Thursday, November 11, 2010

Making your web presence go dark

When you log out of your computer or out of a website, you're terminating your current interaction with it. And pretty much that's that, because these intermittent conversations you have with the thing are pretty much the extent of your interaction.

But social media brings a new wrinkle to the game. You might log out of (say) Facebook, but your cyberpresence remains out there for other people to interact with. For most people, that's perfectly fine, and they are happy to come back later, log back in, and see what all their friends (er, Friends) have had to say to them.

For various reasons, however, there are those who want to treat a social-media network like Facebook only as an interactive/synchronous medium. They log on and interact with their friends. But when they're done, they don't just log out. They deactivate their Facebook account entirely, so that others cannot see it at all until it's reactivated.

Turns out there's a name for this: super logout, or variously super logoff.

I first heard about this in a blog post by the social researcher danah boyd:
Mikalah uses Facebook but when she goes to log out, she deactivates her Facebook account. She knows that this doesn’t delete the account – that’s the point. She knows that when she logs back in, she’ll be able to reactivate the account and have all of her friend connections back. But when she’s not logged in, no one can post messages on her wall or send her messages privately or browse her content. But when she’s logged in, they can do all of that. And she can delete anything that she doesn’t like. Michael Ducker calls this practice “super-logoff” when he noticed a group of gay male adults doing the exact same thing.

In a related tweet linked to the blog post, user zephoria says "My students talk abt this call it 'whitewashing' or 'whitewalling.'"

The term has gotten a lot of attention right away:

In pedantic technical ways, the term is not accurate, but it feels like it's sticky, for two reasons that I can think of. One is that no better term really suggests itself. The obvious one -- deactivate -- while possibly more accurate, sounds kind of technical. And -- second reason -- deactivate does not get at the intent of this new practice, which of course is, not just to log yourself off Facebook, but log your Facebook presence off.

And now, of course, I must post about this on Facebook so that I can see what people think of it tomorrow. :-)

* Clever name, that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Or alternatively, to Ging

We're not sure if this really is an emergent term, but let's just say it seems like one that's inevitable (obvious?), tho its stickiness is not guaranteed. Correspondent Seth today spotted this in an email that was internal to Microsoft:
... [blah-blah] the number hasn't been zero since early 2006 in my quick boogle.

Seth comments: "Given that it was an MSFT employee, I think he was trying to hint that he's used both major search engines." (One would have to understand that there is a certain informal peer pressure inside Microsoft to a) not use google as a verb and b) use Bing as search engine.)

The reason I say that the term seems obvious is that it's a natural formation that moreover has been claimed already: there is the site, which searches both engines and presents results side by side.

Beyond that, tho, things get murkier. (To me.) The site does a Google search but presents you with a page that displays a quotation and a picture in lieu of the standard Google home page. (Oh.) No tie to Bing that I can deduce. There's Boogle the game, which looks (to me) like a trademark-skirting variant on the game I know as Boggle.

The exceptionally unreliable Urban Dictionary lists one definition of boogle as:

A negative result to having Googled a person; to be shocked or repulsed by what you find out about a person you have just Googled; to Google someone with the intention of finding out something negative about them.

But really, that's as much as I've found in my few moments of poking around. We'll have to keep an ear out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stars of a different type

Wow, when did this become a productive suffix?

  • Rhee is a Grade-A edu-lebrity [#]
  • [Y]ou're far more likely to be picking through the sausage-makings as they just sort of spray willy-nilly out of the meat grinder of news-lebrity that has replaced the news. [#]
  • Ever want to know what it's like to log into Twitter as your favorite Twitter-lebrity? [#]
  • And there are perks to being a bona fide Z-lebrity [#]
  • Bornstein refers to herself as a "sub-lebrity" [#]

Update 9 April 2011: Here's a nice one: "'Glee' piano player happy as a 'sub-lebrity'. (Brad Ellis in the background of "Glee" as the club's accompanist.)

