Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sometimes, a blog is just a blog but it could be a Sniglet

I am the kind of person who scans the "Friends of the Library" donation/discard rack at local library branches. The "Friends" usually recognize me on sight, even if I'm not a member of their branch's club of snowy-topped book lovers. A quarter here, a couple of bucks there, and pretty soon they don't care if you've paid annual dues. Like any good bartender, they know you'll be back. They chat you up about the readability (or not) of John Fowles-- say, ProfGeo, have you started in on that copy of Mantissa yet?-- and point out esoterica that they are sure will never sell to anyone else, like Million Miles Away, a DVD by the stupendous frenetic uke player Jake Shimabukuro, which I would've paid retail for but don't tell them.

One person's esoterica is another person's collectible. I discovered this in the early days of the San Diego Comic-Con, when a friend dragged my young behind to the El Cortez Hotel -- which was actually a hotel at the time-- for that signal event. Awash in comics culture, I took in as many presentations as I could, and tried not to overbuy. A highlight was an early version (slide show) by Scott Shaw! [punctuation deliberate] on what he labeled esoteric comics and later called oddball comics (q.v.) probably because it's easier to explain without a slide show.

An esoteric comic, as it turned out, was any item or series that Scott found unusual and personally interesting, which eliminated your usual "mainstream" superhero adventure featuring Superman, Spider-Man, and so on. He never apologized (good move) but he did explain his choices with ribald panache, which made for a hilarious time. You haven't lived until you've heard Scott discuss in depth the possible innuendos contained in Manuel Pacifico, Tuna Fisherman, or Herbie (aka the "Fat Fury"). I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to discover why someone felt the need to publish a one-off called "It's Fun to Stay Alive!"

The sad thing about Scott's popularity was that the dealers on the convention floor caught on. They decided that there was a niche for "esoteric comics." There was no life or spirit in this, as they just dug out their low sellers, tripled the price, and slapped an "esoteric" label on them. I don't think the ploy worked on most of us. Let's just say I already had my copy of Joe Simon's Prez: First Teen President #1 as well as the origin issue of the blaxploitation Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (typical exclamation: "Sweet sister!") and Howie Post's entire Anthro series, so I wasn't in their target market.

Nowadays, inspired by Scott and my own sense of nostalgia, I remain on the hunt for the unusual literary item. This brings me to today's piece involving an early, pre-Web usage of the term blog.

Those of a certain age may recall a Reagan-era satire on HBO called Not Necessarily the News. Let's just say that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert weren't the first to skewer the powers-that-be with news-based satire. NNTN wasn't the first either, but I can't speak from personal experience about That Was the Week That Was so I have to just let it go. Anyway, among NNTN's regular features was "Sniglets™," a creation of Rich Hall. A sniglet was defined as "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should." The feature proved popular enough to generate a series of amusing illustrated paperbacks compiled/authored by Hall.

So I see one of these on the old library sale rack a couple of days ago: Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe (1986). It does not ring a bell at all, so I assume I missed it on its first publication. (I was on active duty in the military and quite possibly overseas.) I am standing in the library foyer, thumbing through Unexplained Sniglets, and under B there it is in all caps: BLOG.


BLOG? Knock me over with a feather.

Yes. Rich Hall defined it in 1986 as "n. Overly generous deposits of fish food floating at the top of an aquarium." Now, I am floored as well as amused. I think, "Yeah, he wasn't so far off, was he?" I contribute 50 cents to the library fund and go on my way with my new treasure. I take it home and reread the entry. I realize that nobody, not even Rich Hall, remembers this. It's a Joshua Fit for sure.

But I also realize I need to do a little homework. Is this really the first usage, as I hope? Hm, not quite. Google it up, shall we? Blogger founder Evan Williams describes earlier usage in this 2007 blog post:

You should be aware that Blog was originally devised by British fans in the 1950s. There were two versions. A Liverpool fan named Peter Hamilton came up with the recipe for Blog Mark I, which consisted of "a brandy and egg flip base, to which was added black currant puree, Alka Seltzer, and Beechan's Powder. It effervesced." A second, simplified version (Blog Mark II) was produced by hotel barmen at the first Kettering Eastercon (1955) and consisted of "a half-pint of cider and a measure of rum." Anybody know what `egg flip' and `Beecham's Powder' are? (Quoted material taken from p.168 of A WEALTH OF FABLE, by Harry Warner, Jr.)

Williams also includes a 1973 usage, also involving conventioneers and alcohol. So 1986's sniglet wasn't quite the first, but it was way before the Web and it does seem to fill a gap in the history.

That darned Internet. It can prove you right or prove you wrong.

1 comment:

  1. No one has better library sale karma than you do and you know I don't believe it has to do with the luck of the draw. Sirens maybe, but they don't usually use books as lures? I only wish my mind had conjured up; "Overly generous deposits of fish food floating at the top of an aquarium?" A 50 cent steal.

    Appreciate the comic history, not to be confused with a funny past.

    Brandy, egg flip (what ever that is), black currant, Beechan's powder and Alka Seltzer sounds like a recipe for torture. Truth serum? Just reading it curls the lips.

    Thanks for the chuckles.