EH” or sometimes “AH”. These spellings generally correlate to the schwa (ə) sound which we all know and love, the unstressed and toneless vowel sound you hear at the end of sofa (like an “uh”). e.g. father > FERTHER
- It really is about the vowels. No need to change any consonants in your spelling, generally speaking. Though, we do note that double consonants are usually reduced to just one of their pair e.g. happiness > HERPERNERS
- Diphthongs (two vowel sounds in a row) are reduced to one e.g. material > MERTERERL
- Looking at the vowels we commonly hear in English, here’s how we’d translate them:
ɑː as in father > FERTHER
ɒ as in doll > DERL
æ as in bat > BERT
ɛ as in bed > BERD
eɪ as in made > MERD
ɪ as in bit > BERT
iː as in beat > BERT
ɔː as in bought > BERGHT
oʊ as in boat > BERT
ʊ as in full or foot > FERT
uː as in boot > BERT
ʌ as in mud > MERD
It’s interesting to look at this list and note how translation produces many identical spellings when changing into ERMAHGERD, e.g boat, boot, beat and bit all become BERT. For my money, herein lies the humour. At first glance, the words are tricky to decipher as they all look similar. But it’s when we see the image they are pasted onto and you register this context in your head, their original source words are revealed and hilarity ensues.
Have you been hearing people speaking ERMAHGERD out loud? We have. The same way that you hear people say “lol” out loud, we’re hearing people say “ermahgerd” IRL, and we say YES to this offline appropriation! All the vowel sounds are centralised and the mouth is somewhat closed, approximating the restricted movement of a kid struggling to speak with their retainer or braces, the character created in the original GERSBERMS image from which all this fun spawned.
If you’re not really up for the hard yakka of doing your own adaptations, an online ERMAHGERD TRANSLATOR has been created, which does a lot of the work for us: http://ermahgerd.jmillerdesign.com/#!/translate High fives to the person/s who made this online tool. This is truly what makes the internet great.