Blog Etymology and Meaning–Again

I mentioned that the Oxford English Dictionary created an entry for the lemma “blog.” Now William Safire in the New York Times has a bit on the word “blog, though his is at best a folk etymology. Still, it does show increasing awareness of the word, and the functions it has absorbed.

Warblogs, Tekkies, Journalists

The first attestation that I can find of “warblog,” or its suffixed forms “warblogger, warblogging” is in Matt Welch’s 9/18/2001 3:06 post, where he uses the form “war blog.” Welch essentially defines war blog in his introduction to the sub-site he titles War Blog: “discussion of the crisis triggered by the Sept. 11 massacre.” The term war blog and its related forms have evolved to mean a web blog inspired by the events of September 11, 2001, whether or not the blog is itself primarily about September 11, or war. In general such blogs do tend to be overtly political. Dave Winer has published his own definition here.

I’ve already posted about the derivation of “tekkie” or “techie” from the same Indo-European root that gives us both text and technology, and a host of other related words. I find the term “tekkie” somewhat offensive. I’ve certainly had it applied to me by academics who should know better; it is, I suppose, marginally better than the other term I often hear—”computer person.” It is in part those attitudes that inspired me to describe myself as a digital medievalist.

The nascent controversy between “war” bloggers and “tekkies,” is, as I’ve indicated previously, somewhat half-witted in concept, and would appear to have been constructed by journalists who do not understand the history of their own profession.

Theirs is a profession born from the union of technology, in the form of the printing press, and war. People needed a way to communicate news efficiently over great distance, more efficiently than a single town crier or herald, or Irish bard carrying scela or “tidings,” could do. Within 25 years of Gutenberg’s press one-sheets crudely printed with the latest scoop (based on a letter) about Columbus were circulating in Barcelona before Columbus arrived there. America’s first newspaper was largely a source of war news and gossip, much like those in Europe. At first news items were culled from private correspondence and day-books, or journals; later publishers contracted with travelers for detailed correspondence to be “repurposed” and printed in the newspaper. In a sense then, web blogs are a return to the roots of journalism.

Pro and Amateur

Dave Winer and Glen Reynolds posted about a conversation regarding blogging they shared with a journalist. Since the context is not completely clear from their blogs, I’m going to hazard a guess that the distinction they each make between professional and amateur is really between journalists versus amateur blogging journalists, but I’m quite possibly wrong. In any case, their posts, and a coincidence I describe below, got me thinking about blogs and credentials, and the meanings of amateur and professional.

Yesterday Dave linked, kindly and unexpectedly, to this blog.

As you can probably imagine, I got a lot of hits, more than my site has ever had in a single day in the five years it’s been up (shocking, I know, but apparently there aren’t a lot of people interested in medieval Celtic literature). I also got mail, including four people inquiring about my credentials. Three were largely interested in my scholarly credentials, one in my geek cred. In other words, they wanted to know, am I a professional or an amateur?

Etymologically, amateur is derived from Latin, amator, or “lover.” Profession, from the verb profess, is derived from Latin via French, professus, to affirm openly, with the historical denotation of taking vows. There is an implication, pointed up by the third definition of amateur, that an amateur is not to be taken seriously. I think that’s an unfortunate error, both socially and linguistically (it is the third definition; check out the word history note).

Now, if I were applying for a job, sure, I’d think credentials are important since they provide public external validation. But this is a public “opinionated” blog. You don’t have to read it, or believe anything I say.

It seems to me that the quality of the data, the information itself, is more important than knowing the “credentials” of the poster. It’s pretty clear when I’m offering my opinion, and I am just careful on the web to include citations in the form of links to the sites I’m quoting, using as sources, or just pointing to for more information, as I am about documenting my sources in conventional publishing via footnotes and bibliographic citations. Frankly, I think there’s not a whole lot of difference between a link and a foot note or an in text citation. Maybe because I’m a medievalist, I tend to see links as akin to footnotes, glosses, and annotations, and the web, like manuscripts or codex books, as just another kind of container for text and other data. The link back strikes me as normal courteous scholarly behavior.

Certainly there are learned skills (just ask your local information professional, the librarian) involved in evaluating sources, in being able to decide if a source, whether a person, a blog or book, is “good.” But credentials don’t really indicate an individual’s data worthiness, or ability to provide “authenticated,” data is better than someone else’s.