On "blogs" and "posts"

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Forrest Wickman, "This Is a Blog Post. It Is Not a 'Blog.'" Slate 5/24/2013:

Let's get this straight up front: I am now writing a blog post, not blogging a blog.

For many, using the word blog when you mean blog post is an understandable mistake. Most who make it are new to blogging, or aren't fluent in the language of the Web. But over the last several months it's become clear to me that the tendency to make this error has infected even some of the most Internet-savvy denizens of the Web. And it needs to stop.

I hit my breaking point a few weeks back with—who else?—Amanda Palmer. Of all the irritating things in her blog post about "A Poem for Dzhokhar," the most irritating was the title: "A Blog About 'A Poem for Dzhokhar.' " Palmer, of course, had not created a whole blog about her poem "A Poem for Dzhokhar." (Even she's not self-involved enough to do that.) Instead, she'd written a 2,000-word blog post about the poem.

Wickman goes on at length about this fault, giving a series of other examples, and then explaining why it's wrong:

The reasons for avoiding this linguistic boner are pretty simple. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that it can be confusing. No matter what dictionary you check—online, Urban, or otherwise—you will find no definition of blog that means blog post. Saying one to mean the other is like saying magazine when you mean article. The listener or reader may get your drift eventually, but only after they've been thrown for a loop.

Second, it can undercut anything serious you have to say. The word blog is, even after all these years, a little funny-sounding, and this is magnified many fold when you use it incorrectly. You don't want to undermine your own writing by calling your brilliant post a "blog." […]

The No. 1 reason to make this change—and I'm not going to sugarcoat this—is that calling a post a blog makes you sound stupid. That may seem harsh, but I'm doing you a favor. Every time you make this mistake, it sounds like you don't understand this newfangled thing, the World Wide Web. Even if you think all those who might judge you are just being superficial, that's not going to stop them from judging you.

Now, as it happens, I agree with him on the point of usage. As far as I'm concerned, a blog is (as the Wiktionary explains)

A website that allows users to reflect, share opinions, and discuss various topics in the form of online journal while readers may comment on posts. Most blogs are written in a slightly informal tone (personal journals, news, businesses, etc.) Entries typically appear in reverse chronological order.

Of course, the Wiktionary gives another sense for blog — which I don't use:

An entry in a blog.

The interesting thing here is that barely a dozen years after the word blog was coined (this happened on May 23, 1999, according to the OED), Forrest Wickman has developed strong prescriptive instincts about how it should and shouldn't be used — and so have I, though I know better than to make the usual pointless arguments about confusion and dictionaries.

But the worst thing is people who call comments "posts" :-).



60 Comments

  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

    I mentioned this usage of blog in 2010, in an On Language reader response about the plural of e-mail:

    The countification of e-mail mirrors some other recent developments in tech-talk. Unwanted e-mail, known as spam, is usually treated as a mass noun (just like the canned meat after which it is named), but individual spam messages now often get called spams. And the word blog, while always countable, has taken a new semantic turn: some use it to mean a single post to a Web site, rather than a whole site consisting of such posts. A recent survey by the Copyediting newsletter finds that most writers and editors reject this usage of blog as improper, but who knows? In a decade's time, it could be as unremarkable as countable e-mails.

  2. Kiwanda said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

    The article in wiki on blogs doesn't mention this usage question.

  3. Aaron Toivo said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    A comparable example that comes to mind (which I was already typing before it just got used above!) is the shortening of "Wikipedia" to "Wiki" – or worse, calling an individual article on Wikipedia a "wiki". A wiki is a type of website! But I expect to lose this battle in the course of time, as there are no other obvious ways to shorten the name of the website – nor the more cumbersome phrase "Wikipedia article". But every time I see it, it slightly tarnishes my soul.

  4. Rebecca said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    :-) I was hoping the comment/post confusion would be mentioned. (Though calling a comment a post is not as bad as making a post instead of leaving a comment)

    A new-to-me usage that clashes with my definition of blog: calling one's Facebook posts "blogging". It fits pretty well the Wiktionary definition you cite, depending on what one understands an on-line journal to be. But for me, you're not blogging unless you are doing it at a blog, which for me requires at least the illusion of a freestanding publication that the various blog publishing platforms support.

