Semiotics 101

Does it matter what we call things?

Does it matter what words mean?

Does it matter if it’s a “War” or a “Conflict” or a “Conflagration” or a “Military Event”?

Does it matter if it’s a “newspaper” or a “magazine,” a “blog” or a “message board?”

From my grandmother’s point of view, my blog is “writing” and that’s all that matters to her. My mother certainly knows the difference between a blog and a message board and a live chat, and has run all three, not to mention email lists and in-person seminars. My wife is perfectly aware of the important disparity between time I spend writing on my “blog” as opposed time I spend writing “term papers.”

Things have names for a reason, and it’s far more interesting to me to study why we name things what we name them and how it affects our perception of said things than it is to just throw up my hands and say “a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Robert MacMillan of writes of his blog vs. message board mix-up: “On the Internet, however, it seems that people present personal communications in ways that are as fluid as the information we digest. Defining blogs seems to accomplish two goals: It lets bloggers identify themselves as practitioners of a rigid format, which then, ironically, allows the corporate world to figure out how to use this amazing medium for ends that have little in common with the spirit of the first-generation bloggers.”

Okay, so MacMillan’s gone ahead and cherry-picked his definitions, then mocked the medium for becoming commercial. Almost like a newspaper. With advertising. Or an internal corporate magazine. Or an advertising campaign.

He does admit his mistake, and although I really don’t have any time to savor a slice of “I got a mainstream writer to correct himself” pie, I give him credit for owning up to the factual error.

The medium AND the message are integral elements of communication, and if you can’t see that, you’re clearly neglecting your senses in some manner.

For those who take an interest in the naming of things, here are the immortal words of Old Possum…enjoy.

The Naming of Cats by T.S. Eliot

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, or George or Bill Bailey –
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum –
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

[tags]Robert MacMillan, Washington Post, journalism, blogs, cats[/tags]