HULK HAS SAY

Forget Ashton Kutcher and Kanye West: The newest Twitter celebrity is bright green, heavily muscled, and often described as “incredible” despite his anger-management problem…The Incredible Hulk.

At first glance, Hulk may not be the most obvious comic book character to make a splash on Twitter. Batman and Wolverine are far cooler, and Spidey and Flash much more glib; by contrast, the Hulk seems uncommunicative and inarticulate: This is, after all, a character whose trademark phrase is “HULK SMASH!”

But the Hulk’s style — let’s call it Hulkspeak — is to talk in short bursts, in statements with a simple grammatical structure — so simple, in fact, that he only uses present-tense verbs and avoids first-person pronouns. Hulk often leaves out words that would otherwise be expected (especially the, an, and a) and eschews conventional capitalization, preferring to smash the caps lock key (and keep it smashed).

Short simple structures, use of ellipsis, and nonstandard capitalization: These are the very same characteristics that researchers have found to be typical of text messages, making Hulk a great fit for Twitter’s 140-character limit. (Granted, Hulk doesn’t go in much for abbreviations, but, then again, abbreviations are thought to be more prevalent in text messages than they actually are: One 2005 study found that only 6 percent of text messages included abbreviations of any kind.)

But the stylistic parallels are not enough to explain the sudden outburst (sorry) of Twitter Hulkspeak. Bizarro Superman, another comics character with a distinctive and Twitter-friendly speech pattern, only shows up in a few Twitter accounts, concerned mainly with comics geekery. Twitter accounts that reference Hulk number in the dozens, and have a much wider scope.

Some Hulks are purely comedy ploys, rooted more in Hulk persona than Hulk’s speech patterns: There’s DrunkHulk (“DRUNK HULK INTEREST IN THIS NEW DRINK CALL BINGE! APPARENTLY IT ALL COLLEGE PEOPLES DRINK NOW!”), and what must be DrunkHulk’s best pal, BartenderHulk (“YOU BOTHER HULK’S BARBACK FOR DRINK ONE MORE TIME AND HULK SERVE YOU TALL FROSTY GLASS OF SMASH”). There’s EeyoreHulk (“ANYONE CARE I NO TWITTER FOR 4 DAY? ANYONE? NO? THAT FIGURE”), LonelyHulk (whose personal ad was featured on the site Nerve.com), HipsterHulk (“HULK GETTING ATTENTION ON TWITTER! MUST ACT COOL; JUST READ CLASSIC NOVEL ON IPAD WITH FAUX-VINTAGE CASE! NOT LOOKING! NOT SEE YOU! ALOOF!”), and CelebrityHulk, who spoofs celebrities on Twitter (“@KIMKARDASHIAN OFFERING MAKEOVER CONTEST. HULK CONSIDER ENTER. BUT CAN #KIMKARDASHIAN IMPROVE ON PURPLE PANT AND TOUSLED HAIR? HULK DOUBT”).

Some Hulks are used as parables — religious Hulks include BuddhistHulk (“IN THE SEEN, THERE IS ONLY THE SEEN. IN THE SMASH, THERE IS ONLY THE SMASH”), MuslimHulk (“HARD FOR MUSLIMHULK TO TURN QUR’AN PAGES WITH BIG GREEN HANDS. MUST GET AUDIO VERSION!”), and, somewhat more sacrilegiously, JesusHulk (“HULK TURN WATER INTO WINE! STONES INTO BREAD! PANTS INTO SHORTS!”).

