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Rapidly spreading Web photo-posting phenomenon centers on felines with poor spelling


Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Computer geeks have their own niche in pop culture. Sometimes, something crazed from that niche escapes and runs rampant among the masses.

It's happened before, with the "I Kiss You" guy, Mahir Cagri (www.ikissyou.org); the "All Your Base" fad (www.allyourbasearebelongtous.com); and, more recently, the Diet Coke-and-Mentos experiments (www.eepybird.com).

Now working its way into the popular consciousness is something far more bizarre and â۠depending on your point of view and sense of humor â۠either very funny or irritatingly cutesy.

For the last few months, online regulars have been seeing on various Web sites and blogs pictures of cats and other animals in strange poses, with large type captions embedded in the photos. The grammar and syntax in the captions are atrocious by design. The pictures are called LOLcats, named after the abbreviation for "laughing out loud" used by fans of text and instant messaging.

The origin of LOLcats is murky at best. From what I can tell based on various blog posts â۠the most authoritative at LinguisticMystic.com, written by a Colorado linguistics student â۠they may have evolved from a practice called Caturday, in which cat lovers posted photos of their felines with funny captions on Saturdays.

The cat-photo fad then merged with some other geek jokes. The mangled spelling associated with texting and gaming known as leetspeak â۠teh for the, ur for your, hai for hi, 1337 for "leet" or elite, and so on â۠became part of the gag.

A line used in online strategy games such as Starcraft became a common meme. While one player is off building and acquiring supplies and weapons for a battle, his opponent sneaks into his headquarters and starts killing his virtual minions. The perpetrator gleefully declares, "I'm in ur base, killin ur d00dz."

Now there are dozens of pictures of cats on the Web with captions that take the form, "Im in ur X, Y-ing ur Z." So, a picture of a cat lying on its back in front of a window has the caption, "I'm in ur windoze, flashing ur nayberz." A menacing-looking group of cats approaching the camera has a caption that reads, "In ur yardz, starten a gang."

The best collection of LOLcats can be found at a site called I Can Has Cheezburger? (www.icanhascheezburger.com). The title comes from one of the earliest, most popular LOLcat pictures, which features a dark-gray cat that seems to grin expectantly. You can see the original by going to the site and clicking on the "First Post â۠#1" link on the right.

Time to kill

The site has hundreds of images, almost all submitted by site visitors. Some are funnier than others, as you'd expect. But don't visit it unless you have plenty of time to kill. It's a serious threat to your productivity.

It's run by two 20-something tech-industry workers who don't want their names or even their locations used. Instead, they go by handles found on the site â۠he's Cheezburger, she's Tofuburger.

"This could all go away tomorrow, and we both want to do other things in the future," he said. In other words, they don't want to be known just for a Web site that aggregates funny pictures of cats.

The site has exploded in popularity since they posted that first image in January. Originally, Cheezburger told me, it was to be "one of these sites that just has one picture on it." But Tofuburger convinced him to turn it into a blog.

Now, the site gets between 350,000 and 500,000 page views a day. Site visitors submit 300-500 LOLcat images a day, the vast majority of which aren't worth posting.

"For every 25 we get, maybe one is postable," Cheezburger said.

The flow has become unmanageable for the two of them, so they're planning on turning it into a site similar to Digg, in which submitted images are voted on, and the best move to the front page.

Not the only one

The popularity of the site has spawned others. There's LolCatBuildr at http://kscakes.com/LolCats/Default.aspx, (when last checked, site was down) which lets you upload and caption your own photos.

If you do, however, make sure you follow the informal grammatical rules. Yes, even though LOLcats' language is decidedly fractured, conventions have evolved into what legendary blogger Anil Dash has called "kitty pidgin."

Then there's LOLCODE, at www.lolcode.com, which is an attempt by software developer Adam Lindsay to create a programming language built around kitty pidgin. He's even got a few programs already on the page, including this one, which anyone who has taken a beginning course in computer science will recognize:





What makes the LOLcats phenomenon so intriguing is how fast it has evolved, and how it has grown into its own subculture, complete with conventions and subgenres. It won't be long before it's so ubiquitous that even your gramma will get the joke.

Its in ur culture, makin u LOL!!!1!

:awesome: :awesome: :awesome:

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