Mayhem: Violent behavior, physical assault, or disorder. In criminal law, mayhem is the infliction of physical injury on a person so as to impair that person’s capacity for self-defense. The word entered English in the late 15th century from Anglo-French maihem, which means “injury, harm, damage”; it’s related to maim.
Nest Labs, makers of “smart devices” for the home—including a thermostat and smoke detector—last week introduced a new product, the Nest Cam video camera. (The product is the result of Nest’s 2014 acquisition of Dropcam.) Ads for the product put a cozy spin on “mayhem”:
“Witness the mayhem in glorious HD.” Outdoor ad, Fourth Street, San Francisco, June 21.
Nest Cam has a security function: according to a Nest.com blog post, it can help you see “if an intruder turns on a flash light, or if headlights flash across your window.” But Nest Labs downplays the scare factor. Rather, the device helps you “save the stuff you want to remember” and be prepared “every time your kid or pet does something cute.” Muddy footprints on the carpet, a toilet-paper trail across the lawn—that’s the domesticated “mayhem” Nest hopes you’ll record and view.
This isn’t the first appearance of mayhem in advertising. In 2010 insurance company Allstate introduced a character called Mayhem, played by the actor Dean Winters, who personified every catastrophe that could befall your house or car. Also contributing to the cuteification of “mayhem” was the 2012 debut, at Universal Studios Florida and Universal Studios Hollywood, of Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, a simulator ride based on the animated film(s) Despicable Me.
There is no Minion named Mayhem, but there’s a minionesque aspect to the Nest Cam.
Minion. Nest Cam.
From another corner of the culture comes Mayhem Parva (literally “small mayhem”), a fixture in British crime fiction. Here’s how the OED defines it:
Mayhem Parva n. [ < mayhem n. + classical Latin parva, feminine singular of parvus little (see parvi-comb. form), after English village names with this as second element (e.g. Ash Parva, Shropshire, Ashby Parva, Leicestershire, etc.)] (esp. in critical writing) the genre of mystery stories set in a rural English village; (the generic name for) a typical English village as the setting for a violent crime; freq. attrib., as Mayhem Parva school, etc.
The OED’s earliest citation for Mayhem Parva is dated 1971, from Snobbery with Violence, a murder mystery by Colin Watson set in the fictional village of Mayhem Parva, “where amateur lady sleuths competed with seasoned Scotland Yarders to nab the least likely suspect.”
I’m over at the Strong Language blog today with a new post about advertising that flirts with naughty words without tipping over into actual obscenity—from “FXing serious” (AMD processors) to “a shiatsu-load of masseuses” (Thumbtack.com).
Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers (just $19.95 a year for lots of great content!). Here’s an excerpt:
Pout was an English verb meaning “to puff out of the lips in displeasure” since at least the 1300s; the noun form (which is what I’m talking about here) emerged in the 1590s. The word’s origins are uncertain, although it may be imitative of the shape your lips make while saying the word. (French has a related verb, bouder, which gave us boudoir — literally, a room for sulking.)For most of its history pout had generally negative connotations: petulant toddlers pout, as do sulky teens. Then, in 2002, a London weekly, News of the World, turned its attention to a British TV actress, Leslie Ash, who’d had silicone injections in her lips. The newspaper coined the term “trout pout” to describe the unfortunate results, and the catchy if catty rhyme caught on. (The label isn’t quite scientifically accurate: trout don’t have especially prominent mouths. Some other fish do, however. There’s even a species, Trisopterus luscus, whose common name is “pouting.”) In 2008, Ms. Ash appeared in a TV documentary about botched cosmetic surgery and talked to newspapers about “my trout pout hell.”
“When Simon Tam dropped out of college in California and moved to Portland, Ore., to become a rock star, the last tangle he imagined falling into was a multiyear battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over his band’s name.” The trademark tussle over “The Slants,” which the USPTO has deemed “disparaging” and thus ineligible for protection. (For a more technical perspective, see this Brent Lorentz post at Duets Blog.)
The strange charm of cutthroat compounds like pickpocket, scarecrow, and, well, cutthroat: Stan Carey on these rare English words“that have a long, colourful history and constitute a very interesting category.” (I wonder how the newish fondleslab fits in?)
