In 2009, Paul Gillin at a blogsite called Newspaper Death Watch (tagline: “Chronicling the Decline of Newspapers and the Rebirth of Journalism”) wrote about a new and humorous term he had just heard of for print newspapers, noting:
”[A blogger] has come up with a new word for newspapers. He calls them ‘snailpapers.’ But the longtime newspaperman insists this is a term of endearment, not derision. He thinks maybe if newspapers poked more fun at themselves instead of getting all righteously indignant about new media, they would generate more sympathy.”
TeleRead recently published two articles (here and here) that mentioned the snailpaper meme, which apparently caught the attention of WordSpy editor Paul McFedries, who added “snailpaper” to his long list of new words and phrases.
Defining a ”snailpaper” as ”a newspaper delivered physically and so more slowly compared to online news; the print edition of a newspaper,” WordSpy cited a TeleRead article headlined “Scissors, Paper, Screen: The Future of Reading”. McFedries also cited a February 2013 article from Vegas Inc., written by by Bruce Spotleson, which noted in a news brief that “April 7 is International Snailpapers Day, celebrating hard-copy media.”
The earliest citation from WordSpy was dated 2005, and came from the Washington Post. “Those of us reading your snail-paper version of the BtB column this Sunday got a jolt when we turned from the front page of Style to the jump page 3,” wrote Gene Weingarten, a revered Post humorist, in his column titled “Chatological Humor.”
McFedries notes that the novelty term is, of course, ”a play on snail mail: letters, bills, and other mail delivered physically and therefore much more slowly than e-mail. Slightly surprisingly, snail mail entered the language as far back as 1982 (h/t OED).”
And it’s true. In 1982, Bill Lee wrote an email using the snail mail term (two words) for the first time, we believe, that read: “No one else may have answered this for you by now (our Unix-Wizard mail is slower than snail mail these days) but I’ll give it a shot.”
In keeping with the good humor behind the snailpaper term as both a term of endearment and pointed humor, I wrote “The Snailpaper Statement” a few years ago and retrieved it today online.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that while the Digital Age is upon us fast and furious, the print newspaper—hereafter dubbed the “snailpaper”—shall persevere as a good daily read, a fascinating look at the world around us and a valuable tool for understanding oped pundits and above the fold headlines. Sure, the dear snailpaper will also be seen as a useful tool for wrapping fish at the local fish market or lining the bird cage in the den, but all kidding aside the daily snailpaper can hold its head high and be certain of its place in the culture.
”While news migrates in pixels and bytes to the Internet at an exponential rate, piling breaking story upon breaking story and turning everyone and his mother into a 24/7 news freak and RSS aggregator, the plodding snailpaper will nevertheless remain the bedrock of analysis and insight, from sea to shining sea, delivered at a snail’s pace, yes, read at a snail’s pace, yes, and absorbed, word for word—on glorious printed paper! white newsprint reflecting inked letters!—at a snail’s pace, yes, as long as the Republic of Letters shall live.”
Dan Bloom is a longtime print newspaperman based in Taiwan who is still adjusting to the new world of online news and opinion.