[Air-l] Re: Flame Wars (& Etymology of flaming)

Danyel Fisher danyelf at cs.berkeley.edu
Sun Jan 13 10:15:34 PST 2002

In this message, Danyel works backwards in time, finding flames in HTML, in
1981, in 1979, in 1959, and 1548.

For the trivially-inclined only.


Sadly, the "<FLAME ON>" nomenclature comes from the HTML tags. As in,
<BLINK>This text is annoying</BLINK>

Or so I thought, until I found it in 1981 in the Google archive, when
someone starts an article with <FLAME ON>. Maybe you're right.

This discussion, on the origin of "flames" (and its possible relation to the
homosexual sense of "flaming") happened in May of 1981 in the fa.human-nets


which I've shortened to

At that time, the term is clearly already well-known.

Check with the cyberspace-history list,
which mentions
a citation for "Flames" in 1975 (but no etymology)

In contrast
cites flames as coming from 1959 (!) at Xerox PARC,
"A personal, ad hominem attack. Back in 1959, Xerox PARC (which invented
computers but couldn't figure out how to get credit for it) had a program
called The Emoticon, which graphically displayed the content of email
travelling over a network link. Logical, rational messages were shown in
cool colors like blue and white, while heated, emotional messages were shown
in warm colors like red and yellow. The flickering, firelike patterns that
irate messages created quickly caused them to be dubbed "flames", and the
name stuck. "

The OED writes
[Flame]    b. Of persons: To burn (with envy, fury, indignation, etc.); to
look angrily or passionately upon. to flame out, up: to break out into open
anger or indignation; to 'fire up'.
1548 UDALL, etc. Erasm. Par. Matt. xxii. 106 Whiche wholy flame with enuy
and hatred. 1681 CROWNE Hen. VI, IV. 49, I flame with fury to be at it.
a1701 SEDLEY Happy Pair (1766) 16 With heat of loue he flam'd upon his mate.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Waxman, Mickey B" <mickey at ku.edu>

> How about a guess?
> The custom used to be that a writer would be writing on a topic and then,
> warn the readers or just to make it clear that strong emotion attached to
> upcoming words, would write <FLAME ON>.  E.g.:

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