The Blogging Sutras

An old thread

An old thread

I’ve been using the term threads lately. Then Christopher asked me whether that meant simply topics, which it does. Immediately and instinctively, I heard alarm bells ringing in my head: Had I succumbed to a cliché or jargon?

I seem to have picked up the word thread from the blogosphere, for which it seems uniquely suited. Many bloggers weigh in on any number of topics. But organizing disparate posts within each topic becomes a challenge, given that a blog is one single stream of posts mixing all topics together. (Tags help, of course.)

So the word thread seems perfect. Why? Because it’s an old idea for, in effect, exactly that situation.

The Sanskrit word for thread is sutra. It comes from the same Indo-European root that gave us to sew. But ancient Yogis and Buddhists and Hindus began using it as a metaphor for stringing (sewing, threading) together aphorisms into a coherent and larger whole.

Hence Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, or the much more famous Kama Sutras (excerpt above), or any number of other high-minded thought-constructs around a given topic of interest.

So, the term seems to fit. A post is really an aphorism, and a blog is really a clew of threads. (Feel free to cry foul if you smell a cliché, but it works for me. Indeed, I may rename this blog The Hannibal Sutra.)

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6 thoughts on “The Blogging Sutras

  1. More as an adjunct to your post than a rebuttal, I’m pretty sure the term ‘thread’ on blogs and forums arises (unsurprisingly) from its usage in computing.

    To a programmer, a thread defines an execution path, which itself can ‘spawn’ sub-threads as appropriate. The analogy with a discussion is quite appropriate, since each reply has the potential to become a ‘sub topic’ in its own right, and hence spawn its own sub-discussions.

    When taken as a whole, these threads combine to form a tapestry of arguments – which is just another, and less eloquent, way of repeating your original argument.

    Hey Ho!

  2. Tying two of your sutras, hopefully not too non linearly:

    Sanskrit was apparently a language in which punning was considered a high art. From Nicholas Ostler’s encyclopedic history of languages ‘Empires of the Word’ (page 184)

    “These lexical resources are exploited to the full in Sanskrit poetry, which is… addicted to punning…. a special characteristic is [the] complicated system of word liaison… known as sandhi… [in which] word boundaries are often effaced, and a single stream of syllables… becomes susceptible to multiple meanings… result[ing] in an opportunity for punning on an almost inconceivable scale”.

    Neuro-linguists tell us that we predict what a word will be, as soon as we hear its first syllable… which makes me wonder about the non consciously invoked ideas, frames and associations from punning (particularly polysemic versus homophonic).

  3. David: You’re so on. I googled it, and the computing context is probably a more likely source. So I respond by claiming a sort of intellectual’s Droit de seigneur –and simply ignoring this discovery. 😉

    Jag: This is uncanny: I’m reading Ostler’s book right now (and will soon review it here).
    These synchronicities are piling up: Just yesterday, another of you emailed me an obscure essay from the sixties that neatly encapsulates an idea I have been entertaining for my second book.
    Clearly some of us are on the same wavelength….

  4. I read with interest what you and your learned commenters said about how to use the word “thread”, and I accept your logic.

    I think, though, that most out there, and their Dobermans, will soon be tossing off “thread” as thoughtlessly as any cliche.

    I, therefore, will eschew “thread”, and will say (or write) “theme”, or some such.

    “Thread” somehow makes me uneasy, for reasons only a psychiatrist might fathom. Or it’s simply a tad too New Agey for my comfort.

  5. That Sanskrit sewing doesn’t look anything like the kind they taught us in 4H. No wonder I never got a ribbon at the County Fair. I’ll introduce some new euphemisms at home (sewing, needle point, etc.).

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