Navigating Distress Through Use of Memes, Gifs and Shorthand Phrases

Author: Roxanne Mathobie (North West University, South Africa)
Speaker: Roxanne Mathobie
Topic: Ethnographical Language Work
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Shorthand phrases and meme culture have become rampant among university students when expressing their experiences in institutional spaces. This thesis explores the use of such phrases and memes among students as they navigate the various pressure and stressors of being undergraduate students during the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on the findings of this fieldwork I argue that the use of memes and phrases are central to students coping in this space as it allows for light humor and joking around often tense and stressful circumstance. This use of humor offers up a release that while not changing the circumstance at hand allows for a suspension of tension just enough to allow students to keep going (pushing and working) through the semester. Aside from being useful as a release and breath through the tense time, the use of sociolinguistic tools such as memes and shorthand phrases has also allowed for the creation of space and community online during a time when many students have been isolated and physically distanced, unable to create new friendships. Overall, this research has found that between the nine participants use of memes and phrases such as ‘in the pits’ allows for a distancing of the emotions and personal from the stressful circumstances phased, leaving enough room for light sharing that does not cost the user or listener further strain.

Keywords: memes, jokes, gifs, coping, humour, stress