The 2014 Social Security Administration stats on baby names are out, and the Baby Name Wizard blog has discovered some interesting trends in the data. The biggest trend? What naming expert Laura Wattenberg calls “the great smoothing of American baby names”: goodbye “chunky” names (Jayden, Jessica), hello “silky,” vowel-rich names (Amanda, Mia, Noah, Liam).
Speaking of popular names, here’s a fun tool to discover what your “today baby name” would be, based on the ranking of your own name in the year you were born. The tools works backward too: If I’d been born in the 1890s, chances are I’d have been named Minnie. More than a time-waster, the tool can be a big help in character-naming. (May take a while for the tool to load.)
“She originally went by Flo White, then Lord of the Strings. She eventually settled on the Period Fairy. It was more straightforward.” A new ad from category-busing Hello Flo, which sells a Period Starter Kit to adolescent girls.
I enjoy a little word puzzle as much as, or maybe more than, the next public-transit user. But two Bay Area bus-shelter signs, both for worthy nonprofit organizations, go beyond puzzling to confounding.
“Do You Really Want the City 7 x 7 x 7?” asks this poster. I stood in front of it for a couple of minutes, trying to stitch together “Do you really want the city” and “7 x 7 x 7.” What could it possibly mean?
Don’t read “How to Name a Baby” to learn how to name a baby. Read it for insights into historical baby-naming trends and to confirm your hunches (e.g., “the popular girl name Reagan is for Republicans”). Also: charts!
Given names are “one of the last social acceptable frontiers of class war.”Also: nominative determination, implicit egotism, and how the Internet has made baby naming more difficult. Part 1 of a four-part podcast series about names from Australian radio network ABC. The presenter, Tiger Webb, has an interesting name story himself. (Hat tip: Superlinguo.)
The not-so-secret jargon of doctors is full of acronyms: a flea—fucking little esoteric asshole—is an intern, an FLK is a “funny-looking kid,” and an “SFU 50 dose” is the amount of sedative it takes for 50 percent of patients to shut the fuck up.
Ever wonder what value-creating winners do all day? Here’s Business Town to enlighten you. It’s “an ongoing project attempting to explain our highly intangible, deeply disruptive, data-driven, venture-backed, gluten-free economic meritocracy to the uninitiated. With apologies to Richard Scarry.”
“The decision is made. The name won’t be changed.” – Tim Mahoney, head of marketing for Chevy, speaking to the Detroit Free Press about the Bolt electric vehicle, whose name is strikingly similar to that of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. In fact, a Spanish speaker would pronounce the two names identically. (Hat tip: Jonathon Owen.)
Stan Freberg, a man of myriad talents who was often called “the father of funny advertising,” died Tuesday in Santa Monica. He was 88.
Freberg was born in Pasadena and grew up in Los Angeles; he turned down scholarships to Stanford University and the University of Redlands in order to pursue a career in radio. He became a successful comedian and a voice actor in cartoons—his was the voice of the beaver in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp—but it’s as rule-breaking advertising copywriter that I choose to remember him.
According to the New York Times obituary, Freberg went into advertising “because he considered most commercials moronic.” In 1957, after the CBS Radio Network canceled “The Stan Freberg Show” after just 15 weeks, Freberg formed his own ad-production company, which he called Freberg Ltd. (but not very). His motto, according tothe Los Angeles Times obituary, was Ars gratia pecuniae: “Art for money’s sake.” He “set the standard for humor in advertising,” according to a tribute in Advertising Age: his work included campaigns for Chun King, Jeno’s Pizza, Sunsweet prunes (one of his prune ads starred Ray Bradbury, the science-fiction writer), Contadina tomato paste (“Who puts eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can? You know who. You know who. You know who”), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Freberg’s copy wasn’t just funny; it was subversive. He “used humor to declare war on postwar advertising,” writes the New York Times’s Douglas Martin: “Mr. Freberg even committed, eagerly, the ad industry’s greatest heresy: lampooning the deficiencies of a paying client’s own products.”
When he couldn’t get a paying client to underwrite his heresies, he went indie. His 1958 comedy single, “Green Chri$tma$” hardly seems dated today, nearly half a century later:
Deck the halls with advertising! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! ’Tis the time for merchandising! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! Profit never needs a reason! Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la! Get the money, it’s the season! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!