[A]gainst the claim that the internet is impoverishing our language must be set the truth that it is (somehow simultaneously) expanding it with new and entertaining means of expression. Take, for instance, the very useful ejaculation “facepalm”. This splendidly economical way of indicating ironic despair — sometimes accompanied by an image of Captain Jean-Luc Picard covering his face with his hand — is just one of the useful lexical innovations the internet offers to those who actually read it. As Tom Chatfield’s recent book on the subject, Netymology, explains: “When I type out the word ‘facepalm’, nobody actually thinks that I’m dropping my own head into my hand (even though I may be doing so). The agreed convention, rather, is that typing this neatly compressed term is an efficiently vivid way of suggesting – through a word – that I consider myself lost for words.”
The same kind of enjoyable perfomativity attends a semantic cousin of “facepalm” that Chatfield doesn’t mention, and which is slightly more violent in its ironic despondency – “headdesk”. One should be careful to distinguish between the two usages. “Headdesk” seems to imply that one is so appalled by the stimulus in question that one is prepared to cause oneself physical pain as a welcome distraction. But just covering one’s eyes with one’s hand seems gentler, sadder, perhaps even a little sympathetic.