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November 7, 2006

Naming: “Camps” Taking Over from Conferences

Once upon a time, those who wished to engage in professional development and share their discoveries with their colleagues went to conferences, seminars, and workshops. Today you’re just as likely to find them headed to “boot camp” or “bar camp.”

Boot camps are crash courses offered by experts in a field such as copywriting or computer programming. The emphasis is on hands-on hard work, and those who complete the course may come away with a certificate. The name, of course, comes from the age-old nickname of military basic training.

BarcampA bar camp is a different animal. Lest you be imagining a group of professionals roasting hot dogs and marshmallows around the fireplace in a pub, however, you should know that the term “BarCamp” was created on the basis of “Foo Camp.” Foo Camp was a one-off, invitation-only un-conference (The term "un-conference" dates all the way back to 1998.) Both “foo” and “bar” are metasyntactic variables in computer programming, placeholders like “thingamajig” and “whatsit,” so a “bar camp” is semantically equivalent to a “foo camp”.

Whereas boot camps are highly structured and presented by one or two authorities, the participants decide on and present the contents of BarCamps. If you want to give a presentation, just sign up on the wiki. While bars of the alcoholic kind are an important part of all conferences, they had nothing to do with this name.

PodcampSomehow these informal, collectively-organized un-conferences have been so successful that they not only developed into an international phenomenon, but have generated linguistic spin-offs of their own, the latest of which is “PodCamp”, a portmanteau of “podcasting” (itself a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcasting”) and “BarCamp.”

Another year or two, and unpacking the names of events like this will be even harder than finding a schedule ahead of time.

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Posted by Diane Prange at November 7, 2006 11:37 AM
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