The meanings of the name Digg

Originally published Feb 7, 2007

A reader suggested doing a profile of this name, and The Name Inspector thought that was a pretty good idea.

The name Digg depends on felicitous ambiguity, of which The Name Inspector is something of a connoisseur. (He even wrote a dissertation about it, though the kind he focused on there was a bit different). What’s felicitous ambiguity? Well, that’s a term that The Name Inspector just made up, but it’s the property of having more than one meaning appropriate for a given situation. Many good names have this property, but Digg, being based on a single word, displays it in its purest form.

One meaning is ‘investigate, look hard’, as in If you want to find out about this, you’re going to have to dig. A related meaning, found in the expression dig up, is ‘discover’, as in Here’s something I dug up on the internet. Both of these evoke a culturally shared metaphor in which pieces of information are thought of as objects, knowing the information is equated with seeing or holding/possessing the objects, and making others aware of information is uncovering or unearthing the objects. Willfully keeping information secret, or at least making it difficult to know, is understood as covering the objects up. Think of burying a story–a turn of phrase alluded to by the little thumbs-down “Bury” button that you can use to vote against a story.

Digg is a great example of the way a name can tap into a metaphor that is conventionalized and entrenched in our language. In this case, the unearthing metaphor provides a vivid image to help us understand the function of this web application, which is to help people discover stories they might not otherwise read.

Aside from the meanings based on the burying/unearthing metaphor, there is of course the groovy 1960s-70s meaning. You dig? This meaning, similar to that of grok, is something like ‘behold and appreciate’, or sometimes just ‘like a lot’. When you vote for a story on Digg, you’re saying that you dig (like) it, and are asking others to dig (behold and appreciate) it. As with the names YouTube and Biznikthere seems to be an ironic evocation of bygone days in this name. The Name Inspector detects a trend here.

Finally, a meaning of dig that is marginally relevant is the one found in the expression to get in a dig at (someone). This is roughly synonymous with gibe, and means something like ‘a jokingly or backhandedly critical comment’. Voting against someone’s story on Digg might be seen as getting in a dig at them. But maybe The Name Inspector is stretching here.

Phonetically the name Digg is a picture of simplicity: a single, one-syllable word with no consonant clusters. Orthographically, too, it’s quite simple–even with the extra g, it’s shorter than most names. Now, about creative misspellings like that: sometimes they’re distinctive, and sometimes they’re just cheesy. Somehow Digg manages to avoid being cheesy. Those two g’s next to each other look kind of cute, and are vaguely evocative of the word egg. Not relevant, but friendly and familiar.

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