by Robert Gelfand
American Reporter Correspondent
San Pedro, Calif.
November 28, 2005
PLEASE STOP SAYING BLOGOSPHERE!
LOS ANGELES -- Any media critic faces the misuse of language on a daily basis. The immediate outrage is a new term that threatens to enter our language on a permanent basis: the blogosphere. Luckily, there is an alternative, but we will have to be quick about it if we expect to save our semiotic souls.
The introduction of many such newly invented terms (neologisms, to be formal about it) has been driven by rapid changes in technology and in our social norms.
Remember when "living in sin" became "shacking up," which became "living together," which became - nothing at all - because it is no longer considered an aberration? Times change, and with them the words we use. What was once a serious transgression of the social fabric became avante-garde conduct, and then became simply one life-choice among many. As social attitudes have evolved, the language has changed.
As for computer technology, the acronym explosion of the 1970s and '80s has moderated, but our civilization still finds itself tripping over the debris: modem, lan, wan, wifi, spam, google.
Each has a specific technical meaning or, at least, some historical reference. "Modem" refers to modulator/demodulator, a meaningful word referring to the machinery that allows us to send binary signals over telephone wires. The term Google, referring to computerized searches, is a takeoff on the word Googol, introduced by the mathematician Edward Kasner. It represents a certain very large number, equal to the numeral one followed by a hundred zeroes. Kasner supposedly coined it from a sound suggested by his nine-year-old nephew.
"Google" has now come to be used as a noun (the Internet search engine itself) or as a verb (the act of using that search engine). One American Reporter correspondent even wrote an essay on "autogoogling," referring to the act of looking up ("googling") your own name, a refreshing example of a third-degree neologism.
And now we come to a word that arises both out of the new technology and a new social movement. We are suffering the introduction of that blight on the landscape of thought, that warty growth on our Internet life, the word blogosphere.
It is an ugly word. Not the least of its problems is its root word, blog. This term may indeed be the shortening of the term "weblog," itself an ungainly form at best, but blog conjures up images of a bad hangover and its sometimes inevitable aftermath. The root "blogo" is reminiscent of "bloto," the precursor to that hangover.
Delicacy prevents me from enumerating the various images that these terms illicit. Suffice it to say, as textbooks will, the exercise is left to the reader.
And now we face reading about the "blogosphere" for untold years to come.
This is not to say that there shouldn't be some word for the concept under discussion. It represents a genuinely new thing which previously had no name. The only question is what name we shall give it.
To begin with, what is the word blogosphere supposed to represent? If I understand the prevailing usage, it simply means the whole collection of people who write and publish blogs plus the product of that work; that is to say, the blogs themselves. We concentrate here on the social aspect of the term, because this is surely how the bloggers themselves mean to use it.
The overall concept is important. It refers to a different kind of social gathering than ever existed previously. It is one which operates on a different tempo, one which is incredibly accelerated in time and vastly extended in space. It reaches farther than any traditional social or political network ever could in the past, and it is capable of doing so within moments.
The fact that thousands of people can read, research, and respond to just about any news item within hours has changed the way political discourse occurs. No less a source than The New Republic (the only periodical mentioned by name in the Scooter Libby indictment) identifies blogging as a serious new element in our political universe. Clearly, there is need for a descriptive term.
I referred to "the whole collection of people who write and publish blogs" in the paragraph above. Others call it "the blogosphere." Neither is all that good an expression for daily use.
The word blogosphere reads awkwardly and speaks ugly. It has a militaristic, almost dictatorial sound to it, reminiscent of terms like Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Perhaps some ultra-right-wing blogger likes this imperial connotation, but the rest of us may beg to differ.
The suffix "sphere" has a vague science-fiction connotation, sort of like the "quadrants" that the Starship Enterprise traveled. It's not completely, horribly wrong as a way to describe a collection of people, but it is wrong enough to grate on the nerves, and it will always carry with it that "sphere of influence" connotation.
Put them together and they spell blogosphere. It might as well be a description of an alcoholic recovery center with an unusual architecture.
Luckily, we have a perfectly adequate alternative that looks, reads, and communicates better.
The term is Blogspace.
The term can be written as blogspace, or the blogspace, but either way, it is more meaningful, less irritating, and happily for me, much easier to type.
It also represents a more correct description of that "collection of people involved in blogging." It is also more in keeping with traditional usage in math, science and engineering.
Interestingly enough, It already has a certain level of acceptance: If you do even a minimal google search, you will find that the word blogspace has been used by the technically literate going back several years.
The technically phobic can skip the following paragraph: Jon Udell wrote in a May, 2002 column published on Webservices.xml.com, "The culture of blogspace is evolving in near-realtime." The Workshop on the Weblogging Ecosystem that was held at the May, 2004 World Wide Web Conference included a submission titled "Implicit Structure and the Dynamics of Blogspace." The term has been used in textbooks, manuals and academic papers. It has a seemingly well-accepted and technically well-defined meaning.
In addition, the term blogspace has popular antecedents in terms like cyberspace. What is the blogspace, after all, but a subset of cyberspace?
And remember, blogspace is much easier to type.