  5. Reed said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

    I'm curious why you say "the Wiktionary" rather than "Wiktionary". Do you do the same with (the?) Wikipedia? You did in 2006 (http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003607.html) but I can't find any usages in the appropriate sense since. For whatever reason it just feels much more natural to me to say "as Wiktionary/Wikipedia explains".

  6. EndlessWaves said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    Post as a noun is an interesting one. When did posted messages become posts? Was it a need to distinguish them from e-mail and IRC messages?

    [(myl) According to the OED, post meaning "An act of posting; an entry (in a ledger, etc.)" goes back to the 18th century:

    1718   A. Macghie Princ. Book-keeping iii. 45   The preceding Rule respects only a single Journal-post, which contains but one Debtor and one Creditor; but if the same were a complex Post, there would be some Alterations in transporting of it.

    ]

    And have the alternative meanings of post (stake in the ground, a position you can hold) contributed to the argumentative nature of (some) forums?

  7. leoboiko said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    @Aaron: we could call Wikipedia articles "warts"

  8. leoboiko said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    also, I recall the failed Google Knol project deliberately called each of its pages "a knol", which was the same name as the website itself.

  9. The Ridger said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

    When I was in the army in the early 1980s, something that was posted on the company bulletin board was called a post – "It's in today's posts", for instance, might be the answer to "When did they announce THAT?". It seems like a pretty natural shortening of "posted message/announcement".

  10. Stan said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    Grant Barrett wrote about this in 2007 and held a survey on it a few years later. Few respondents considered blog = blog entry acceptable,

    I don't like the usage either – there's too much potential for confusion and uncertainty – but it remains common. It might be interesting to know what proportion of people who use it are active bloggers.

  11. The Ridger said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    I believe people who say "the Wiktionary/Wikipedia" think of them as generic nouns (the dictionary/encyclopedia) rather than proper ones (MW/Britannica). I have occasion to speak of "the Russian Wiktionary", but I realize that I say "Russian Wikipedia". Hmmm. How inconsistent of me. (I usually get around it by using the Russian names.)

  12. quixote said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

    Another suggestion for wiki article: a wikit. The idea being a bit like the diminutive in "wee sleekit beastie."

  13. Stan said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

    Grant Barrett wrote about this in 2007 and held a survey on it a few years later. Few respondents considered blog = blog entry acceptable.
    I don't like the usage either – there's too much potential for confusion and uncertainty – but it remains common. It might be interesting to know what proportion of people who use it are active bloggers.

  14. Stephen Hart said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 2:27 pm

    Blog meaning blog post is in the same family as "powerpoint" to mean "slide." That usage is widespread even if for presentations made in Keynote.

  15. Garrett Wollman said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    Someone in alt.usage.english came up with[1] the blend "wikiparticle" which I think has a lot going for it (particularly the way that it has two distinct and meaningful parsings).

    [1] Well, actually, I don't know that they came up with it, it may just have been new to me.

  16. Der said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

    There's a similar thing in Germany with the genus of the word "weblog". Everyone involved with weblogs since before let's say 2008 insists on "das Weblog" (neuter), newbies out themselves by saying "der Weblog" (masculin).

  17. Henning Makholm said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    Right about "wiki". And don't even get me started on all the people who use "homepage" as a generic synonym for "website" …

  18. dw said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

    @Aaron Toivo:

    You almost literally took the words right out of my mouth. It's hard to decide which is more annoying: "blog" for "blog post", or "Wiki" for "Wikipedia".

    OK: time to find something else to complain about :)

  19. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    Garret: Yes, I sometimes write "Wikiparticle", and I'm glad you like the latter, unless I stole it from someone and forgot. (Well, I'm glad even then.) Though a contributor to Wikip, I think "wart" will find some supporters too.

    Mike Lyle, also in a.u.e., sometimes says he looked at an article by saying "I had a wikipee."

    dw: On the subject of other things to complain about, I think I've talked a friend out of saying "html" for "URL".

  20. Brett said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

    Using "post" to refer to a blog comment is something I dislike, but it stikes me as different than using "blog" for a blog post. A comment on somebody else's blog is, it seems to me, a "post" in the general sense of the noun, but using it smacks of newbishness. It also often strikes me as presumptuous, if somebody refers to their own comment on somebody else's blog as a "blog post," since it seems to elevate them to the same level of authority as the blog owner.

