Charting Ripples: 
The Status of Two Neologisms 
in Electronic Discourse

by Louie Crew

First appeared in Integrity/Austin News 7.3 (November 1992): 2-3.

© 1992 by Integrity/Austin News; © 2004 by Louie Crew

I calculated the incidence of the neologisms lesgay and lesbigay as they appeared in messages posted soc.motss, soc.bi, and gaynet for the eight days from the afternoon December 27, 1991 through afternoon of January 4, 1992.

gay appeared 2.14 times per thousand words
lesbian appeared .96 times per thousand words
homosexual appeared .79 times per thousand words
lesbigay appeared .26 times per thousand words
lesgay appeared .11 times per thousand words
The same relative frequencies showed up when I calculated the instance in terms of per cent of messages in which each term appeared:
gay appeared in 25 per cent of the messages
lesbian appeared in 11 per cent of the messages
homosexual appeared in 8 per cent of the messages
lesbigay appeared in 3 per cent of the messages
lesgay appeared in 1 per cent of the messages
The instance of each of these five words shifted from forum to forum:

gay appeared in 70 percent of the messages on gaynet

in 24 percent of the messages on soc.motss
in 19 percent of the messages on soc.bi
It is understandable that bisexuals have other nouns vying for their attention. lesbian appeared in 70 percent of the messages on gaynet
in 10 percent of the messages on soc.motss
in 10 percent of the messages on soc.bi
homosexual appeared in 50 percent of the messages on gaynet
in 8 percent of the messages on soc.motss
in 5 percent of the messages on soc.bi
lesbigay appeared in 35 percent of the messages on gaynet
in 5 percent of the messages on soc.motss
in 1 percent of the messages on soc.bi
lesgay appeared in 7 percent of the messages on soc.bi
and in none of the messages on gaynet or soc.motss
Soc.motss, normally much more active than the other two groups, manifested that same distinction in the traffic for these 8 days:
                        msgs    lines   words     bytes


             soc.motss 679     28,905  178,510  1,280,396
             soc.bi    105      4,672   30,388    213,177
             gaynet     20      4,206   28,931    187,635
                      ====================================
                        804    37,783  237,829  1,681,208

I did not count instances of the five words when they appeared in headers or in signature files, but I did include headers and signature files I calculated the size of each corpus.

Commentary

What does it mean to say that lesbigay appeared .26 times per thousand words or that lesgay appeared .11 times per thousand words. Recently I compared the incidence of 'whom' in e-mail by college English professors with the incidence of 'whom' in e-mail by entry level students in a developmental writing course. 'Whom' appeared .1857 times per thousand words in the college professor's e- mail -- .08 per thousand less frequently that lesbigay showed up in these three lesbigay electronic discourse communities. 'Whom' appeared only .09 per thousand in the e-mail of the developmental students, i.e. .02 per thousand less that lesgay occurred in the discourse of these three lesbigay electronic discourse communities. Some argue that 'whom' is on its way out of the working vocabulary of those in the USA who use English. College professors use it less frequently than lesbigay appeared on these three electronic lists. Is lesbigay on its way into the language of people on these lists?

The corpus which I used in calculating the incidence of 'whom' was much larger than the one which I had available when I calculated the incidence of lesgay and lesbigay:

The 'whom' corpus

           Professors' email        371,518 words
           Students' email           44,407 words
                                    -------
                                    415,925 total
The 'lesgay/lesbigay' corpus: 237,829 words

Limitations

This is an interim report. The sample is not a large enough to clarify the status of these neologisms for these electronic discourse communities. Since the terms first surfaceed on these electronic networks, it is beyond the scope of any study of these groups to determine the status of these words in other discourse communities where people here may or may not use them.

Academia supplies most of the participants on these networks, and many academics were not online during this holiday period.


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