Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

So, today was a semi-interesting day in the online world with some very interesting language used. First, some background.

The Background

digg.com is a website that links to other sites, based on user voting. So, if there’s a new, cool site submitted by a digg user, digg will post a link to it, and if there are enough votes, it’ll make the digg frontpage.

Similarly, fark.com is a site which posts user submitted news items (strange and mainstream), as well as other cool sites, all with comedic, user-submitted headlines. As a disclaimer, I am a Farker (one who dwells on Fark), so I might have some bias here.

One thing these two sites have in common is their tendency to flood (and sometimes take offline) the sites that they link to on the main page. They both have a massive readership, and when something is linked on either the fark or digg mainpage, thousands of visitors will be clicking the link and viewing the site. If a site has an older, less capable server, sometimes the server can get overloaded (imagine trying to carry on a conversation with 50 people at once), and the site will cease to be viewable by anybody.

The fascinating language use here comes from the fact that the site names are used to describe this flooding effect. When digg links to a site on its mainpage and floods it with people, the receiving site is said to have gotten “Dugg”. Similarly, if Fark links to a site and takes it down, the site is said to have been “farked”.

Well, today, digg dugg fark, and then fark farked digg. These two, high traffic sites fired salvoes of readers at each other. Due to their robust servers, managed to both stay alive and healthy (so perhaps neither site was dugg nor farked), and the event itself was rather trivial, but the language use is still fascinating.

Verbing in the Virtual world

It’s not uncommon on the internet to have a site name get “verbed”, or turned into a verb indicating a particular function. Perhaps the most common example is “to google”, referring to looking up a phrase, person, or idea using an online search engine (interestingly, in modern usage, one could now “google” something on yahoo.com, much to google’s disdain). Another example, also describing the effect of a traffic surge is “to slashdot” a site, where a site is linked on slashdot.org. I’ve also seen examples of “to netflick” or “to netflix”, referring to ordering something through netflix.com. So, sites’ names are fairly frequently used as verbs which refer to the main service of the site.

Verboten in reality

(I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist the crosslinguistic pun)

What struck me, though, was the lack of this with non-virtual names in English. I asked a small group of people, and none of them could come up with an example of a person’s name which has become a verb indicating the action for which they are known. There are constructions that let us do that (“I heard he pulled a Kurt Kobain after getting the results”, pardoning the morbid example), and there are some people who are really only known for a single action (when I say “Monica Lewinsky”, you’re not going to be thinking about her current contributions to society). There are also examples where a person’s name can be placed on an object, and then transferred to an action and verbed (“Yeah, I hear he molotov’ed her car”, referring to a Molotov cocktail, named after Vyacheslav Molotov, a Stalin era soviet leader). However, I still can’t think of a person’s name going directly to a verb in English. If you find one (or know about this happening in other languages), leave a comment below, and I’ll post it up with credit to you.

Regardless, I think it’s time that I claimed my verb for Linguistic Mystic. I propose that, from this day forward, “to lingmystify” shall indicate my confusing the owner of obscure, language-related sites by linking to them and causing a sudden influx of around 10 or 15 hits. It might not be in anybody’s dinner conversation anytime soon, but hey, I’ll be one of the elite few who have their own verbs. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

**EDIT: Check out this post for some reader submitted examples! **


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