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Information density in language and memes

One of the most fascinating things about language to me is that words can both create meaning and contain meaning. Sometimes both.

A sentence of words can describe something like: a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood (coming of age), in which character change is important.

Or you could use a single word: Bildungsroman.

The German language is somewhat famous for packing a relatively large amount of context and cultural implications into single words.

In English, we don't often use larger compound words like this (is there a term of them?), though like Bildungsroman, they sometimes find their way into our common lexicon.

And words do contain inherent power. Take syllogistic logic for example.

It's clear that "[the] validity of the argument is determined solely by the logical structure. The logical words — “all,” “is,” are,” and “therefore” — are doing all the work." - cdixon.org

Information density

Memes — from memetic — are also powerful in this sense. New meme formats are created every day from random cultural artifacts like photos or even poetry. People layer on meaning by adding words, and even mashing up multiple meme formats into new images or wordplay entirely.

Someone who's unfamiliar with the core meme, its consituent parts, and its evolution over time, may not fully grasp the depths of meaning contained in these "compound" memes. [I'll find a good example of this and add it here sometime.]

Slang does the same thing.

From "Baby Boomers", we now have "Zoomers" — Gen-Z, raised as fast-paced tech-natives — and increasingly I see more references to "Doomers", who are people from multiple generations who are pessimistic about the world's future.

It would seem that platforms like Tiktok are pushing language and units of cultural exchange forward faster than ever before. No cap. A lot of people dismiss movements like this, but I think it's important to keep up.

Language and memes are culture. Culture influences how we communicate and think as a society.

Innate power

Being able to convey meaning in a few choice words, or a single image, is truly powerful. The information density can be so high. There's probably a ceiling there: words and images can only contain so many bits of data. However, there's room for infinite variation within those confines.

Learning new words and phrases, or new modes like memes, not only increases velocity of communication, but also thought. Being able to conceptualize more with less is an incredibly useful thing.



‘lol’ and ‘lmao’ are actually both punctuation marks — @raunchonpizza


Also, interestingly enough, English is on the high end of information density. It'd be interesting to research about how density of language and pace of speech influence a society's evolution.


Was chatting with a friend about sorites paradox, which reminded me a bit of Zeno's paradoxes, especially the arrow and tortoise/hare.

Merely by knowing what the "sorites paradox" is means we can skip steps and talk about abstract concepts through the lens of those two words. Pretty neat.


Just had an even headier thought: if we continue to increase information density intra-word, it follows that information density can increase inter-word. With more dense meaning, we can fit more information in our collective and personal memory.