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ERMAHGERD: a phonological analysis

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.


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 ba
t > BERT
ɛ as in bed > BERD
ɪ as in made > MERD
ɪ as in bit > BERT
ː as in beat > BERT
ɔː as in bought > BERGHT
ʊ as in boat > BERT
ʊ as in full or foot > FERT
ː 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:!/translate High fives to the person/s who made this online tool. This is truly what makes the internet great.

  1. phoneticfun reblogged this from superlinguo
  2. theawkwardesturtle reblogged this from allthingslinguistic
  3. englishlanguagelaboratory reblogged this from superlinguo
  4. kaihawk reblogged this from superlinguo and added:
    Science in the service of dorkiness is a fine thing.
  5. elsi reblogged this from superlinguo
  6. saraconcoco reblogged this from superlinguo
  7. apissolaris reblogged this from allthingslinguistic
  8. meeplesforthewin reblogged this from superlinguo
  9. multifunctionomical reblogged this from allthingslinguistic and added:
    I don’t think I should be so proud that non-rhotic languages understand this meme more than rhotic languages.
  10. roofasa reblogged this from superlinguo
  11. rattiepuff reblogged this from allthingslinguistic
  12. plaidandaromaticity reblogged this from allthingslinguistic and added:
    I just love the title of this so much.
  13. allthingslinguistic reblogged this from superlinguo and added:
    Although it continues...non-rhotic dialects where “er” actually does
  14. taylorhaza reblogged this from superlinguo and added:
    And there it is.
  15. mapsofmymind reblogged this from superlinguo and added:
    asdfghjkl perfect
  16. handiangel reblogged this from superlinguo
  17. iknowyouwillbehappyhere reblogged this from superlinguo
  18. fullquieting reblogged this from indefensible and added:
    And I just like to reblog cool stuff.
  19. the-fairy-cake reblogged this from superlinguo
  20. lobotronic reblogged this from superlinguo
  21. fuckyeahmylanguage reblogged this from superlinguo
  22. perfidiousverisimilitude reblogged this from superlinguo and added:
    I will always reblog stuff like this. I’m sure my friends think Tumblr is all about Sherlock fangirling, but I follow...
  23. spahrtacus reblogged this from superlinguo
  24. andwhenithappens reblogged this from superlinguo and added:
    ping everyone I have ever ermahgerded IRL.