Slate explores something I have been wondering about: the recently increased use of "fail" and "epic fail" both to criticize and to express schadenfreude -- especially in reference to the financial crisis.
What's with all the failing lately? Why fail instead of failure? Why FAIL instead of fail? And why, for that matter, does it have to be "epic"?
It's nearly impossible to pinpoint the first reference, given how common the verb fail is, but online commenters suggest it started with a 1998 Neo Geo arcade game called Blazing Star. ... Of all the game's obvious draws—among them fast-paced action, disco music, and anime-style cut scenes—its staying power comes from its wonderfully terrible Japanese-to-English translations. If you beat a level, the screen flashes with the words: "You beat it! Your skill is great!" If you lose, you are mocked: "You fail it! Your skill is not enough! See you next time! Bye bye!"
Normally, this sort of game would vanish into the cultural ether. But in the lulz-obsessed echo chamber of online message boards—lulz being the questionable pleasure of hurting someone's feelings on the Web—"You fail it" became the shorthand way to gloat about any humiliation, major or minor.
This can also be seen as a common phenomena of English, Slate says:
Most Internet memes have the lifespan of fruit flies. But there's evidence to suggest fail is here to stay. For one thing, it's easier to say than failure. (Need for brevity might explain why, in Webspeak, the opposite of fail is not success but win.) And there's a proud tradition in English of chopping off the endings of words for convenience. Between Old and Middle English, many nouns stopped being declined, says Anatoly Liberman, an etymologist at the University of Minnesota. Likewise, while Romance languages still conjugate their verbs, English keeps it relatively simple: I speak, you speak, we speak, etc. It's also common for verbs to become nouns, Liberman points out. You can lock a door, but it also has a lock. You can bike, but you can also own a bike. There was great fuss a century ago among readers of the British magazine Notes and Queries when it used the word meet to refer to a sporting event. It's not surprising that failure would eventually spawn fail.