Vernacular in MT Anderson’s “Feed”

Originally Published: October 7th, 2013; Updated: June 24th, 2014


One of the most immediate reactions I had while reading Feed was the idea that author M.T. Anderson was writing a satire on teens in our modern society in his use of vernacular. Anderson created his own slang and idiolect between Titus and his friends. In doing so, Anderson was able to lure the reader into this world he created, where, in the future it is completely believable to think that humans would have a computer or television feeding into their brains. It’s clear from the start that Titus is living in a consumerist society driven by advertisements, where, if you can’t think of a word, it’s fed into your brain (and usually it’s not what the reader would be expecting to see).  These ideas, combined with Titus inner monologues and the dialogue between him and other characters, Anderson has created a satire of our modern world, a book that examines our own more so than giving us a look at the fictional one in the text. Here, in Feed, teenagers are so connected to computers and technology that they hardly think for themselves, and their speech patterns are very indicative of Anderson’s views on teenage consumerist society.

Through the use of a well-constructed vernacular, Anderson gives us his world through Titus, whose vocabulary parodies the worst speech patterns of the modern teenager. From the very start of the novel, Anderson thrusts the reader right into this world, and the vernacular is tightly wound around the feeds. The construction of the language shows a few different things. In the following quotation from the opening of the novel, Anderson shows us the vernacular he has created:

“We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring. Link Arwaker was like ‘I’m so null,’ and Marty was all, ‘I’m null too, unit,” but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we’d been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall,” (3).

The words highlighted in blue indicate slang that Anderson has created, which riffs on popular slang phrases in our modern society. “Shit-all” is a creation, an idiom, blending together very informal vocabulary usage that is reminiscent of the ephemeral quality of slang phrases language in our language. Anderson creates his slang in a very interesting way, using words in our modern dictionary, like “null” and “unit” and turning them into popular expressions. Here, “unit” is used as a term of endearment in place of “dude” or “guy” or “buddy.” Other words like “mal” for “malfunction” are other common slang terms used. The words highlighted in green indicate a idiolect in Titus and his friends speech pattern. The text relies heavily on words like “like” and “all” and “thing.” These few words brilliantly construct the world of these teenagers better than any descriptor because it links the reader from our world to the one Anderson created seamlessly, and in a way that connects.

Anderson utilizes words that are in our modern vocabulary, perhaps to ease the reader into the world he created. Words like “brag,” “big,” and phrases with obscenities (most popularly, the word “shit” in common slang phrases like “shit-stupid”), help to connect the reader to the text. In a world where fad slangs come and go, it was easy to buy into Anderson’s constructions, even though at times they seemed purely comical, purely satirical, commenting on the vapid trendsetting slang of our own ever-evolving vernacular. Even words like “fugue,” which, by definition means “a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness but upon recovery cannot recollect them,” were used as slang when describing when the feeds were overloaded with advertisements. It’s no coincidence that Anderson uses words and phrases like “fugue,” which pertain to psychological states and physiology and turning it into modern slang for these characters. It gives humanistic qualities an depth to the feed, like the feed has replaced their own personalities and mind-states.

One of the most interesting touches to Feed was the inclusion of made-up words. “Youch,” “meg,” “braggest,” “slurpy,” “bonesprocket,” “junktube,” “droptube” and “upcar” and variations of the like, are some of the words that kept repeating in the text throughout. “Meg” sounds like “mad” in our modern slang.

Another construction of the vernacular worth noting is how Titus describes certain things from the beginning of the novel, before he becomes self aware of the feeds influence over him, and at the end, when his world has changed. The prose seemed to have shifted a bit. In the beginning the prose was uneven, highlighting Titus’ inabilities to think for himself. He couldn’t seem to the find the words to describe certain things, most notably when he sees Violet for the first time. The writing is varied, some sentences short and choppy, in fragmented pieces. They sound almost computer-like in places, devoid of human emotions (shown in red below). “She had this short blond hair. Her face, it was like, I don’t know, it was beautiful. It just, it wasn’t the way – I guess it wasn’t just the way it looked like, but also how she was standing. With her arm,” (13). Titus clearly can’t find the words to describe Violet, and how Anderson constructs these sentences beautifully – if painstakingly – shows that; it’s all a construction of the vernacular. Toward the end of the novel, the prose seems to shift when Titus is talking about Violet. As she lay, devoid of life, Titus seems to have gotten more prolific in his descriptions. He’s aware of his role, he’s aware of the feed, and after he tells Violet the story of him and her, he says “I could see my face, crying, in her blank eye,” (298). It’s one of the most haunting descriptions I’ve ever read, and in conjunction with the world Anderson has created, it’s chilling to see the word ‘blank,’ such an apt description, coming from Titus, when in the beginning of the novel he couldn’t even find a word to capture her hair.

Through the vernacular, Anderson is commenting on our society, and the vapidity of teenagers and their lack of education on what goes on around them. Even through the use of e-mail terminology, such as re:, Anderson is commenting on our society and our problematic dependency on technology. Titus and his friends live in a world where, if you didn’t want to, you didn’t have to verbally communicate. Thoughts travel like e-mails, from mind to mind, through these feeds. Even through the trademarked schools, we see how the words and letters on the page come together to construct not only a novel, but a vivid world for the reader. Anderson perfectly encapsulates this satiric world and brings it to life – for me at least – through the constructed vernacular.

6 thoughts on “Vernacular in MT Anderson’s “Feed”

  1. I’ve read “Feed” and I totally didn’t pick up on the use of vernacular, but now that you’ve pointed it out, it makes so much sense!!! Love it and I would love if it you were my teacher and I got to read this in a writing class!

  2. I’m definitely going to be checking out this book. Sounds like a futuristic trip! Do more literary posts like these!

    • I have one more literature-type post coming up for next month, but believe it or not, they’re not very popular…they get the least traffic, which makes me sad 😦 But I’m glad you enjoyed!

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