Many neologisms come to us from science and technology, where perpetual cycles of discoveries and developments create a constant need for new terminology. I examined one of them, the familiar blog, a few weeks ago, after several Macmillan Dictionary Blog contributors selected it as their favourite “online English” word.
Another one worth a closer look is webinar. Like blog, it is a blend or portmanteau word, though their common constituent, web, has been retained more explicitly in webinar. (It’s easy to forget or overlook the fact that blog comes from web + log.) The second part of webinar derives from seminar. Conduct or participate in one of these over the web, and there’s your webinar.
Even as new blends go, the word has been divisive. After entering the vocabulary, it spread quickly, appearing in Lake Superior State University’s “List of Banished Words” in 2005. Yet some people embraced it with little or no fuss, presumably in some cases because they give webinars or take part in them, so they have inevitably become accustomed to hearing and using the word.
Bryan Garner, a prescriptivist who says he is “often inclined to object to linguistic ‘innovations’”, finds webinar fine and handy. (He calls blog “perhaps the ugliest neologism of the last century”, so webinar gets off very lightly by comparison.) Others feel that it’s awkward and ill-sounding. In a post on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s language blog, Lingua Franca, Geoffrey Pullum – a descriptivist “not normally given to word rage” – describes webinar as awful, misbegotten, and repellent.
Wandering around the web, we find many who share his aversion: people complain that webinar “needs to die”, that it “should be banished on pain of death”, and that they “hate it and everything it represents about life, work and the universe”. Webinar might not win any word beauty awards, but if it is found useful enough for long enough, it will survive no matter how malformed some people consider it.
New words, especially voguish portmanteaus, tend to push people’s buttons, often for reasons that are difficult to discern – a gut reaction that just sticks. If you have reason to use webinar but you really can’t stomach it, you can always take advantage of the richness of synonymy in English by falling back on web seminar, online seminar, web conference, and so on. It’s worth the extra syllables if it keeps your blood pressure down.
What’s your opinion of webinar? Is it a perfectly serviceable coinage, or a foul and faddish term that you hope will fade?Email this Post