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New Word of the Month
Poking, pimping and twittering – new words and online identity

Book Review
Wobbly Bits and Other Euphemisms

Rhyme time

New Word of the Month
Poking, pimping and twittering – new words and online identity
by Kerry Maxwell

lifestreaming also life streaming noun [U] /laifstrilenming/
the activity of creating an online record of your daily life, especially by collecting together blog posts (=online diary entries), social networking updates and other online media such as photos, video, etc.
lifestreamer noun [C] /laifstrilenmschwa/
lifestream noun [C] /laifstrilenm/

‘Lifestreaming is an online record - or in Web parlance, feed - of a person's activities online drawing from their posted content on blogs, social networks, photo and video sites and more. In short, you do a lot of stuff all over the Web; lifestreaming lets you aggregate all these activities and show them to your friends.’
(Smart Biz, 17th January 2008)

‘They are lifestreamers, who have been simulcasting their lives 24 hours a day. Why? Because it's there.’
(The Guardian, 16th July 2007)

‘Users are not just sending texts and e-mails, but are "lifecasting" words and video 24 hours a day. "It's a lifestream of your activities - both in the real world and online," said Jaiku's Jyri Engestrom.’
(BBC News, 9th May 2007)

Remember the old adage ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’? Well, in today’s society, perhaps it should read something more like ‘It’s not what you know, but who you are online’. The convenience and popularity of online journals (blogs), social networking websites, instant messaging, online photo / video and other such media are making the idea of an ‘online identity’ an increasingly prominent concept. And it’s in this context that the new term lifestreaming has emerged. Lifestreaming is the process of creating an online record of your daily activities, both virtual and real, which you can show to your friends. The idea is to draw together all the information you have posted on the web - whether it’s blog entries, photos / video or participation in social networks - and put them in one place to create a lifestream, an aggregated online record of your day-to-day life. People who do this are now dubbed lifestreamers: creators of a daily broadcast of their real or virtual activities. An offshoot is the concept of workstreaming, where the focus is on things you are doing in your professional life, intended for the attention of clients, colleagues and business partners.

Though for the older and more sceptical among us this may seem a bit bizarre, (and I must confess - I do wonder who would really be interested in checking out the minutest details of my daily movements!), there is no doubt that online identity is becoming an increasingly important issue in the lives of many people. And of interest here, is that the mechanisms for ‘making our mark’ online have thrown up many new items of vocabulary.

A core concept is social networking, which centres on the idea of using the Internet to connect people who share similar personal / professional interests, or perhaps have something else in common, like geographical location or educational institutions previously attended. There’s been an explosion of popularity in social networking websites, within which people are connected as a database of friends, friends of friends, and so on. Among the most well-known examples is Facebook® which, with more than 60 million members, represents one of the world’s most visited websites. Its popularity as a contemporary means of communication has led to the word facebook - originally just a noun referring to a printed booklet of college members - being used as a verb, as in I facebooked her last night. Facebook the verb essentially has two meanings, one simply being ‘to communicate with someone using the Facebook® website’, and the other taking inspiration from new verb Googleto mean something like ‘to search for information about someone using Facebook®. The former sense also occurs ditransitively (i.e. with both a direct and an indirect object) as in e.g. I facebooked her a message last night.

Even more interesting from a neologist’s point of view is that Facebook® users have attached very new and specific senses to familiar items of vocabulary. For example, within the pages of Facebook®, the word poke is used both as a verb and a noun to indicate that you want to get someone’s attention. By poking someone or sending them a poke, you’re giving them a kind of virtual nudge. Whilst many users interpret the poke feature as an innocent mechanism for saying hello, a significant number have construed it as a kind of sexual advance - so much so that the word poke and related forms (poker, poking) are emerging innuendoes. An embellishment of the poke concept is the SuperPoke! feature, which enables users to substitute the word poke with other action words expressing how they want to interact with someone, such as a hug, slap and, well, I’ll leave it to your imagination!

Each Facebook® user has a profile, a dedicated web page containing information about them which they control and maintain. Among the key components of the profile is what is referred to as the wall, a space on the page which allows friends to post messages for the user (and his / her friends) to see. Other commonly used terms are gifts, virtual presents in the form of small novelty icons, and the news feed, a constantly updated list which shows users what their friends have been doing on Facebook® and highlights information such as profile changes, birthdays and other forthcoming events. Another common activity is tagging, where users allocate short electronic labels to photos in order to help others find them more easily in the future.

Users can make their profile look more attractive by adding photos, graphics, music etc. This activity is referred to as pimping your profile, and in contrast to poking, has no sexual overtones. The use of pimp in this sense is likely have taken inspiration from African American English, in which pimping something, especially a vehicle, refers to modifying and embellishing it in a very individual way. The standard sense of pimp recorded in most English dictionaries relates to managing prostitutes, but in fact one theory about the word’s origins suggests a closer link with this newer sense: pimp could be based on the 16th century French pimper, meaning ‘to dress elegantly’.

Outside the world of Facebook® there are other mechanisms for virtual socializing that are making their mark on the English language. If a website captures people’s imagination so significantly that they begin to exploit it on a daily basis, then it seems as if its name has the potential to become a verb. One such example is YouTube™, the video sharing website where users can upload, view and share video clips. Though the site itself is only a mere three years old, its name has morphed into a verb which is in regular use in spoken English and across the Internet. YouTube the verb seems to have two interpretations based on whether video material is being placed on the site, or watched there. It’s now, for example, possible to say things like: I saw this while I was YouTubing [my friend’s wedding]. A common use is in the passive (i.e. be / get YouTubed), as shown for example in the following recent citation from America’s CBS News discussing presidential campaigns:

… Any given day, a candidate can say one word and it gets YouTubed and his campaign's done …
(CBS News
, 8th February 2008)

In exactly the same vein, though perhaps not quite so widely recognized, the photo sharing website Flickr™ has also given us a new verb, so that if photos are / get Flickred, they get posted on to the Flickr™ site, and the activity of putting your photos on the site is known as Flickring.

Of course the names of many websites take inspiration from established word senses, and so there’s then a sort of circular relationship between the original use of the word and its new, Internet-based sense. Take, for example, the verb twitter, one sense of which is defined in MED as ‘to talk a lot about unimportant things’. This informal use inspired the naming of the website Twitter, a social networking service launched in 2006 that allows users to send each other short messages of up to 140 characters long. In no time at all, regular users of Twitter established a new verb twitter meaning ‘to spend time talking to someone using Twitter’. One expectant fatherís live account of his daughterís birth illustrates the use.

Of course the other common use of the verb twitter refers specifically to birds when they make a high-pitched singing sound. Taking inspiration from the related noun, a tweet in the virtual universe is not bird song but a text-based post in Twitter. For some examples of tweets, check out this article from a BBC News blog, where an employee is twittering to others in his final hours before leaving a job!

For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.