    "Blog" for "blog post" strikes me as much more wrong, but it may in time become standard parlance. I remember an outcry at least fifteen years ago against the now-ubiquitous closed compound "website," as opposed to "[World-Wide] Web site."

  21. Ellen K. said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    I find it annoying when people call blog posts blogs. But it's also annoying seeing someone call that a mistake. When it comes to language, if enough people do it, somewhere along the line it ceases to be a mistake. I've seen blog for blog post enough to grant it that status. Which doesn't keep it from being annoying for me.

  22. sharon said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

    I'm pretty sure I first saw the usage "blog" for blog post among journalists blogging on newspaper websites. Well, when I say "journalists" mostly I'm talking about op-ed columnists. And when I say "blogging", I mean their usual columns being posted on Comment Is Trollbait before appearing in the print edition.

  23. Rubrick said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

    The No. 1 reason not to use the phrase "That may seem harsh, but I'm doing you a favor"—and I'm not going to sugarcoat this—is that it makes you sound like an arrogant dick.

  24. Brian Ogilvie said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

    My impression is that "blog" for "blog post" (or "posting") has become more common of late, and it irritates me too.

    I see that no one has mentioned another Internet-age confusion that raises my prescriptivist hackles: using "the Internet" when one means "the Web." I was using the Internet long before there was a World Wide Web!

  25. Eric Walkingshaw said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

    As an extension of this, I often see people use "blog site" where I would expect just "blog". It would be interesting to see if the same people that use blog to refer to a blog post also use blog site to refer to the blog itself. That would at least be consistent, even if wrong.

  26. Danny said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

    Ha, I was complaining about this back in 2007 too. But I'm more mellow now and no longer care.

  27. IS said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

    But the worst thing is people who call comments "posts" :-).

    I have a friend who used to call blog comments "blogs"…

  28. Ralph Hickok said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    Long, long ago, in the days of the TRS-80, one posted posts to computer bulletin boards.

  29. Ø said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 8:39 pm

    To be fair, the verb "post" does quite properly apply to comments.

  30. Oskar Sigvardsson said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 8:41 pm

    @myl: In regards to "post" in the OED, it's interesting to note that that sense is marked as obsolete and the three examples are all from the 18th century. I skimmed through the many senses and variations of "post, n." and didn't really see any that better matched how the word is used in "blog post" (though I might have missed it).

    Even though the word was used previously, don't you think it's plausible that it went away and only recently came back in this sense with the rise of the internet, and the many wonderful posting opportunities that has come with it? Are there examples of "a journal post" for instance, between 1900 and 1980? With some very cursory googling you can find it occassionally in the 19th century, but I couldn't find any examples in the 20th century (though, to be fair, I didn't look particularly hard).

  31. M.N. said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

    I've never noticed people calling blog posts "blogs" before, but it reminds me of when people on message boards refer to an individual thread as a "forum".

  32. maidhc said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

    Another one I hear young people using a lot is "journal" to mean "journal article".

  33. Jim Ancona said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 10:17 pm

    I agree that using blog to refer to a post sounds wrong to me. Interestingly, when using blog as a verb, both "Mark Liberman blogs at Language Log" and "He blogged about that Slate article" sound fine to me. Perhaps the second usage, referring to writing a post, lead to the blog as post usage.

  34. Treesong said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 11:18 pm

    Is there an accepted verb for 'look (something) up in Wikipedia'? I've been using 'Wikipediate', which is about three syllables too long for something I do so often. Maybe 'wiki up' ha ha?

  35. Sarah said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 1:54 am

    @ Brian Ogilvie

    Most non-expert people I know avoid having to understand the distinction between the Internet and the World Wide Web by referring to the Interweb: a word which no doubt annoys many!

  36. Colin Fine said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 1:59 am

    Suggestions about what to call Wikipedia articles are an irrelevant game. The fact is that quite a number of people who post questions about editing Wikipedia on its help desk use "Wiki" to mean "Wikipedia article". For them, that is what it means So that is one of the meanings of the word.

  37. Stan said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 3:34 am

    @Treesong: I see people using "wiki" to mean "look up on Wikipedia" (e.g., I'll wiki it later). I don't know about accepted, but it is efficient. An alternative is "wiki search" (with or without hyphen), which is more transparent.

