November 18, 2003

"Then down he goes his daily Log to write."

What with all the nautical word stuff floating around, somebody needs to trace the nautical origins of "log" as in "weblog". Here's what the OED says: (You'd think it would be obvious, but still I learned something: why "quadrant"? The only log I ever threw was cylindrical, as I recall.)

6. An apparatus for ascertaining the rate of a ship's motion, consisting of a thin quadrant of wood, loaded so as to float upright in the water, and fastened to a line wound on a reel. Hence in phrases to heave, throw the log, (to sail or calculate one's way) by the log. Said also of other appliances having the same object.

7. a. Short for LOG-BOOK. A journal into which the contents of the log-board or log-slate are daily transcribed, together with any other circumstance deserving notice.

The example sentences for 7.a include

1825 H. B. GASCOIGNE Nav. Fame 79 Then down he goes his daily Log to write. 1850 SCORESBY Cheever's Whaleman's Adv. vi. (1859) 86 To fix the localities of whales' resorts by the comparison of the logs of a vast number of whalers.

I like the idea of "fixing the localities of whales' resorts." And this is the earliest explicit example of textual datamining known to me, though no doubt there is a Sumerian citation from 2100 B.C. on predicting trends in temple revenues from a vast number of cuneiform tablets.

The OED says that the etymology of log is "obscure", but (like blog) seems to involve phonetic symbolism:

[Late ME. logge; of obscure origin; cf. the nearly synonymous CLOG n., which appears about the same time.
Not from ON. lág felled tree (f. OTeut. *laeg-, ablaut-variant of *leg- LIE v.1), which could only have given *low in mod.Eng. The conjecture that the word is an adoption from a later stage of Scandinavian (mod.Norw. laag, Sw. dial. låga), due to the Norwegian timber-trade, is not without plausibility, but is open to strong objection on phonological grounds. It is most likely that clog and logge arose as attempts to express the notion of something massive by a word of appropriate sound. Cf. Du. log clumsy, heavy, dull; see also LUG n. and v. In sense 6 the word has passed from Eng. into many other langs.: F. loch, Ger., Da. log, Sw. logg.]


Posted by Mark Liberman at November 18, 2003 05:59 PM