When Ben Smith, the New York Times media columnist and former editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, and Justin Smith (no familial relation, only a brother in blogging), the former CEO of Bloomberg, announced last week that their new media venture was going to be named after a word that was universal to “25 or 35 different languages,” we could’ve sworn it was either gonna be Soup or Mommy.
How naive were we, Mommy? The Smiths of course did market research to see what would best appeal to their intended readers, the underserved, disrespected population of “200 million people who are college educated, who read in English, but who no one is really treating like an audience, but who talk to each other and talk to us.”
And what is the one thing we know for sure about this mysterious demographic? They’re buying pants, retinol, and generic Monoxodil off of Instagram. And that is why the Smiths have chosen to name their venture Semafor, which sounds exactly like the name of a direct-to-consumer Instagram company that has been tested and recommended by an impartial board of dermatologists at the National Eczema Association.
Of course, Semafor’s not actually a recognizable word in English, but those of us who traveled on a school bus from suburban Chicagoland to the Illinois State Latin Competition in Peoria in 2008 know its ancient phonetic roots (I’m not naming names, but a source close to Gawker tells me that group of insufferable know-it-alls is an even more underprivileged population than the Smith’s fabled group of 200 million college-educated talkers and news-consumers). It means “bearer of a signal.” Sure!
While you’re waiting for your shipment of Semafor to arrive to your door, feel free to check out another newly named publication, Compact, a journal promoting “a strong social-democratic state that defends community — local and national, familial and religious — against a libertine left and a libertarian right.” Fun fact – it shares a name with a German neo-fascist neo-Nazi magazine that’s been banned from Facebook. Although now that I think about it, doesn’t that sound like an Instagram luggage company?