Discussion in 'English Only' started by nezet, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. nezet Senior Member

    Hi everybody,

    I need some linguistic help. How can you explain that the word "buzz", which originally describes a sound, is now used in mediatic areas (create a buzz ...etc.) ? Do we call this a semantic extension ?
    I would be thankful of any reply !
  2. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    I don't understand "mediatic" nor do I find it in the OED. In any case, "buzz" in this sense is simply a metaphor. I guess you could call any acquisition of new meaning "semantic extension."
  3. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
  4. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    buzz (v.) [​IMG]
    late 15c., echoic of bees and other insects. Aviation sense of "fly low and close" is by 1941 (see buzz (n.)....
  5. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    Your first link doesn't work.

    You have shown the other root that I was talking about. You have also shown a verb. The thread is about 'buzz' the noun. If you read the entries carefully you will see what I mean.
  6. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Sorry about the broken link. Can't figure out why. But the entry you linked to cites the following:

    "a busy rumor," 1620s (earlier "a fancy," c.1600),(v. figurative use from buzz (v.)). Literal sense of "humming sound" is from 1640s.

    "Busy rumor" seems to be a definition, not an etymology.
  7. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    I'm reading that differently:

    (a) The noun 'buzz' derived from 'busy rumour'
    (b) The (distinct) noun 'buzz' derived from the verb 'to buzz'.

    You can see that the 'busy rumour' meaning is from the 1620s whereas the 'humming sound' meaning comes later in the 1640s.
  8. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Buzz is used by Shakespeare, circa 1600, as an onomatopeia. Hamlet, act 2 scene 2.

    • Polonius. The actors are come hither, my lord.

    However, it's anyone's guess what he actually meant by it. "Rumour"? "Buzz off!"? "You sound like a mosquito to me"?
  9. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    "Mediatic" is not, to my knowledge, a word; I guess that by "mediatic areas" you mean media, communication.

    To answer your question: I believe that "buzz"—meaning the low, humming sound of bees—is also used informally to mean rumor, gossip, or just plain talk among people simply because the chatter of a swarm of people resembles that hum. By extension, it refers to wider talk among people.

    Thus, it's been reported that elements of Michelle Obama's appearance at our president's second inaugural yesterday has generated buzz: People are talking about her new hairstyle, and also about her coat by a designer previously not well known.
  10. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    "Buzz" has been used in this way for a while by those of us in the media, but it's become general now. It means "talk" but also "excitement" and "additional publicity." There is, in this sense, no such thing as "quiet buzz." It implies not just talk but talk in the media, including (these days) social media.
  11. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    They're saying there's no citation of "buzz" (humming sound) as a noun before the 1640s but this is not proof that it wasn't used only that there's no known remaining work that can be cited. From the same source , we know "buzz" (make a humming sound) has at least one citation more than 40 years earlier. On a word origins board I used to frequent, posters would frequently find valid citations for words which were earlier than those listed in the OED because literature is more easily searchable mpw. It is very believable that a lost 1610 text could be found which uses "buzz" (humming sound) as a noun.
  12. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Oh look! I found one. And it wasn't that lost after all; it was in the OED the whole time...
    Nb. the OED gives exactly the same etymology for these words.

    All of these phrases come from the same general place - the idea that bees make a droning, almost grating, humming sound. The same idea informs the similar phrase "a bee in one's bonnet" or "a bee in one's brain." So the combination of the two strands - a humming sound and an idée fixe or chimera - is almost overdetermined by the two other metaphorical expressions. We know that "buzz," as a noun, goes back far before 1640. It seems like all the current meanings of "buzz" - the sound made by bees/a sound resembling a bee's buzzing/a rumor - all existed at that time too.

    In other words, I don't think there's any marked semantic shift over time; moreover "buzz" is not derived from "busy" but from the verb "to buzz." I think these are all meanings of the word "buzz."
  13. nezet Senior Member

    Hi everybody,

    Thank you very much for all the replies! And for the links and quotations from the OED you gave in your answers as well.
    I'm really sorry about the word "mediatic" (it doesn't exist in English, I made what we call a "calque" in French, a borrowing from the French language, really sorry about that :p. By this word, I meant "media, communication". Ok, I think I quite understand (tell me if I'm wrong) : the word buzz as it appears in the media is a metaphorical use of the noun buzz which originally caracterizes a specific sound (sound of bees/sound of people talking) . In addition, this metaphoric function appeared very early (maybe at the same time the noun buzz first emerged).
    Am I wrong?
    Thanks a lot. :)
  14. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Don't worry about the calque; it happens all the time!

    I think that your explanation is excellent - except that we can't really say which of these meanings is "original" and which one is "metaphorical," since they all seem to emerge at the same time. I would say that the different meanings mutually informed each other.

    The important thing is that, even if "buzz" for "rumor, something everyone's talking about" is a metaphor, it is one that has always accompanied "buzz" meaning "sound of a swarm of bees." This isn't the case for other meanings of "buzz" (like, for instance, "to have a bit of a buzz" meaning "to be a little drunk/high"), which emerge much later.
  15. nezet Senior Member

    YOUR explanation is excellent :) (how could I write that one is "original" and the other is "metaphorical" since they appeared at the same time?!). Now I think it is much more clear for me. Thus, buzz as used in the media is not an invention (I mean a semantic neologism).
    Thank you!

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