Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why are Blogs Called Blogs?

            Most of us, if we are of an inquisitive nature, have questioned the world that we live in. I know, of course, that there are people that don’t question anything about their lives. (Of course those pictures appear on the TV; no questions asked. Of course when I call someone I can talk to them from long distances; no questions asked. Of course there’s a flying saucer in my backyard that carries aliens that eat human flesh; no questions asked) Other people are WAY TOO curious about their world. (While being pulled on a sled by his friend: “Hey Fred, assuming that you are pulling at an angle of 45o from horizontal, and assuming that I and the sled weigh exactly 95 lbs. and assuming that the coefficient of kinetic friction is .5, and assuming that we are moving at a constant speed, what force are you pulling with?” Fred: “I don’t know. Hey look there’s another alien eating human flesh.”) Fortunately, there are normal people in the world who wonder about things, but not too hard. Coming from one of these people, here’s a question: Why is a blog called a blog?
            To understand the origin of the name “blog,” it is necessary to examine the history of the blog. In ancient Rome, when people wished to make know their political views, their views on a particular topic, or just tell the world what their day was like, they would write on a piece of paper and “post” it in the city square. Nobody actually cared what was written by these early bloggers, and as citizens passed the square and caught sight of these posts, they would utter statements like “blah” (Latin root often used by itself to dismiss the importance of something) and “ugh” (Latin word used to express disgust with something) Also, if the population caught a blogger posting in the city square, they would chase them off with sticks and rocks. Interestingly, this behavior increased the number of blogs written by masochists and people trying to toughen up to be a gladiator. Then one day, on October 8th, sometime between the years of 50 and 75 AD, two people caught sight of a blogger’s post at the same time. One said “Blah” at the same time that the other said “Ugh.” A passerby heard this and identified the consolidation of the two words to be “blahg.” Later this got shortened to “blog,” the term that is used today.
            Interestingly, the word “blog” was also developed independently in China. The original Chinese bloggers didn’t post their writings in city squares; rather they used fireworks to make their thoughts known. Using different fireworks and different colors in much the same way as their symbols, they were able to communicate over long distances. When Marco Polo visited China, one of the things that he witnessed was a fireworks display that was given by a blogger. When the concept of the fireworks display was explained to Polo, he hated it whole heartedly. He complained about how dangerous the fireworks were. After this complaint, the Chinese asked him if he were French because of his wussy attitude. Polo’s next complaint was that the fireworks conveyed a message that no one wanted to hear anyway. He suggested that they should be beaten or flogged for creating such a useless display. The Chinese agreed with him on this point, after all, who wants to hear about some random person whose cat ran away. They commented that, knowing their country, it might have been dinner the previous day. (After this they asked Polo if he was English since he used the English words “beaten” and “flogged.” (It took several hundred years before the Chinese actually believed that Polo hailed from Italy) After Polo left, the Chinese, not being incredibly well versed in English at this point, adopted the words “beat” and “flog” as names for the fireworks displays instead of the punishments for people producing them. Later these words were combined and shortened into the word “blog.”
            If you know anything about history, you realize that the last two paragraphs were intended entirely for their comedic value and are completely false. The real story behind the word “blog” is much more boring. It was in the 1990’s that the technology became available for online communities (which blogs are a part of) to exist. The modern blog came into existence as people, under the mistaken impression that other people actually cared, stated to keep personal diaries on the internet. Justin Hall, known as one of the first bloggers, started in 1994. As time progressed, more and more people began to blog, not realizing that since everyone else was blogging as well, no one was actually reading anyone else’s blog. In 1997, Jorn Barger coined the term “weblog” (web being a term for the internet and log being a large part of a chopped up tree) for online journals. In 1999 Peter Merholz, a man with a good name and a decent sense of humor, broke the word “weblog” into the two words “we blog.” The term blog caught on, and was used as a noun for online journals and as a verb for creating and writing online journals. This term survives even today and is universally accepted to be the name for an online journal.

To whoever has read this:
While a lot of this article was obvious made up, the entire last paragraph is factually true.

Peter Last

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