Good news for liberal-arts majors: “Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.” (“The Next Hot Job in Silicon Valley Is for Poets,” Washington Post.)
“From the very first moment I heard of the .io TLD a few years ago, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. The geek in me just really responded to the idea of a domain name that ended in IO - the input/output connotation seemed like a perfect fit for web services.” In praise of the .io domain extension. (Russell Beattie)
Bill Simmons, who was ousted by his ESPN overlords from the sports-and-pop-culture site Grantland (which ESPN later shut down, to the general wailing and weeping of the site’s many fans), is starting a new site that promises to be similar to Grantland. He’s calling it The Ringer. Here’s his account of how he arrived at the name, apparently without any professional help, poor fellow. (Hat tip: Lance Knobel)
And for those of you who, like me, care about journalism and its future, here’s “Confessions of a Sponsored Content Writer,” by Jacob Silverman for The Baffler. I hope he was well paid for it, because it’s dynamite, but given the doleful state of affairs he reveals, it’s unlikely. Here’s a tiny excerpt:
But as journalists imitate advertisers and advertisers imitate (and hire) journalists, they are converging on a shared style and sensibility. Newsfeeds and timelines become constant streams of media—a mutating mass of useless lists, videos, GIFs, viral schlock, service journalism, catchy charts, and other modular material that travels easily on social networks—all of it shorn of context. Who paid for this article, why am I seeing it, am I supposed to be entertained or convinced to buy something? The answers to these questions are all cordoned off behind the algorithmic curtain.
Well-being: The state of being healthy, happy, or prosperous (said of people); or of being able to flourish (said of things). First seen in English in the mid-16th century; modeled after Italian benessere.
Well-being is a catchword and linchpin of the billionaire Koch brothers’ campaign to change the way their powerful conservative network – which comprises the energy-and-chemical conglomerate Koch Industries as well as numerous foundations, political think tanks, and tea party groups – is perceived. Jane Mayer, author of a new book about the Kochs, Dark Money, writes in the January 18, 2016, issue of the New Yorker that the Kochs “appear to be undergoing the best image overhaul that money can buy” to help the public forget that they were known until recently as – in the words of the president of the PR firm Reputation Doctor – “the heads of the Toxic Empire.” (Mayer’s New Yorker article is cleverly titled “New Koch.”)
Corinthian Colleges. The bankruptcy filing of Corinthian Colleges, in April, marked the largest shutdown of a for-profit college in U.S. history, and it called into question the practices of for-profit higher education generally. Sixteen thousand students were “displaced,” as official reports put it. (One hundred of the students petitioned the federal government to forgive their student debt.) Corinthian — an adjective meaning “of Corinth,” a city of fabled wealth in ancient Greece – has had many figurative meanings in English since the 16th century, including “elegantly or elaborately ornate” and, as a noun, “a luxury-loving person.” Corinthian columns are heavily decorated with acanthus leaves; in Christianity, Corinthians is the name of two chapters of the New Testament. (And currants derive their name from “raisins of Corinth.”) Corinthian leather was coined in 1974 by a copywriter at the advertising agency responsible for marketing Chrysler luxury vehicles; most of the leather came from a factory in much more prosaic Newark, New Jersey.
Into the final weeks of 2015 with one final link roundup!
Lucy Kellaway,who writes about language and writing for the Financial Times,has created Guffipedia, “a repository for the worst jargon I’ve seen over the years.” All the devils are here: onboard more resource, flex-pon-sive, diverse hairdos, etc. ad nauseam. “The point of Guffipedia,” writes Kellaway, “is not just for you to admire the extent of my guff collection, but to help me curate it going forward, as they say in Guffish.” Good point of entry: the many Guffish euphemisms for you’re fired. (Hat tip: Molly Walker.)
Access is restricted to subscribers. Here’s an excerpt:
Marking class distinction was the goal of one of the earliest sub-branding efforts. In the 19th century, writes John Maxtone-Graham in Liners to the Sun, trans-Atlantic steamships "separated and identified" passengers according to type of accommodation. Those who could afford individual cabins were booked in Cabin class; those who couldn't were berthed below, in dormitories often situated near the steering equipment — hence "Steerage."
When larger liners came along toward the end of the century, their owners saw a business opportunity in additional levels of choice. "Henceforth," writes Maxtone-Graham, "Cabin passengers were economically subdivided. First Cabin, or First Class, encompassed the most lavish and expensive staterooms on board. Second Cabin — hence Second Class — occupied small quarters at the after end of the main bunkhouse and below."
My latest post for Strong Language(“a sweary blog about swearing”) is about Sofa King: “a real brand, a parody brand, a tribute brand, a song title, the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit, and the punchline to a joke.” SNL may have popularized Sofa King, but there had already been a furniture store by that name in the UK for six years before the skit aired. (Tagline: “Our prices are Sofa King low!”) And the joke had been circulating online for at least a year before that.
Hot damn! I have a new post up on Strong Language, the newish “sweary blog about swearing.” This time I’ve written about brand names like Mother Pucker, Mother Clucker, Mother Effer, and MoFo. Guess what they have in common?
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at the most interesting and significant brand names of 2014. Not, I hasten to add, the biggest or most successful brands, but the ones that were “newly prominent or notable” (per the American Dialect Society’s criteria for words of the year) and exhibited linguistic and onomastic merit.
Uber. The rideshare app—based in San Francisco and operating in more than 200 cities worldwide—was founded in 2009, but 2014 was the year it truly became a household word, not always for positive reasons. Yes, the company was valued at a boggling $40 billion in December, up from $18 billion a mere six months earlier. But it was also beset by controversy: lawsuits, protests by licensed cab drivers in many European cities, revelations of unethical behavior on the part of top corporate executives. On the one hand, “Uber”—German for “over,” but minus the umlaut—seemed to characterize the company’s above-it-all arrogance. On the other hand, the app is undeniably popular—so much so that “Uber for __” now describes myriad unrelated businesses in the “shared economy”: Uber for snowplowing, for kids, for pizza, for gentleman companions, for flowers, for marijuana, and on and on.