But the most interesting Hulks are those who exploit the incongruity between Hulkspeak Twitter style and the subject matter of the tweets themselves. By appropriating a lowbrow comic book style to talk about highbrow subjects, the people behind these Hulk Twitter accounts can perform acts of stylistic irony: using a very different way of talking about something than readers would normally expect. My favorite example of this stylistic irony is EditorHulk using HulkSpeak to talk about good writing: “HULK SMASH CLICHES! CLICHES LAZY WRITING. HULK LIKE ORIGINAL WRITING! (“HULK SMASH” NOT CLICHE — IT TRADEMARK!)”. Similarly ironic Hulks include GrammarHulk (“HULK BIG FAN OF GENDER-NEUTRAL TERMS, BUT WISH THEY WERE LESS CUMBERSOME. “MAIL CARRIER” PROBABLY WORST”), KeynesianHulk (“KEYNESIAN HULK NEED GREATER AGGREGATE DEMAND”), LawyerHulk (“RICK JONES ASK HULK IF TWITTER ACCOUNT VIOLATE MARVEL COPYRIGHT. HULK SHOW BOOK ON FAIR USE IN PARODY TO RICK…AND THEN HIT HIM WITH IT”), LitCritHulk (“HULK RECOMMEND THE ASSISTANT BY BERNARD MALAMUD, FORGOTTEN TITAN OF POSTWAR JEWISH AMERICAN FICTION”), and FilmCritHulk (“HULK SORRY HE NOT BEEN TWEETING LATELY. HULK HAVING MANY BATTLES WITH MEPHISTO. HULK ALSO HAD NO INTEREST SEEING CHARLIE ST. CLOUD”).

But the main reason for the popularity of Hulk-style communication is the very thing that makes Hulk Hulk: anger. Don’t like something? HULK SMASH! Hulk is all anger, and channeling Hulk allows people to express anger and simultaneously keep their real selves apart from it. Hulk lets us all escape from being too serious, too rational Bruce Banner and talk about what really makes us mad — and do it in all-caps, the shouting of the Internet. FeministHulk (one of the more popular Hulks, and recently featured on the Ideas blog) can use all-caps Hulk anger without being tagged with those old antifeminist put-downs “strident” and “shrill.” All-caps is just what Hulk does! The same goes for GlobalistHulk (“HULK CONCERNED ABOUT KYRGYZSTAN, BUT NO MAINSTREAM MEDIA CARE. WHY GREEN MUTANT NEED TO POINT OUT U.S. INDIFFERENCE?”).

The freedom of expression that comes from Hulkspeak means there seems to be a Hulk for every interest: XdressingHulk (“APPARENTLY WONDER WOMAN WEAR PANTS AND NOW WORLD ENDS. HULK SUPPORT WONDER WOMAN’S PANTS”), FattyHulk (“FATTY HULK NOT AFRAID TO GO SLEEVELESS IN WARM WEATHER. BIG ARMS AND SHOULDERS USEFUL FOR RAISING SELF ABOVE BODY HATRED”), FoodieHulk (“HULK THINK EVERY MEAL SHOULD COME WITH AMUSE-BOUCHE”), DerbyHulk (Roller Derby, that is “WHAT IS BLACK AND BLUE AND SMASHED ALL OVER? OPPOSING BLOCKERS OF DERBYHULK”). There’s even PLONEHulk (PLONE is a content-management system) whose tweets are even more arcane than the usual run of Hulktweets: “WHY PLONE 3 REQUIRE PYTHON 2.4? PLONE WANT TERNARY IF/ELSE!”

It’s too soon to tell whether Hulkspeak has the staying power of other Internet language tropes (such as LOLcat) but it does show promise, given that there’s even a few Twitter accounts that mix Hulkitude with other popular tropes (mashups are always the sign of a successful meme): There’s WhatWouldHulkDo, Sh*t My Hulk Says, which mashes up the very popular “Sh*t My Dad Says” with everyone’s favorite angry green mutant as the father figure, and E_Hulkingway (“PUNY BOY SAY, “THERE GOOD FISHERMEN AND THERE GREAT FISHERMEN “— BUT THERE ONLY HULK!”). Sadly, there doesn’t seem (yet!) to be a language-related Hulkspeak mashup — a search for UlkHay (Pig Latin Hulk) turned up nothing.

What would Hulk think of the Hulkspeak phenomenon? It’s hard to know — for a superhero, Hulk’s a pretty modest guy — but he’d probably say HULK THINK IMITATION LIKE FLATTERY.

Erin McKean is a lexicographer and founder of Wordnik.com.

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Full article and photo: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/08/22/hulk_has_say/