‘Lolcats’ toy with language

Do you speak Kitteh?

By RAQUEL MARIA DILLON for ASAP (AP’s now defunct multimedia service)

LOS ANGELES (AP) _It looks like the inspirational posters found in a guidance counselor’s office — a Siamese kitten playing with balls of colorful yarn. Then there’s the caption: “I’m in ur fizx lab, testn ur string therry.”

Lolcats — deceptively simple photos of cats with absurd captions — are cute and fluffy. And that’s all they’d be, if they didn’t talk so funny.

The captions adhere to a strict grammar of “kitty pidgin,” an amalgam of texting acronyms, poorly translated movie subtitles and leet speak, or hacker lingo. Proper lolcat features consistent misspellingz, subjects and verbs that disagrees and lotsa typos.

The “meme,” or an idea that propagates through culture, is so popular that the exhaustive lolcats library gets almost 200,000 unique visitors per month.

If you’re a cat person or not, “there’s something about the personality of domestic cats,” said Anil Dash, an executive at the blogging software company SixApart, and a cat owner.

In a definitive blog posting, Dash identified the main genres of lolcats, including the classic construction: “I’m in your X, Y-ing your Z.” (For example, a cat lounging in a bathroom basin with a languid look says: “I in yur sink/Soakin mah pads.”) That approach was featured in an early collection of naughty kitty photos.

Most lolcats are simply cats looking quizzical or bored or ecstatic, like the original, “I can has cheezburger?” which inspired the two founders of icanhascheezburger.com.

“I fell in love with the picture,” said the site’s administrator, whose nom de blog is Cheezburger. “We’re just tagging and compiling and providing a forum for interaction.”

As to where the original cheezburger cat came from, no one knows. It has passed through so many inboxes that its original captioner is lost.

“Some people believe they created the meme, but after it’s born it’s pretty pretentious to say that,” said Cheezburger, a 26-year-old computer programmer from Honolulu, Hawaii, in real life. “You can’t take it back.”

Initially, the site collected lolcats from other Web sites. Now lolfans email hundreds of captioned photos each day, creating a backlog of 5,000 submissions. Only the funny ones are included on the blog.

“It is fill-in-the-blank humor,” said Dash, who believes the flexibility of the lolcat contributes to its popularity.

The formula is simple: cute animals, goofy speech patterns and insider jokes. Mark Mangano, a blogger and IT professional from New Jersey, applied that formula to his user blog about Salesforce.com software.

Instead of a routine outage notice, he used a cat photo that his sister snapped while on vacation to make a lolcat with the outage details.

“I made it so I can be part of a meme that’s floating around the Web,” Mangano said. “I didn’t want to miss out this time, now that I actually have a blog that people read.”

Similarly, 24-year-old Jamin Blount, of Allen, Texas, snapped a photo after his cat Newo collided with a coffee table and broke its leg. With a snappy caption, Newo, his haunches shaved clean became a lolcat.

“I’m not really trying to make fun of the poor guy,” Blount wrote on his blog. “Lord knows he’s probably been through a lot of pain and stress in the last few days. I’m just lightening up the tone of this post a little bit.”

Lolcat creators don’t need expensive photo editing software. They can use The Lolcat Builder to upload a photo, or give voice to the thousands of silly cat photos floating around the Internet by adding a caption. Anyone with a computer can participate, making lolcats a true Web 2.0 phenomenon.

Lolcats have spawned the lolrus (for photos of walruses), lolbrarians, and lolpresidents.

Lolcats reference everything from StarWars to Roomba vacuum cleaners. Some are topical and timely. A photo lifted from Google Maps Street Views of a lolcat staring out a window of a house refers to the privacy concerns surrounding that new feature.

That strong connection to Internet geek culture is evident in Cheezburger’s plans for his wildly successful blog. He swears he’ll never sell out or go commercial.

“We run the site but anyone could step in and run it,” said Cheezburger, who is Eric Nakagawa in real life. “We have a brand and we manage the image. Once you become commercial, your site is worthless. Once you sell out your meme, it loses its value.”

His blog quickly became the go-to site for getting a kitty fix and he now tends to the blog full-time. Now Icanhascheezburger.com gets the most traffic of all WordPress’ blogs and recently ranked 33rd on Technorati’s list of Top 100 blogs.

The site gets 500,000 page views daily and about 192,000 hits per month, according to comScore, which measures traffic.

Cheezburger doesn’t waste any time wondering why a collection of cat photos is getting hundreds of thousands of hits — he’s just riding the wave of popularity.

“It’s hard to explain, but this is what the Internet is,” said Cheezburger.


asap contributor Raquel Maria Dillon is an AP reporter based in Los Angeles.