Why do people sometimes write “wen” instead of “when”?

In the most recent episode of podcast Because Language, presenter and linguist Daniel Midgley tells us about some interesting Internet English he has observed. It is about the placement of the word “when”, sometimes spelled as “wen”.

Here are some examples:

(I apologise for all the examples being on Reddit, Daniel Midgley did name some other sources, but I have not been able to find those. Reddit was easiest to find examples on.)

Why grammar weird?

This is what Daniel Midgley says about it in the episode:

This one is interesting grammatically because usually you have a sentence like “When does the market open?”. So that’s “when”, then an auxiliary verb, and then whatever. But lately “when” or “wen” is getting stuck on just a predicate or a noun phrase. So “Wen market open?” or “Market open wen?”. I think this is interesting because it is kind of doing what “because” was doing when we started sticking it on to noun phrases “because racecar” and “because language”.’ [Which the podcast is named after. There is also a really good book called “Because Internet” about Internet English.]

Fellow presenter Ben Ainslie noted it reminded him of I can haz cheeseburger or LOLcat language.

So why do people sometimes write “wen” instead of “when”?

This is an internet trend, meme, or slang, whatever you want to call it. People are using this kind of language to show that they are part of the community. Not only the spelling, but the grammatical structure is shorthand for “I am part of this gang”.

Nothing wrong with that, it is how language works 🙂

Because Language is a great podcast

If you like linguistics, and if you like the kind of podcasts where two or three hosts banter about a subject you like and it kind of feels like listening to your friends, then this is the podcast for you. It is one of the best banter-podcasts on linguistics out there (and there are a few, actually!). The hosts are funny, but they also know their stuff. Give it a listen!

Heddwen Newton is an English teacher and translator. She is fascinated by contemporary English and the way English changes. Her newsletter is English in Progress. 1100 subscribers and growing every day!

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