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Wacky Word Wednesdays – "Holding a Mirror up to the Computer Screen"


by Xanthia Tucker

As I embarked on this week’s wordly adventure, I decided it was time to indulge in a little self-reflection and take a stab at the linguistic roots of the Writing Center’s budding blog. Blog. “Blog.” Whence springs this bizarre four-letter word?

Well, according to Douglas Harper’s Online Etymological Dictionary, the word “blog” is actually an abbreviation of “weblog,” a combination of the words “web” and “log” that first hit the net in 1994. Simple enough, right? Think again! Shortening “weblog” to “blog” actually lends it much of the meaning we understand it to hold today — because, as Harper reveals, the British equivalent of the average and hypothetical “Joe Blow” is “Joe Bloggs.” Just your average stay-at-home dude sharing his ruminations with a handful of lucky web-surfers! But wait! The pudding gets thicker. Apparently, in the 1800s, calling someone a “blog” meant referring to them as a servant boy — and schoolboys could “blog” each other when they defeated their playground adversaries, thus reducing their victims to the status of servants. This makes me question my own role as a newly initiated blogger of the 21st century. Am I just another anonymous Jane Doe, typing away at her laptop, thinking someone cares? And, more importantly, who are my enemies in the online sandbox? Does blogging have to involve stealing all of someone’s marbles?

In any case, I’m obviously losing mine. This whole thing is getting very meta-. But wait — what’s more meta than blogging about blogging? Blogging about “meta-”! Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines this prefix first as “occurring later than or in succession to, after.” But my usage here points to its secondary and tertiary definitions of “situated behind or beyond” and “later or more highly organized or specialized form of” (Merriam-Webster). Harper’s Dictionary tells us that “meta-” stems from the Greek word of the same spelling, as a preposition meaning “in the midst of, in common with, by means of, in pursuit or quest of,” but as a prefix indicating a “change of place, order, or nature.” Such an understanding confirms the related Latin word “meta,” which in ancient times denoted a goal or boundary. A boundary like a rounding post, you ask? Yes! Just like a rounding post. Maybe even like the ones in the Circus Maximus that kept track of the laps of charioteers braving the peril of the races to break the chains of their mortal anonymity by seeking immortality. What? Too soon.

Xanthia Tucker ‘13 tutors at the Writing Center.


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