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  • Writer's pictureStephen Balogh

When "blog plug" seems the phrase juste, not a semantic sin

Yes, I confess to have used the unspeakably ugly phrase “blog plug” in an email earlier this week. It didn’t feel like a transgression at the time, which makes it so much worse and my remorse that much more heart-felt. Whilst I suspect most tech savvy people will understand what it means, I shudder to think about possible speculations about the phrase in earlier, more innocent times.

By way of attempted expiation, I did a quick trawl to find the origins and etymologies of those two words. I guessed it could have fallen either side of the turn of the millennium, but “blog” just made it into the same century Queen Victoria completed her reign. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) apparently dates it to 23 May 1999, when for the first time the term “weblog” was abbreviated by one Peter Merholz and a new word was born. (An alternative account has it at 1998 instead.) It has a satisfyingly Anglo-Saxon ring to it – or should that be thud – and this is particularly appropriate because the constituent words web and log are themselves both Old English and, further back, possibly of Norse origin.

"Plug" meanwhile also has a venerable history, derived as it was from 17th century Dutch, albeit for a long time only with the meaning of bung or stopper. Its first use as a synonym for advertisement occurred in 1902, a nice symmetry placing at right at the start of the same 20th century.

I had a quick Google doodle to see which other words arrived contemporaneously with plug-meaning-advert. This is neither a complete nor rigorously arrived at list, but within the early 1900s pack of new words and phrases seem also to be concentration camp (I knew that one), clone, curriculum vitae, hot dog, electronic, iddy-umpty (slang for morse code) and twankle. I’ll leave you to look up twankle but I am sure you will all agree that contemporary English would be much the better for its reintroduction, whatever its meaning.

Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder or, in this case, the ear of the hearer. Perhaps instead, far from being unspeakably ugly as I characterised it, the phrase to others has a certain rugged poetry about it, touched with faint hints of artful quasi-alliteration. I would welcome such a groundswell because it would without doubt see me carried majestically into the pages of the OED à la Peter Merholz.

And I would then happily re-bank my remorse over blog plug ready to offset against a future semantic sin.

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