Hoping to provoke some discussion at BloggerCon2003, I posted an Essay there yesterday called Jargon Builds Walls Not Bridges. The process is working, as Denise Howell has already replied with a thoughtful dissent.
Your thoughts are hereby requested either at this site, at the BloggerCon thread, or at Bag and Baggage, Denise has asked her myriad fans the question: “Do you think terms like ‘blog’ and ‘blawg’ are cliquish and off-putting?” I’m not an expert on poll-taking, but asking the initiated insiders whether their lingo is cliquish might not make for a very scientific response. Nonetheless, I hope you’ll reflect on your own initial reaction to the language of the blogosphere, on your friends’ response when you first used the term “blog,” and how you believe outsiders in general respond to the jargon of any group of insiders.
As you might expect, I wrote at length in my the BloggerCon Essay. Here are my main points:
It’s the pervasive use of jargon, acronyms, buzzwords and insider references by the blogger community that keeps the vast majority of Americans (or voters, or even online computer users) from learning about or caring about web log sites, much less becoming frequent visitors. We are turning them off, instead of helping them become part of a community forged by weblog technology and camaraderie.
When insiders want people outside their community to join or understand their undertaking, they need to use language common to the invitee. You don’t drown the outsiders in jargon and idiomatic language, which are far more likely to alienate and turnoff them off, than to impress them with the wonders of the enterprise, the benefits of joining, or the superior wisdom of the insiders.
Very few adults are looking for a clique, new religion, or (r)evolutionary movement to join. . . . Instead, if they are going to turn to sites that use the weblog format, it will be because gathering or disseminating information that is important to them is especially easy and rewarding on such sites.
[T]he four-letter word “blog” is ugly to the ear and eye. Far more important, it denotes and connotes nothing to the average American — including some very intelligent friends of mine, who have been part of the computer age for quite a while.
I’m hoping that the “outsiders” at BloggerCon will help illuminate this topic. Please add you invaluable two cents.
Afterthought (10-10-03): Even in the afterglow of BloggerCon2003, we don’t know how the weblogging phenomenon will affect our global society. There is one thing for certain, though: the (r)evolutions in internet and digital communication, technology and uses will continue. And those who participate will be either actively or passively creating and passing on a Language Legacy, as names are assigned to new and unfolding concepts, constructs, and wrinkles. (Indeed, the entire — non-French — world tends to accept the web terminology that is most often born here in America.) Shouldn’t there be, along with that legacy, An Ethics and Aesthetics of Language Creation?
The split between serious and trivial web-logging, that is demonstrated in the Perseus White Paper — The Blogging Iceberg (by Jeffrey Henning, Perseus COO), suggests a solution for my pet peeve against the dirty little word b-l-o–g, and a broader principle to apply when naming (and accepting the names) of things technical: We have an obligation to craft a nomenclature that makes sense within the context of our langage and that — as much as possible — is aesthetically pleasing (easy on the ears and eyes).
Of course, language must and should evolve, but new words and terminology should be built upon root forms that have some meaning within the history of our language. “Automobile” made sense (a vehicle that moves by itself — no horses needed, with the root words being the Greek for self and the Latin for move). “Telephone” has its roots in the Greek words for distant and voice. Even a techie term like “kluge” has real roots in an actual language, as explained here. (It’s the German word for clever and is used when one has found a clever, even if homely, way to solve a problem with the tools on hand.) In contrast, “blog” has no linguistic, historical, or cultural frame of reference.
The term “blog” was coined by Peter Merholz, at peterme.com. Here’s Peter’s explanation for it (emphasis added):
[In April or May of 1999] I posted, in the sidebar of my homepage: “For What It’s Worth I’ve decided to pronounce the word “weblog” as wee’- blog. Or “blog” for short.”
I didn’t think much of it. I was just being silly, shifting the syllabic break one letter to the left. I started using the word in my posts, and some folks, when emailing me, would use it, too. I enjoyed it’s crudeness, it’s dissonance…
I like that it’s roughly onomatopoeic of vomiting. These sites (mine included!) tend to be a kind of information upchucking.
‘Blog’ would have likely died a forgotten death had it not been for one thing: In August of 1999, Pyra Labs released Blogger. And with that, the use of “blog” grew with the tool’s success.
Not long thereafter, Brad L. Graham of Bradlands‘ wrote: “It’s Peter Fault. A year ago, “weblog” was hardly a common word . .. Then the supremely urbane Peter Merholz decided it would be fun to pronounce “weblog” as “wee’blog” and I thought that was kind of cute. Then folks started truncating that to merely “blog” and — ugh! — it’s stuck! . . . So, now then. Where are we headed? . . . Is blog- (or -blog) poised to become the prefix/suffix of the next century? Will we soon suffer from (and tire of) blogorreah? Despite its whimsical provenance, it’s an awkward, homely little word.
- More recently, Jerry Lawson of fedlawyers.org opined (10-06-03): “blog” sounds like something from a science fiction movie “The Blog That Ate Cleveland.” Further, . . . the word “blog” makes this powerful new form of Internet communication seem trivial.
Nurturers and caretakers of language do not have to accept the mindless process that begat the word “blog” and its progeny, even though it may be too late to keep teenyboppers, the hipster insiders, and the trivial users of web log technology from chronically belching “blog” and “blogging.” We can still choose meaningful nomenclature — terminology that best suits the actual format of our web sites and that actually communicates a meaning. “Blog” is the equivalent of slang: yes it belongs in the dictionary, but it should not crowd other (and better) terminology for the same concept.
When Jorn Barger begat the word “weblog,” in 1997, he might have envisioned the format as being limited to short “log” entries with links. By now, however, it’s clear that the “web log” format comes in many shapes, styles (e.g., commentary, essays, journaling, articles, poetry, pointer blurbs, etc.) and schedules . Each web site creator should choose terminology that is both accurate for the site in question and meaningful to others.
For example: ethicalEsq? may be a frequently-updated, reverse-chronological website format, but I refuse to continue calling it a blog or a blawg. To me, it is a web journal on legal ethics (which, like a more static site, also has a collection of annotated listings and links for relevant resources). When the day comes that society expects most or all forms of intelligent written discourse to be available on the internet, I will jettison the adjective “web.”
Once you want to be more precise than saying “web site,” there really isn’t any good reason to have only one term to describe a site that happens to have its last entry at the top of the home page. Trying to cram all variations of the ”web log” into the rubric of one tiny word makes no more sense than referring to every product of a printing press as “‘p-paper” and expecting your audience to have a good idea of the nature of your particular printed matter.
As new formats and technologies are created, let’s remember that we are also creating and sharing a verbal legacy. If the goal is better communication that leads to better understanding and wider use of the new inventions, jargon and lingo and four-letter neologisms just won’t do.
Thanks to George Wallace, the wise Fool in the Forest, for dubbing his website a “web journal” (Nov. 2, 2003) and eschewing that ugly little word.