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'Parbunkells' Conquers the Internet Against Artist's Wishes

 The word 'parbunkells' has been placed on a billboard in Forest Hills.
The word 'parbunkells' has been placed on a billboard in Forest Hills.
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Julia Weist

“Parbunkells” conquered the Internet!

The rare 17th-century English word posted recently by a Brooklyn-based artist Julia Weist on an empty billboard in Forest Hills was introduced to the virtual world only a few weeks ago.

But despite the initial plea from the artist who created an online page for the word and asked others not to use it anywhere else on the Internet, "parbunkells," which means "coming together through the binding of two ropes," immediately popped up all over cyberspace.

A "parbunkells" Twitter handle and hashtag were created and a Reddit thread was started.

A new entry appeared on wiktionary.org and an online company, which specializes in print on demand products, now offers T-shirts with a parbunkells design.

But Weist, who on Wednesday said that it was now OK to use the word online, insisted that the experiment worked. 

“I understand public art as public engagement, and that's what use of the word represents,” Weist said in an email. “By that measure the project has been a real success.”

Weist said she found the word at the Rare Book Division of the New York Public Library in a 1627 publication containing vocabulary related to sailors and their trade.

The artist was the first to post it online on a page created for her project "Reach," developed as part of an initiative that turns the city's vacant ad spaces into public art. 

Earlier this month, the word was also displayed on the billboard atop a Tudor-style building at the busy intersection of Queens Boulevard and 71st Avenue.

Weist hoped that those curious about the word would go to her site. This way, she said, she would be able to connect with them, as each time the page is visited, the site sends a signal to a switchboard connected to a lamp in her apartment, which then turns on for 15 seconds. 

Visitors were initially asked not to use the word anywhere else online, as Weist said she wanted people to experience "this rare singularity on the Internet," in which a word has only one reference online.

The request has been since removed. 

By now, the word has been used online and on various social media platforms hundreds of times. 

While some Twitter users just shared the "new old" word with their followers, others seemed frustrated that the artist did not want them to reproduce it.

“Words are meant to be used,” wrote one user. "Hell no I'm using it," wrote another.



Others tackled it with humor. 

The billboard displaying the word will remain at the Forest Hills intersection for at least a couple of weeks, the organizers said.