One thing that’s sometimes characterized as being unique to the web is how quickly new slang can now travel to geographically disparate places. In reality, language’s geographic transmission has accelerated, but it’s a speeding-up process that’s been under way since long before the internet. Julie Coleman, author of The Life of Slang gives the examples of “ragtime”—which was first used in U.S. newspapers in 1896, but took 17 years to show up in British newspapers—compared with “jazz,” which appeared in the United States press in 1915 and was found in Britain papers just four years later. By the late 1990s, new words were transmitted from the U.S. to the U.K. in a matter of months. “More recently, because of social media, words are moving around the world almost instantaneously,” she said in a YouTube video. “It’s not necessarily that language is changing more quickly, but the transmission technologies have developed.”
At the same time, real-time communication offers the potential for linguistic debate on a scale and timeframe that wasn’t previously possible—which may have some effect on how different pronunciations fall in and out of favor. But, mostly, the internet confirms for us that even when you can’t settle the question of what usage is “proper,” you can be sure it will continue to change.