  38. John F said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 4:27 am

    This is a big problem on the BBC, and probably annoys me more than using plural verbs with singular nouns (e.g. team, [political] elite, family, etc.)

    I also see this mistake made by bloggers, some of whom are very knowledgeable in their field (just not so much on internet culture).

    Bebo was also very bad for this. It had a blogging facility and would notify you when your friend had "written a blog".

    Finally, the word blog comes from 'web log', like a ship's log and I think I've seen cases where people said something like they 'wrote a log about it' when they meant log entry (possibly in Robinson Crusoe, but I can't remember).

  39. Warsaw Will said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 6:29 am

    @John F – using plural verbs with group nouns is perfectly standard in British English, and personally I find "The team are playing well today" much more natural and logical than the singular version. This is not an error: it is using notional agreement rather than formal agreement, just a different way of looking at things. I might use a singular verb with "family" when referring to it as an anonymous social unit, but to say "The family is coming for Christmas", about a group of known individuals, sounds just as weird for me as the "team are …" does for you.

  40. mollymooly said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 6:58 am

    I agree with Jim Ancona's suggestion above. It seems that "blog" the noun has a zero-derived verb "to blog" with two senses: an intransitive habitual sense "to maintain a blog; to write blog posts" and a transitive punctual sense "to write [a particular blog post]". The second sense then readily zero-derives a noun "an act of blogging; the product of an act of blogging".

    As regards "post" for "comment": the well-established initialism "OP" for "original post(er)" implies the existence of subsequent post(er)s.

  41. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    Yes, but 'OP' comes from message boards or newsgroups, where as far as I know it's agreed that everything is a post, since all contributors are posters. In a blog, by contrast (why is my spellchecker querying 'blog'?) there is a distinction between posts, which are made by the blogger(s), and comments, which are made by everyone else.

  42. mollymooly said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 8:45 am

    @Andrew (not the same one). Indeed. But Useful Distinction doesn't always hold out against Semantic Drift.

  43. William Berry said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    I'm enough of a stick-in-the-mud (aka, old codger) to intensely dislike the word "blog". For me, at least, it falls into that category of disgustingly ugly words like "bogus" or "mulcted", that I wouldn't think of actually using ("moist" is OK, though!). Irrational, I know, but there it is.

    Some years back I ran a politics/ public policy/ labor website that had a "weblog". I am working on putting it back up soon. It will still have a weblog.

  44. bianca steele said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    On calling comments "posts": This might come naturally to people who are coming from Usenet or similar threaded discussion forums, where individual contributions are called "posts." Except that this would mean lots of people with lots of online experience started out calling comments "posts," and that it would decrease later and among people with less experience, and I don't think that's the case.

    (More interesting was the brief and sporadic phenomenon of trying to impose blog etiquette on the more free-form forums, by declaring the first person to post "owned" the thread and the rest of the discussion had to stick to evidence he introduced and so on.)

    Calling a blog post a "blog" sounds really uncool when your elderly mom does it. Maybe it sounds really cool, though, when Amanda Palmer does the same thing.

  45. bianca steele said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    Blog meaning blog post is in the same family as "powerpoint" to mean "slide."

    Or "slide" to mean "overhead."

  46. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

    Or "overhead" to mean "transparency". But "transparency" and "slide" are awfully similar.

    [(myl) Back in the Overhead Era, I gave a talk at a provincial university whose linguists, phoneticians, and psychologists were still living (variously) in the Handout Era or the 35mm Slide Era. Since I had arrived with a folder full of transparencies, this posed a potential problem, which they solved when someone remembered that in the back of their storage closet was an ancient Opaque Projector, which looked roughly like this

    except that it had a crinkled black bakelite finish. The idea was that if we backed up each transparency with a sheet of blank white paper, this monster would do the trick. And it worked well, until about 45 seconds into the introduction, when the first slide caught on fire.]

  47. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

    William Berry: I find it interesting that restoring two letters (or phonemes) to "blog", and changing the stress, makes it tolerable for you.

    How do you feel about "bog", "boggle", "gob", and "glob"?

