Today I noticed on my facebook feed yet another friend I met through TLG misusing the term “blog” and went in search of some sort of evidence that this usage – which I have noticed over and over again since coming to Georgia – has some sort of basis saving it from being purely erroneous. I found none.
Later, as my gf was giving a lesson from our New English File Intermediate books, I happened to notice that the book contains a false etymology for the word “wiki.”
So, given that I currently have two paying professions, and one of them is “blogger” and the other is “English teacher,” I feel obliged to set the record straight regarding these two terms, at least, for anyone who happens to read this.
None of this information is in any way hidden or esoteric. All of this is easily discoverable through google, wikipedia, and/or online dictionary. There isn’t even a real controversy (yet) regarding the use or origin of these words.
Summary: a “blog” is a website containing regular updates about a person or topic. The individual update is called an update, entry, or post.
Correct Example: This blog is called “Georgia On My Mind.”
Incorrect Example: This blog is called “Language Lesson: Blog and Wiki”
Explanation: The word “blog” is a shortening of “web log” which in turn was a kind of log that could be found on the web. Generally, a log is a record of things that have happened – for example, in Star Trek, Captain Kirk started each episode with a “Captain’s Log” explaining what was going on (a clever device to set up the episode) thus possibly making Captain Kirk the world’s first audioblogger.
The history of the use of the word “log” as a record is actually somewhat interesting (to me). Before GPS, ships needed a way to figure out how fast they were going so that they could like, navigate and stuff. They used to drop a piece of wood (aka a log) tied to a string into the water. While the boat would move, the log would stay relatively still, and this would allow the sailors to observe the distance the boat moved away from a fixed point in a particular amount of time. This information, in turn, was recorded in a “log book” and used to like, make calculations and stuff.
Eventually the “logbook” experienced significant mission creep until eventually it was used to record distances traveled, ports called on, storms weathered, planks walked, treasures plundered, and other salient nautical data. Thus the modern concept of a “logbook” or “log” as a systematically updated record of important information and events.
It’s important to note that the “log” or “logbook” was the whole book, and not an individual page or entry. People would keep a log of their journey, which was composed of individual entries. This understanding of the log as the whole, of which an entry was a part, transferred to the internet when logs made the digital jump. Soon after mail became email, but before phones became iphones, logs became blogs.
The use of “entry” and “update” for the individual notations put into a log are fairly clear in origin: when you enter data into a logbook, you make an entry; when you update a logbook, you bring it up to date. Interestingly, the most common word for an individual entry in a blog is post – a word that also originated as a description of a piece of wood. Around the same time as logs were first being tossed into the ocean to measure speed, people were starting to refer to nailing a piece of paper to a post (that is, a piece of wood sticking up from the ground) as “posting.” The idea of “posting” something being equivalent to putting it on display in a public area stuck around and expanded and made the transition to the online world, so that now when you “post” something on the internet, you’re sticking it up in public for all to see.
As a side note, we almost never refer to a blog post as an “article” – I’ve noticed that some of the comments on “Sex in Georgia” referred to it as an article, which in my view reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the things. These posts are not written up to any sort of journalistic standards (they’re rarely in inverted-pyramid style, I don’t interview people for them, etc.) and aren’t meant to be news so much as a record of my journey and the significant things I learn and experience during that journey. Like a log; not like a newspaper or magazine.
Anyway, as I said, I first noticed the usage of “blog” to refer to a blog post when I came to Georgia. The earliest examples I could find at that point when I went looking for attestations of “blog” having this meaning were from sports websites – as early as 2005, some sports writers had appropriated the term “blog” and begun to misuse it (which is why us nerds should never have let those dumb jocks onto the internet in the first place), but by now it seems to be a relatively common mistake among people who are fairly new to the internet or the blogosphere.
I have a strong suspicion that in five or ten years – if blogs are still even remotely relevant to anyone’s lives and we haven’t moved on to the next thing – this incorrect usage of “blog” will become an acceptable alternative usage and I will have to get over my distaste for it. True story: I actually hate the way the word “blog” sounds and when the word first became popular I strongly resisted its adoption. Ironic! Words take on a life of their own… but for now, if you use the word “blog” to refer to a blog post it marks you as a n00b.
Summary: Wiki comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick” and is not an acronym. Although it is commonly pronounced with an initial short i, both of those vowels were long e sounds in the original borrowing of the word.
Correct Example: Wiki means “fast” in Hawaiian!
Incorrect Example: Wiki stands for “what I know is.”
Explanation: A Wiki is a website that facilitates the quick collection and dissemination of information. Wikipedia is perhaps the best example, in that it is probably the most famous wiki and for the layperson may be the only wiki they’ve ever heard of. Wikis often take their content from a relatively open community (anyone can edit wikipedia) and due to the collaborative nature of the project, some clever backronymologist devised the term “what I know is” to reflect the idea that a Wiki was meant to highlight the knowledge that the individual could contribute to the community.
A backronym is what you get when you take a word and figure out a set of words whose first letters spell that word. It’s like the process of creating an acronym, but backwards. For instance, the word “Navy” comes from a word for “boat” that has been around for thousands and thousands of years, but somebody figured out that you could stick the words “Never Again Volunteer Yourself” together to produce a witty commentary on the condition of having joined an all-volunteer Navy. False backronyms are basically harmless, but as a matter of taste, I find some amusing and others obnoxious.
I don’t particularly like this backronym because to me the wiki is less about a particular person asserting or taking credit for a particular piece of knowledge and more about the power of a large community of editors (in other words, redundancy, constant checks and verification, and conversations about the truth) to produce a remarkably coherent and accurate source of information for everyone. Wikipedia is much less about “what I know” and much more about “what WE know.”
But that’s neither here nor there. I came across an article in my favorite EFL series – Oxford’s New English File – claiming that wiki stands for “what I know is.” This really irks me because I have experienced so many ridiculous claims about language from EFL books and the speakers who have learned from them, and in the internet generation – when claims like this can be easily researched – there’s no reason to print that kind of error.
Well, okay, that was long, so… class dismissed!