Told  /  First Person

Play With Your Words

How the term "blog" came into being.

I have always loved words. I was one of those kids who would run to dictionaries to look up words I didn't know. I loved word play -- anagrams, crossword puzzles, double crostics, etc. And etymologies were particularly fun--what were the components of a word? How did that word *come to be*? Reading the evolution of a word, seeing how the meaning shifted overtime, wondering how the lexicographers had figured it out.

As such, it's weird to experience how my love of words and wordplay has actually made an impact. Sometime in April or May of 1999 (I can't say for sure when I exactly did it), 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... As I wrote Keith Dawson after he added "blog" to Jargon Scout

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.

And now, it's May of 2002, and over the last few days, "blog" has proven its stickiness in a way I would have never bothered to even foretell. At the Emerging Technology Conference, a prevailing topic was weblogs, with Steven Johnson's keynote "City of Blogs", with Cory's references to the People's Republic of Blogistan, other folks speaking of the "Blogsphere", and endless conversations about who was blogging what.

"Blog" has even received legitmacy from high-minded linguistic circles, as Geoffrey Nunberg's latest commentary for NPR's Fresh Air extols, at surprising length, the virtue of the word.

I have no idea if this experience, where a single person coins something that spreads memetically, is a typical way for words to enter the language. But it seems that the Web is a linguist's dream petri dish, festering with rapidly evolving language usage, much of the traces of which remain recorded, allowing linguists to march up the trail to the origin. Standing at the trailhead is a delightful reward for this nerdy word-obsessed kid who, flipping through Webster's, used to wonder, "who was the first person to say *that*?"

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