There's also C-lebrity, which appears in a number of guises, but most popularly as the name of a song by Queen, which of course dates it considerably. But it's unclear to me whether this is really intended to mean anything other than celebrity.

Anyway, this is another cran-morphy rejiggering of the morphological elements of the original, in which celebr is the nominal root, but in which -lebrity becomes instead the productive bit. (See also cheese-burger etc.)

These all strike me as pretty clever, but my sense is that they work better in written language than said out loud. A number of them are a bit awkward to say, possibly because they end up with sound sequences that don't entirely work -- news-lebrity, Twitter-lebrity. In the examples that are easier to pronounce (Z-lebrity, sub-lebrity), the aural resemblance to the original would require very careful enunciation to get across the point of the new formation. Still, it's always handy to have some new materials for making words.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We will now focus obsessively on something dumb

I've actually been inchoately wondering whether there's a term for this. This could be one:
Every time he publishes a new mess, it gets the full Pastor Jones treatment in the respectable press.
(Source: an article in Slate.) This seemed sort of Whorfian to me, inasmuch as we could crystalize the concept by coming up with a word for it. It sure does seem like we need a handy way to refer to these periodic episodes of press insanity, where 30 people in some state somewhere all of a sudden are headline news around the world. It would be best, of course, if the term were apolitical -- think of Balloon Boy.

Or is there already such a term?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

One millennium, two ...

I have this notion, which is admittedly somewhat idiosyncratic, that when foreign words join the ranks of English, they don't get to bring along all their foreign-word baggage -- their plurals, their conjugations, or anything else that would require an English speaker to somehow have to intuit the rules for that word in its original tongue. No, because the word has joined English, which already has rules for these sorts of things, and in the fine print of the contract that the word signed upon joining the language, it explicitly says that it must abide by house rules.

Nonetheless, people get theyselves worked up these things. Not terribly long ago, I essentially laid all this out when someone asked what the plural should be of the car known as the Prius. Easy, sez me: in English, the default way to make plurals is to add -(e)s, so, hey, Priuses. All this fancy talk about what the plural would be if this were a Latin word is just piffle, because we're not talking about Latin, we're talking about English.

Ask folks what the plural is of octopus, and yer more edumacated types will tell you it's octopi, because something-something-Greek-something-something. Or cactus, or focus, or schema, or -- heh-heh -- opus.

Now, I would not say that it's wrong to say that the plurals are octopi or cacti or foci or schemata or opera. But I will also staunchly defend octopuses and cactuses and focuses and schemas and opuses. Because these latter words all follow normal rules, and because if I were a native speaker of English, I would find those to be perfectly reasonable ways to make the plural forms. (Hey, wait, I am, and I do!)

Ok. Surely among the more conservative publications in terms of these things is the New York Times, yes? Yet behold this thing that they have printed:

(I make you a picture in case some editor at the Times get a gander at this, haha.)

Surely this is unusual for a publication, is it not? Google reports a mere 425,000 hits for this term, versus around 6 million for the term millennia (where the plural ends in -a because something-something-Latin-something-something).[1]

Having read this far, tho, you will not be surprised to hear me say that I cheer the NYT for this. I'm sure they'll get letters from folks who want us all to know Latin declensions, but fie on those people. And I say to the word millennium, welcome to English, after all these years!

[1] This is not to be confused with the Mazda Millenia (sic), a singular car with a plural name, which we forgive because marketing has yet another set of rules, among them being "let's not let grammar get in the way of a good brand."

Update 1 Aug: Apparently I had a thought about millenniums in an earlier post. I guess this obsesses me, I just keep forgettting that it does.

Update 1 Aug: Per Ben, fixed all the spellings, oops. :-) This actually upped the count for the non-native plural (millennia) to more like 10 million.

