Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Too much of a good thing?

Earlier today, Robert Lane Greene at Johnson checked in from the road to ask readers what topics The Economist’s language blog should focus on. The replies so far are unusually varied (not just the same old peeves) and sometimes strange, but the strangest of all, I thought, came from Great Uncle Clive. His recommendation:
Not so many posts, Johnson . . . a max of two a week
Allow your bloggers* ... Us ... to respond to each other and develop ideas, before you change the topic
A commenter who wants you to post less frequently: With fans like that, who needs critics? RLG is a pro, so I’m sure his response to Uncle Clive won’t be “If you want to develop your own %$@! ideas, write your own %$#@! blog!” But I wouldn’t be surprised if he was thinking it.
*I'm assuming (perhaps too charitably) that Uncle Clive's "blogger" for "commenter" here was a slip.


tudza said...

Reminds me of a post I read elsewhere today suggesting three hours between Facebook posts to allow people to comment.

John Burgess said...

There's a bifurcation in progress over the term 'blog'. Traditionally, it was the magazine-like publication that invited comments. In other words, a container for comments.

Now, through the practice of outlets like Flickr, 'blog' is shifting to mean what used to be called 'comment'.

It's confusing as hell, but there you go...

I'm perfectly happy to get all 20th C. on their asses, but that would make me a prescriptivist, I believe. Is there any greater sin?

Bryan White said...

@John: Quite a number of times, I've seen people use the term "blog" to refer to a post on a blog, which is confusing enough, but understandable, I suppose, given a certain sloppiness of expression. However, I'm not familiar with "blog" being used to refer to comments or "blogger" to commenters. Not that I don't believe you, of course. I'm just mystified as to how "blog" (as in "web blog") can be used to apply to comments. I've never been that crazy about the term to begin with, and I definitely wouldn't be crazy about seeing the word applied indiscriminately to point of senselessness.

But maybe I'm missing something. Is there something different about the commenting system on Flikr, or some development with comments in general that's blurring the line between blogging and commenting?

Bryan White said...

On a side note: I've noticed a lot of rib-nudging asides here about "prescriptivism" in the comments. To me, I can't quite see the issue in such cut and dried terms. Yes, prescriptivism with it's strict rules and rigid guidelines is a laughable and easy target, and it's clear to see that the language would stagnate under such inflexibility. However, descriptivism seems to take things to the other extreme, a kind of "majority rules" principle, where if a significant segment of the population says something a certain way for a significant amount of time, then the custom becomes the rule. I don't know that I can completely abide that.

I think it comes down to clarity and nuance of expression. If a rule can be bent without sacrificing these things, fine, but that often isn't the case. Take the old "got" and "have" problem. People have been using "got" in place of "have" for many years now, and for the most part getting along just fine. However, a certain precision of expression has been subtly blurred. If I say, "I got a can of pop.", it's hard to tell these days whether I'm talking about my procurement of the can or my possession of it. For the most part it doesn't matter, which is why we tolerate the usage. It's my can of pop and I'm going to drink it. End of story. However, I'm sure we can all imagine a situation where the distinction between procurement and possession might be vital to know, and unfortunately that distinction has been lost.

The same could be said for the term "blog." If it comes to refer to anything from writing a web log to boiling pasta noodles, it might make it a weeee bit hard to know what anyone is talking about. So, you'll forgive me if I'm not quite ready to stand up and declare, "The word means whatever people want it to mean! Vox Populi!!"

On the other hand, the counter-argument could obviously be made that language DOES need to evolve and the rules do need to change for the very sake of nuance and clarity. Culture changes, society changes, and the language needs to grow with it. We can't live in the 21st century world, while speaking 19th century English. So, I think some middle ground has to be found. The language needs breathing room and fresh air, but it also needs SOME rules to keep it anchored and to keep it from getting too sloppy and unpresentable.

John Cowan said...

I know one blogger who calls his blog his "Blog" and his postings "blogs". Folly, I think, but wevs.

John Burgess said...

I cannot explain it, only report and deprecate it.

To me -- and, I think, to most rational human beings -- there's a taxonomy:

Websites may contain blogs;
Blogs contain posts, or in Flickr's case, images;
Posts may or may not contain comments
Comments may or may not contain nuggets of wisdom.

On Flickr, I see 'I'm re-blogging this X' where most would say, "I'm reposting this X"

Then I see, in what are widely known as Comments, "Take a look at this blog that's like yours."

As Flickr seems to be used predominantly by those who use images to communicate, rather than words, that is, perhaps the words don't matter at all.

Unknown said...

I'm still trying to get used to using "text" as a verb.