You may have trouble reading this if semen makes you giggle.
Webinar comes from seminar plus web. The word seminar means ideas (semen) plus a context in which to share those ideas (–ar). Webinar is supposed to mean a place to share ideas on the web. Surely if you wanted to coin a new word to communicate this, you would change the suffix –ar which relates to the place, and not chop semin – the spunky ideas bit – in half.
Admittedly, nothing comes to mind for how you would do this. But what’s wrong with web seminar? Even, at a push, e-seminar?
A bit more detail about the bastardized ‘webinar’
Webinar is a portmanteau word – a new word made by blending together two existing words. You already know lots of portmanteau words:
blog = web + log
brunch = breakfast + lunch
email = electronic + mail
camcorder = camera + recorder
moobs = man + boobs
mockumentary = mock + documentary
Brangelina = Brad + Angelina
The Wikipedia (wiki + encyclopaedia) list of common portmanteau words shows that the Internet and computing sector has contributed its fair share. So it is no surprise that we have ended up with:
webinar = web + seminar
The English word seminar comes, via German, from the Latin seminarium, meaning ‘seed plot’. Literally, a place for seeds:
seminarium = semen (seed) + arium (a place for)
Words that derive from seminarium often follow this pattern. They have the semin– bit at the start to mean the seeds or ideas, followed by a suffix that indicates the environment in which these ideas are being planted:
seminary = semen (ideas) + –ary (a place containing)
seminar = semen (ideas) + –ar (pertaining to)
The first part that tells you we’re talking about ideas, and the second part indicates a location or context for those ideas.
Webinar was coined because the web presented a new location for people to share their ideas. But it has broken up the word seminar in the wrong way. In its construction, semin-ar already had ideas plus location coded into it. When the location changed, the ending of the word was up for grabs. But the trunk – the part that means ‘ideas’ – is significant for the meaning of the word.
Introducing Miss Mrs-nes
Here are some strange examples of what would happen if we followed this pattern when joining other words together.
It’s like Miss Jones getting married and becoming Miss Mrs-nes (excuse the dated nature of that example).
It’s like the festival of apples in Appletown being named ‘Festivaltown’.
It’s like calling my Italian version of a Spanish tortilla a ‘Spanish Italianilla’.
Keeping the –inar part of seminar makes little sense. It is not a clean break. It destroys the significant meaning of the word, and retains the less relevant part.
web + –in (half of semen/idea) + –ar (pertaining to)
A webinar literally pertains to half an idea on the web. Insert your own joke about lack of spunk, or ideas being half-cocked, or webinar not having the balls.
As it turns out, many webinars do seem half-cocked, being less about interactive learning and more about listening to some chump banging on about marketing.
Sticking my tiny oar in
Of course, language is fluid (no pun intended) and constantly changing. The words that are accepted into common usage are simply the words that get used. I am entirely open to the criticism that my judgement on how crude a formation is doesn’t matter one bit. If people use it, as they are, then it’s a word.
And so it is. Webinar is already in some dictionaries. But it is exactly because language is a river that flows from the usage of everyday people that I, as one everyday person myself, occasionally want to stick my twig into the water and say: “what an ugly word. I’m definitely not going to use that.”
Most likely my twig will get swept away to be dashed on the falls of corporate jargon. There is a small chance that it will cause a little eddy, or join some other debris to cause a blockage. At the least it may show other webinar-hating tiny twig bearers that they do not suffer alone.