Update 5 Oct: Mark Liberman posts on the Language Log about the plural of syllabus. Interesting comment in the thread from Henning Makholm speculating a bit about the use of -i as a productive plural marker in English, not just a fossil on foreign borrowings.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Scaling the digital walls

Another term that's new to me (maybe I should stop saying this, I'm perpetually behind these days): jailbreak as a verb. Of course, we all know that guys in stripy pajamas tunnel out of prison all the time (hey, I watch movies), but this would be a somewhat new usage. Also, it's invariably spelled as oneword.

Jailbreak-the-verb as I recently found it is specific to computers. Here's a definition from
To get out of a restricted mode of operation. For example, jailbreaking may enable content with digital rights to be used on any computer, or it may allow enhanced third-party operating systems or applications to be used on a device.

It's therefore a subspecies of hacking (or cracking, for the more precise). Something interesting to me is that for the moment, and although this term is theoretically generic to computers, it seems to turn up almost exclusively in discussions around the iPhone and his cousins and his sisters and his aunts. Even relatively deep searching into Google still turns up iPhone and iPad references.

It's certainly not an unknown term -- Google get 1.6 million hits. Although I did specify "+computer" as part of the search, I suspect that this includes the traditional use of the term as a noun.

Morphologically, the verb follows normal rules for to break. Thus, the past is jailbroken. It's a transitive verb -- you jailbreak your iPhone, and the iPad was jailbroken.

One reason I am probably not so up on this term is that I don't own any of the devices in the i-Family. It certainly sounds like there's a, um, thriving ecosystem for getting around restrictions in that computer family's design. I expect there's a lesson in there for vendors, but that would not be a topic for this blog. :-)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Party flavors

On the tiniest chance that you missed it, surely the word of the week is -- tada! -- Teabonics: creative spellings (as they say) on political signs during rallies. There's a collection on Flickr.

Here's an example:

I just find the neologism irresistible. :-)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Handy handible

A comment thread on the site raises an interesting question about word formation. (Well, spelling, maybe.) The original question is this:
So, Google gives a whopping 722 hits for "handible", Googling for "define: handible" shoots beside the target and has never heard of it in any form.

You English speakers out there - is "handible" a real word? If not, would you understand me anyway if I said that "Oh, you know, this is really handible!" ?
Most of the Google hits in question are bogus -- either the term is dynamically inserted into a search result to drive traffic (no links, thank you), or is clearly being used by non-native speakers. (And bless them for trying to write in English).

Most instances seem to be attempts to spell handleable (a word that the spell checker in Firefox does not like), like this example about a phone:
Its is smat, handible and easy to use. it as long durability and an outstanding design which gives it that cute look. i would recomend the phone for basic mobile phone users.
But there are a couple of interesting hiccups. One is that this term (or just this spelling) is more prevalent (relatively) among people who are writing about animals. Here's one example where the guy is talking about a snake:
Hey guys my names Joe and im a proud snake lover i used to have a gorgeous sunglow male corn until my goddaughter fell in love with it and i gave it to here. looking to get another as he was very timid and handible.
You can ascribe this simply to poor spelling, but if so, it's a poor spelling that's spreading, at least a bit. I've found handible used in a similar way when people are writing about a gecko, bunny, spider, and water dragon. (What's a precise definition for how these folks are using handible?)

And there's a curious instance of the term in a patent application:
Currently available braided suture products are acceptable in terms of their knot-tying and knot-holding properties. However, as removed from the package, they tend to be stiff and wiry and retain a "set" or "memory" such that at the time of use, it is usually necessary for the surgeon or assistant personnel to flex and stretch the suture to make it more readily handible. Furthermore, the surfaces of known sutures are perceptibly rough. Thus, if one passes one's hand or fingers along the braid, surface irregularities will be readily detected.
I say "curious" because I would have thought that patent applications, at least as posted on the Web, would have cleaned-up spelling, and if so, this is the intended spelling. (Perhaps I'm wrong about that.) And if so, this might be a technical term. Whatever it is, the intended meaning seems different to me than what the pet owners are talking about.

