There just isn't a word for it

by Suw on July 19, 2004

Kevin Marks and I have been having an ongoing on-and-off conversation for several months now about the role played by Jeanniecool (and sometimes me) in Joi's IRC channel, #joiito. It's something Kevin has thought about already, once or twice, but neither he nor I can pin it down properly.
What Jeannie and I do, Kevin noticed, is act in the channel as a sort of 'hostess', except hostess isn't quite the right word for it. We greet new people when they enter and help them learn how to use Jibot to create a definition – a mini-CV – for themselves that then provides a sort of on-demand online identity. It's like we marshal a sort of 'esprit de irc' in the channel, keeping the conversation flowing and facilitating conversation.
The problem is not so much in defining our role within the community on #joiito (and, in my case, also on #suwcharman), because that's fairly easy. The difficulty is finding a word to sum it up. It's not 'hostess'. Maybe once it was, but hostess now has a slight nuance of tackiness about it, of inanity – the air hostess with a brain the size of a pea re-joining the mile-high club on a weekly basis. That's not it.
'Geisha' is nearly it, except for the sexual connotations it has. Ok, so Jeannie and I flirt a bit, it's true. We are red-blooded women after all, so what do you expect. But I am sure that neither I nor the majority of non-Japanese people understand fully the role of the geisha in Japanese society, and it's a word I would hesitate to apply to anyone without having that knowledge.
'Landlady' or 'barmaid' might be close to it. Landlady is too authoritarian. Barmaid too buxom. (No comments about our actual buxomness, thank you!). And there's no serving of actual alcohol either, so whilst those two words work within the context of your friendly local pub, they don't quite cut the mustard on IRC.
Then we have 'facilitator' or 'moderator'. Neither of them warm enough for this role. They sound too business like, too clinical. What Jeannie and I do is far more friendly than that.
'Channel mum'. I don't think so. The very last thing I want to be on IRC is some sort of maternal figure, and I really don't think that's what Jeannie and I are.
I'm starting to run out of alternatives now. I'm not the only one.
Kevin says, “I've been trying to express this for ages. It is the key difference between online social groups that work and those that don't and I think you've been hired to do that job at Headshift.”
I have to agree with Kevin there. The successful online social groups that I've been in have tended to revolve around a small number of key people. I think that's just the nature of human interactions – we gravitate to the nodes naturally, to the Joi Itos and Euan Semples and Stowe Boyds of this world, because they are easy to talk to, they are interesting, they are friendly. They are the glue that holds the community together.
But as Kevin pointed out to me, this is a skill which is much undervalued in the UK and US, yet highly valued in Japan. Maybe that's what we need, a Japanese word to express this concept, because I can't think of an English one that does it quite properly. There are always overtones of sex, or alcohol, or authority, or maternality. This role is about none of those, yet it has a hint of all of them in it. There is a hint of flirting, a glass or two of wine, the occasional telling off and the sympathetic support.
There's also an awful lot of geek talk, but that's not my fault.

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 2:09 am

There have always been people with a high Social Quotient. You drop them into meetings and the run smoother. Mixers become happy. Parties become memorable.
While the specifics are a tad different online, the role of social lubricant (okay, geisha is better than social lubricant) is the same. Bringing out the wallflowers. Calming hot tempers. Keeping the boor away from the effete. Patterning humor and happiness and sociability and etiquette for newbies to follow.
Congrats on the job, Suw.

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 8:15 am

How about a faciligi? Yes, it is a real word, but no, I'm not going to tell you where it comes from.

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 8:34 am

No that's not right…
How about 'Bard'?
Still not right…
Erm….'Host' is pretty good, without the sexist/sexual connotations. And better than a synonym of Hostess which all seem to revolve around prostitution – otherwise I would have suggested 'Courtesan' or 'Companion'.
Oh don't ask me, I've only just woken up.

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 10:55 am

Facilitatrix? Hmmm. Sounds like a Roman character in Asterix…
Guru? Rabbi?
(Best of luck on the new job)

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 12:39 pm

|| hostess now has a slight nuance of tackiness about
|| it, of inanity
And in Japan, hostess is indeed sexual, with rich businessmen frequenting 'hostess bars' where girls take care of them, go out for expensive meals with them, etc.

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 8:35 pm

Thanks Phil. Makes life a little easier, and a lot more interesting!
And yes, 'geisha' is a bit better than 'social lubricant', but not much. 😉

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 8:37 pm

See! I knew it! What about geisha? What connotations does that have in Japan?

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 8:38 pm

channel specialist first class with wit and charm and the ability to move mountains and all round person of culture and detachment .
or is that too long?

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 8:41 pm

A CSFCWWACATATMMAARPOCAD? Nooo, not to long at all.

Anonymous July 20, 2004 at 10:54 pm

Interesting – I think Phil hits the nail with the idea of “Social Quotient” – and what is being described is essentially gender neutral in that anyone with that SQ could do it.
However I think it speaks of both our cultural expectations of women and perhaps too a genuine gender difference in “propensity to have SQ” that it sounds more like a female role.
And then of course all the negatgive connotations that you (Suw) have identified get thrown into play.
So stick with “host”?

Anonymous July 21, 2004 at 2:34 am

The Japanese term you're looking for is Mama-san, only , of course, it doesn't survive translation at all.
What about Maven, as in Society Maven cum Channel Maven? A sort of sophisticated hostess with the mostess presiding over an glittering salon of the very best types? I think it may be de rigeur for mavens to have little black dresses and possibly cigarette holders and cats eye glasses. I have a feeling you're up to the task.

Anonymous July 21, 2004 at 7:32 am

Hm, yes, Mama-san doesn't quite work in English, does it? Sounds like some sort of equipment for the steam-cleaning of mothers.
Maven might work, yes, although it does have the meaning of 'guru' or 'expert' and I'm not sure that I would fall into the 'expert' category!

Anonymous July 21, 2004 at 10:12 pm

how about 'guide'?
others from online and mental thesauri: guru, chaperon, mentor, usher, pilot, advisor
Mike G.

Anonymous July 23, 2004 at 1:41 am

With the way some people act in the channel, I'd say the job is mostly that of chaperon. Providing new people a guide, and a few deserving folk a slap on the side of the head. – Woolstar

Anonymous July 23, 2004 at 6:46 am

Chaperon tends to imply, though, a person sent a long to ensure that people behave correctly and don't start accidently slipping tongue to each other. It has a bit of an air of authority about it, whereas I think the role is more organic than that – we don't have any authority except whatever is granted (usually none) by the others in the channel. And considering the topics of conversation that tend to be prevelent when Jeannie and I are both present, chaperon would be a bit of a misnomer.

Anonymous July 26, 2004 at 3:46 pm

how's about 'the ones that totally fucking ruin it', for a start.

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