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You Can't Judge a Vook by Its Cover

You can read it. You can watch it. You can talk about it online with your friends. It's a sort of picture book — or, more precisely, a moving-picture book — but its inventors call it a Vook. That's Vook as in video + book.  

It's also Vook as in a business (headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area), and Vook™ as in a trademark-registration-in-process, which explains the capital letter. Well ... sometimes explains the capital letter. Vooks from Vook (hello, Dr. Seuss!) are only one segment of the vookosphere: In a September announcement of its own text/video mashup, Simon & Schuster used "vook" as a generic term. That's the sort of thing that gives trademark lawyers insomnia. 

And trademark confusion isn't the only problem with vook (or Vook). For starters, the word doesn't look like English. (In my English-language dictionaries, the only words that start with voo- are voodoo, which came into English from an African word, and voortrekker, an Afrikaans borrowing.) On the other hand, if you're a native Spanish speaker you'll pronounce it book — "v" and "b" are interchangeable in Spanish — and wonder why the word's misspelled. Nor is it apparent how the /oo/ vowel is supposed to be pronounced. (Aha! According to a video on Vook.com, the word rhymes with shook, not spook.)

Like it or not, though, we've been slouching toward vook — linguistically, that is — for about a decade. It's been about that long since people began coming up with word-blends to describe the new, Internet-era media. 

The mashups began with blog, which devolved in 1998 or 1999 from WebLog, coined by the writer and computer scientist Jorn Barger in 1997 as a contraction of Web — as in World Wide — and log. (Barger capitalized the L in WebLog because, he later said, "the syllable 'blog' seemed so hideous.") Log as in ship's log was first recorded in 1823; it's a truncation of logbook (1679), so named because of the logs that floated alongside a ship to mark its speed. (If it were being truncated today, would a logbook be a look?)  

It wasn't only Barger who held blog in contempt. The word was compared disdainfully to blog and blob and clog. "I hate the abbreviation, with its jiggly-blob, melted dessert overtones," wrote journalist Scott Rosenberg in Salon.com in 2002. "But" — you can almost hear the sigh of resignation — "it's stuck." In fact, the train had already left the station and was chugging along at full speed. The free blog-publishing service Blogger had been launched in 1999 by Evan Williams (who would later launch Twitter) and Meg Hourihan; as the service grew, so did the acceptance of blog. So much so that by 2009, Rosenberg had not only embraced blog, he'd published a history of blogging, Say Everything. 

Encouraged by the success of blog, word-blenders began creating new portmanteaus to keep up with new technology. Here's an overview: 

Blook: A book developed from a blog or a book serialized on a blog. The first published blook — that is, published on paper, between covers — was User Interface Design for Publishers by Joel Spolsky, based on his Joel on Software blog. It came out in June 2001. But the word blook to describe the product wasn't coined until December 2002, when media critic Jeff Jarvis, of BuzzMachine, suggested it as a title for a blog-based book by Tony Pierce. Since then, several companies have been started expressly to publish blooks on demand; one of them, Lulu, introduced the Lulu Blooker Prize — a pun on Britain's well-established Man Booker Prize — in 2006.  

Blawg: A blog, usually written by a lawyer, that focuses on legal issues. 

Vlog: Video blog. Coined around 2004, although the first known video blog was created by Adam Kontras in January 2000. Vlog is notable for its un-English initial consonant blend; vl- is common in Slavic languages but not found in English words. Sometimes called vodcast, a blend of video and podcast. (Podcast, a portmanteau of iPod and broadcast that describes downloadable media files, first appeared in February 2004; despite the word's origins, it has never been necessary to use an Apple iPod to create or listen to podcast.) Vlog was accepted into the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary this year. 

Diavlog: A video-blog-dialogue; a video conversation between two people. The term was adopted by Bloggingheads.tv, which launched in 2005, to describe its primary content, but the word diavlog may predate that launch.  

Plog: "Personalized blog." Created and named by Amazon.com in 2006, Plogs allowed customers to communicate directly with book authors. The following year, Amazon replaced Plogs with Amazon Daily, which contains posts from editors throughout the site. 

Flog: (a) A fake blog, created either as a parody or as corrupt public relations. (b) "Forum-blog," coined in 2006 by Emeryville (CA) communications company Lithium. (c) A food blog. Not to be confused with... 

Phlog: (a) A photo-blog. History uncertain; may have originated as early as 2000. (b) A blog-like publication run off a Gopher protocol server. (The ?ph- comes from Gopher.) 

Moblog: Mobile blog; a blog published directly from a mobile phone. The word's first published appearance seems to have been in 2003. 

Splog: Spam blog. Popularized in mid-2005 by sports/media entrepreneur Mark Cuban, but seen sporadically as early as 2003. Spam blogs, which specialize in "link flooding" — inserting links to promote a service — may represent as many as 20 percent of all blogs.  

Which seems a fitting segue to ook, which comes not from the Internet but from traditional publishing. According to a remembrance in New York Magazine, the great editor Robert Giroux, who died in 2008 at age 94, coined the term to describe "gimmicks that weren't quite books." "It is the publisher's job, if he cannot find a masterpiece to print," Giroux once said, "at least to avoid publishing junk." 

Good advice for all of us, whether we're dealing in paper or pixels ... or a hybrid. 


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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Monday October 19th 2009, 7:07 AM
Comment by: Randy Alexander (Jilin City China)
Off the top of my head, except for "spook", "kook", and the slang derogatory meaning of "gook" (not the one that means thick viscous matter, but the one that means Charlie in 'Nam), I'm pretty sure that all other -ook words rhyme: book, took, shook, look, brook, Wookie, cook, cookie, rook, nook, hook, etc(?), so I find it surprising that you don't find the pronunciation of vook obvious.

Q.v. Seuss, One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, p30-31.
Friday January 15th 2010, 11:14 AM
Comment by: Elizabeth K.
Excellent article as usual with Nancy!

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