The examples form the various animal forums are the most interesting to me. I like to think that one possible outcome here is that in the context of ... what would you call it? ... pet husbandry? the word handible becomes (first) informally established as an offshoot from handleable, that it becomes a bona-fide field-specific word (breeders talk about breeding handible animals), and it eventually achieves legitimate status as a standalone term.

Your thots?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Try out our new giant comment threads

A couple terms only recently noted by me, tho not brandly new by any means.

Freemium. A word whose origins, unusually, are known very precisely (if one trusts Wikipedia, I mean). This refers to a business model in which you give away a basic version of your product and charge for a more-capable version. The term and the business model were both supposedly coined in 2006.

The term has caught on -- about 365K hits on Google -- but I still kind of scratch my head. One is that I am not getting how this exactly differs from the idea of a "demo version" or just a free sample that has been around since the birth of the first salesman.

A second thing about the the term is that it conveys a slightly wrong idea to me. When I think of free + premium I don't think of "there's a free version, and there's a premium version." My initial impression is that it's a "free, premium" version. Obviously, I'm not getting the "correct" definition, since the term refers to a business model and not to a thing per se. Still.

Threadnaught. A long and active thread (e.g. blog-post comment thread). For example, in a comment thread about IQ and political views, one of the earlier comments in the thread (out of 454 at last count) predicted: "It's gonna be a threadnaught." This is a clever hack on dreadnaught, which is a term that I sense is not in everyday use in the U.S. (got no specific stats to back this, tho), and which I for one know primarily in the military context of a large class of battleship. (Read a lot of military history in my younger days.)

Update 5 April 2010: Oh, hello, I realized where else I know the term dreadnought from: guitars. A dreadnought guitar is basically what you think of when you think of an acoustic guitar. I note that the word was in fact derived from the same term used for a battleship: i.e., a big 'un.

All right, back to reading comments ...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sticky with me

Any interest group with a Web presence generally coalesces around a forum, which is where people can ask questions and others can post answers. Forums are generally divided into topics, and the Q&As are displayed in reverse-chronological order. Here's one I'm familiar with:

As with blogs, older posts fall off the front page. Now and then, the site administrators will decide that a post should not scroll off into history (for example, an FAQ or an announcement post), so they will configure it to be permanently visible at the top:

What's the verb for doing this? Had you asked me, I would have said that you were pinning the post to the top of the forum. To pin a post is a common enough term, which derives, obviously, from the idea of pinning something to a bulletin board.

A post thusly pinned is also said to be sticky. This is another fairly obvious derivation. The dictionaries I have immediately to hand don't list a definition for sticky that refers to a persistent idea or thought, but that usage is all over the Web, and certainly got a big boost from the book Made to Stick.[1]

So. Using the Magic of Language, you can combine the verbiness of pinning and the adjectiveness of sticky to come up with a new term. Yes you can, as evidenced in a quote from an article on Arstechnica:
I suggest reading our FAQs stickied at the top of the indexing forum to get some ideas of what to do.
There are a surprising number of hits for this term. I get around 370K on Bing, 450K on Google. Here's a great example:

Stickied threads are being unstickied!

What's notable, of course, is that the new verb was invented in a roundabout fashion (to stick -> sticky -> to sticky), instead of the plausible usage evolving from simply saying that a post was stuck in a forum. But the new usage has advantages; saying that a post is stuck in a forum is ambiguous, whereas saying that the post is stickied is quite clear.

It's hard to tell whether to sticky is actually used in any form but the participle; it's tricky to search for to sticky as a verb, because of the prevalence of phrases like [lead] to sticky [situations]. If you run across an example of the infinitive or present participle, I'd love to hear about it.

[1] I must say, the cover of that book, which illustrates a piece of duct tape, was brilliant.