We're Now Entering Total Replyallcalypse

What happens when one NYU student replies to 39,978 others? Things go nuts, on TV, the Internet, and the world, and so on. Now it's transitioned into a handy anecdote on the state of how to use email.

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There's a new word in town, and it could be a game-changer as we head into these last few important weeks before the Word of the Year is selected by the American Dialect Society. They're still accepting nominations (#woty)! What is this word?

Replyallcalypse: Noun, used to mean the chaos that ensues upon an epic, devastating, truly apocalyptic case of replying to all.

It was coined by Ari Lipsitz, national editor at NYU's student-run news blog, NYU Local, to describe an event this week in which 39,979 students received a message from the university Bursar’s Office, and sophomore Max Wiseltier (a computer science minor, oops) responded to it, replying all. By accident. “I was trying to forward the message to my mom, to get her input on the paperless tax forms,” he later explained. Writes freshman Kelly Weill in an NYU Local post explaining the matter:

When Max went to forward the innocuously titled “Opting Out of the Paper Version of Your 1098T” to his mother, he had no idea that he was one fatal “reply all” away from NYU fame.

His accidental email and hasty apology triggered a rare, University-wide revelation: We simultaneously realized that any message, complaint, whim, link, video, or GIF could be sent to nearly 40,000 people in an instant.

Suffice it to say, things went nuts—"Suddenly granted an audience, another student voiced the immortal query, 'Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses, or 1 horse sized duck?'”—and then more nuts—an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live for Wiseltier, stories about the incident all over the Internet, and the world, and so on. Now it's transitioned into a handy anecdote for service pieces on how to use email.

But back to the coining of the word itself. Lipsitz told us, "It was just a quick gchat that kersploded everywhere." He provided this screenshot—a conversation between Lipsitz and writer Brett Chamberlin, who shopped the photo above, used to illustrate Weill's post—of how it went down:

Lipsitz tells us the traffic on that initial post went "so insane that it broke our stats counter. In total we've logged like 80,000 hits on that post, which is bananas for us."

Yes, it appears that people are loving replyallcalypse, for what it's done as well as the word itself, and it does seem to incorporate those important zeitgeisty-and-now elements of any good #woty that I found missing in GIF, for example. We all hate being replied all to; it unfailingly ends in chaos, large and small, and bad (but sometimes good, schadenfreude-esque) humor. And then there's the aspect of word-creation, something everyone's trying his or her hand at these days, it seems: that desire to just name something, make it your own, and see it go viral: This is a very of-the-time sort of thing, right? What with the Internet and all. So, yes, it could be the Year of the Replyallcalypse.

In Arnold Zwicky's language blog, he writes of the reply-all-calypsing: It's "a familiar sort of technological annoyance that is often responded to with great alarm, hence the ‘disaster’ libfix -(po)calypse." (A "libfix"—Zwicky's coinage—is a word part that's been "liberated" and yields new word-forming elements.) Zwicky continues, "The story excites interest in the general press because of the nature of the annoyance (it slows down an everyday operation), its source (in basic features of mail programs and human factors in their use), and the way people tend to react to it (by mailing to all the victims, by way of outraged complaint, hence compounding the problem)." So, yes, it's of the zeitgeist. Why replyallcalypse instead of, say, replyallmageddon, which Zwicky points out is rarely used, or just "reply all mess," well, maybe it's just that allcalypse is more fun to say, or harder to spell, or ... who knows. Clearly, it's got some kind of magic, and you have to wonder if Lipsitz would have said "reply-all mess," if the same thing would have happened. Would a replyallcalypse by any other name be as viral? Doesn't that make it a word of the year contender?

Don't get your hopes up too high. Mansplaining may yet win the crown, or perhaps it will be YOLO. Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee for ADS, tells us, it's "Not too late [for a win], but I wouldn't give it very good odds, as the X-(po)calypse/X-mageddon thing has been done to death." Before the replyallcalypse there were others: spampocalypse, snowpocalypse, techpocalypse, and more. Yet until there's a pocalypsepocalypse, we still say there's a fighting chance.

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