  48. SmR said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

    Dear Forrest Wickman,
    Next time, before posting your next blog or blogging your next post or whatever your point is, maybe spare a moment to urbandictionary 'boner'. That might seem harsh, but I'm just returning the favor.
    P.S. I do think he makes an interesting point, but – really? In a post on *internet slang*?

  49. Martha said,

    May 28, 2013 @ 10:31 am

    Yes, I became confused for a moment when I saw the word "boner."

    Anyway, what I wanted to say was regarding the verb to use when looking something up on Wikipedia. It seems that unless another resource is either implied or mentioned, I assume the speaker is using Wikipedia, so "look up" alone seems just fine, because pretty much, where else do people go to look things up informally?

  50. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 28, 2013 @ 10:53 am

    FWIW, I think the accounting-ledger sense of "post" never became obsolete when used as a verb, as in "the credit for the refund will post (or "be posted") to your account by the close of business tomorrow," even if "post" as a noun for the relevant entry fell out of use.

    Note that the noun/verb distinction some have for blog seems to track the ancestral "log." The ship's log is the journal as a whole, not a single entry in it, but one may use the verb "to log" to refer to the making of a single entry. OTOH, I expect the etymology is now sufficiently opaque (i.e. people aren't generally conceptualizing a blog as a specialized kind of log or blogging as a specialized form of logging) that it's not as if it's intuitive that the same usage patterns should carry over, unless they were self-consciously fixed by early bloggers for whom the etymology was transparent.

    This also by some chain of free associations reminds me of the glorious sentence (from A Child's Christmas in Wales): "Let's post Mr. Daniel a snow-ball through his letter box."

  51. Lane said,

    May 28, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

    I declared my first ever Peeve Friday (a sort of occasional peeve amnesty) to peeve about this one, which annoys me like the devil.

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2011/03/count_nouns

  52. Rod Johnson said,

    May 28, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

    …and unfortunately gave license for people to dredge up all the usual suspects, nauseous/nauseated, could care less, etc. in the comments.

  53. John said,

    May 28, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

    I blame online applications like Tumblr for the drift in meaning. The standard terminology there is to call a 'post' a 'blog' and then they go and 'reblog' it to all their friends.

    If blogs are like Time Magazine (as the old trope went) in that it's for people who cannot think, then Tumblr is like Look Magazine, for those who can't read.

  54. Gpa said,

    May 29, 2013 @ 7:59 am

    Chinglish? It should be translated as "Sanitation" / "Being sanitary". Not "sanity". What's most important is that you should be sanitary, or is that "sanitized"?

  55. Ted said,

    May 29, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    In addition to its snicker-eliciting use, "boner" has long been a slang term for a stupid (i.e., "bone-headeded") move, as demonstrated by the captain of the eponymous Ark.

  56. Kiwanda said,

    May 29, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

    "A comparable example that comes to mind (which I was already typing before it just got used above!) is the shortening of "Wikipedia" to "Wiki""

    (Given the topic, I thought it was obvious that I was using the annoying term "wiki" on purpose. If only there was some way to say "mild humor intended here" :-) ) :-)

  57. Zeborah said,

    June 2, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

    I really hate "blog" for "blog post", but I've seen such an explosion of articles in the last week condemning it that I think it must be here to stay. Language evolution in progress, I guess.

  58. Gaston Dorren said,

    June 4, 2013 @ 1:35 am

    While in Dutch, too, 'blogpost' or 'post' is the standard term, there is a tendency in informal contexts to prefer the diminutive of blog, 'blogje'. This may be because the written word 'post' has quite a few meanings already (such as 'mail', 'mail service', 'position' and 'after'), while in speech, the English pronunciation of the word makes it sit somewhat uneasily with the Dutch phonological system, especially when combined with 'blog', which is pronounced to rhyme with 'loch'.
    The use of the diminutive to express 'one instance of communication using the medium indicated' is not new: a 'telefoontje' is a very common term for a phone call.

  59. Tim J said,

    June 22, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    In reply to Willam Berry: I think "weblog" has a problem these days, in that it's just as easy to read it as "we blog" as "web log". So I'm happy for my web log to be a blog. And I blog by posting posts to my blog.

  60. Mark salor said,

    October 1, 2014 @ 3:20 am

    A comparable example that comes to mind (which I was already typing before it just got used above!) is the shortening of "Wikipedia" to "Wiki

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