Thursday, January 03, 2008

Protocol: A Sticky Subject

The U.S. Department of State has an Office of the Chief of Protocol. It advises, assists, and supports the President of the United States, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State on official matters of national and international etiquette, ensuring that the accepted rules of conduct are observed.

In extended use, protocol is the accepted or established code of behavior in any group, organization, or situation. Most businesses have a protocol that employees are expected to follow, and research protocol is very important in the sciences.

In computer terminology, protocol is a standard procedure--a set of rules--for regulating the exchange of data between computers, or for regulating the transmission of data via a given communications channel.

In earlier use, protocol referred to the original record or minutes of a transaction, usually signed by a government official to signify validity. But it all began with the papyrus roll. Some of those rolls were attached to wooden rods or dowels, one at the beginning of the roll and the other at the end. In Greek, the word protocol broke into two parts: proto, first, and kolla, glue. The first part of the roll was glued to the left dowel, forming page one, as it were. That’s where official identification and date would often appear.

The dowel at the far right side (the end of the roll) had a name, too: eschatocol. In Greek, the eschat- part meant last, and -col, as above, meant glue. A fairly well-known word using the eschat- root is eschatology.

SIDEBAR: ancient book forms

SIDEBAR: Papal Documents [look under “documents in detail”]

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