The Word the Internet Didn't Know

By Maddie Stone on at

Ever heard of the word in this image? Probably not, because, until this month, that word didn’t exist on the Internet.

That’s right: A 17th century English word that means “coming together through the binding of two ropes,” according to a 1627 publication housed at the New York Public Library’s Rare Book Division, was, until this month, dead to the digital world—and to almost every living person.

But the cat’s out of the bag now, because two Fridays ago, Julia Weist, the Brooklyn-based artist who unearthed the strange word, managed to get it posted on an empty billboard in Forest Hills, Queens. For the naturally curious folks who’d immediately look it up online, Weist posted about the word on her website in a project she calls “Reach.” But so that we could all experience this odd moment of internet silence, she asked others not to do the same.

Of course, the internet is anything but a tame beast. On Thursday, an article on DNAinfo set the digital world aflame over a term nobody had cared about for nearly 400 years. Now, the analogue word has gone fully digital, with its very own Reddit thread and Twitter handle. And Weist is kinda okay with that.

“The word has also become a shortcut to a portrait of meaning making and content production on the Internet, both human and non-human, in the sense that you can search for it and see spools of information, reaction, conversation, re-contextualisation and response,” Weist told Gizmodo in an email. “In that sense it’s all or nothing, and now that word has been used, the more usage the better.”

Weist herself has found an interesting way to keep up with her unusual vocable’s digital debut. Every time someone visits her site, a PHP script makes a log in a text file. A Raspberry Pi in her apartment checks the server hosting that log every second, and when a visit occurs, runs a bash script to a WeMo that turns on a lamp. Apparently, the lamp has been flickering like crazy lately.

It’s easy to fall into the trapping of thinking the internet knows everything, but it doesn’t. Oddities like this makes you wonder how much other knowledge is lying on dusty shelves, waiting to be rediscovered.

[DNAinfo]

Top image via Julia Weist