If you’ve been part of Twitter for any period of time, you have to be familiar with the most famous white Cetacean since Moby-Dick, the Twitter Fail Whale. Even Captain Ahab would have cursed the sight of this dreaded monster of the world wide web.
For Internet eons we’ve believed that the name “Twitter” was derived from something to do with the noise small birds made or something. But leave it to the scholars at the New Bedford Whaling Museum who have the waterfront covered when it comes to whale research to dredge up the following reference on page 197 of the dusty “Report of the Commissioner for the year ending June 30, 1902 : Aquatic products in arts and industries : fish oils, fats, and waxes. Fertilizer from aquatic products” by Charles H. Stevenson.
“The term ‘twitter,’ which has been previously referred to as applied to the thread-like or membranous substance ranging through the contents of the case, is also applied to the lining of that reservior. This is from 2 to 3 inches thick, glutinous, and extremely tough. In decapitating the sperm whale, especially in severing near the bunch of the neck, a very sharp spade is required to cut through this tough and elastic formation. Although it is very difficult to manipulate, an economical whaleman never throws this substance away. Since it can not be boiled out with the case, for the reason above given, it is saved and run through the pots with the fat-lean after the case and junk have been cooked.” (New Bedford Whaling Museum post)
Eureka! The crack staff of New Bedford Whaling Museum has done it again in discovering another pearl in the world of whaling wisdom (www), and now Twitter. While it all makes much more sense and the Fail Whale has new meaning, it does beg the question of how did they get to page 197 and stay alert enough to notice the word “twitter.”
But all is not calm seas in the www (world of whaling wisdom). It seems that the American Museum of Natural History’s Blue Whale’s tale is a little bent out of shape over this breakthrough as can be seen from its bitter tweet yesterday.
Whaling has not occurred in this country for over 100 years, so I hope that @NatHistoryWhale can migrate to a happier place and learn to forgive and forget.
Now that you know that “twitter” is not named after bird sounds but rather a “thick, glutinous, and extremely tough thread-like or membranous and elastic formation from a decapitated sperm whale” I’m sure you’ll want to be part of it. If you join make sure you follow @NatHistoryWhale, @whalingmuseum and me.
In case you want some real Internet reporting on this topic, the great Read Write Web had a comprehensive post on The Story of the Fail Whale – How An Unknown Artist’s Work Became a Social Media Brand Thanks To the Power of Community and Caroline McCarthy covered this story yesterday on cnet’s The Social blog in a post titled Oh, the irony: ‘Twitter’ used to be whaling slang.
Finally, if you’re into whale stuff, and you should be if you read this blog, the New Bedford Whaling Museum launched a blog a few months ago which is pretty awesomely educational. Check out this video which they brought to my attention on the important debate underway about whale education.
YouTube – The Onion: Are Our Children Learning Enough About Whales?
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