Yes, I’m observing Festivus a few days early this year. The aluminum pole is looking handsomely unadorned (I find tinsel distracting), and I’m feeling confident about my chances in the Feats of Strength. But first, my favorite part of the Seinfeld-inspired holiday: The Airing of Grievances.
I’ll start with the most grievous of my 2012 grievances. Stick around – they get funnier and less lethal, I promise. (Past grievances: 2011, 2010, 2009.)
A new language quarterly, aptly called Babel, brings linguistics to a general audience without dumbing down the subject. Published at the University of Huddersfield (UK), the magazine covers “issues relating to many different human languages” – and some non-human ones, including, in the first issue, Venusian. I’m already looking forward to the second issue, which will include an article about “the secret linguistic history of brand names.”
I grew up in Los Angeles and always wondered why the Ralphs supermarket chain didn’t have an apostrophe in its name. Now, thanks to Los Angeles magazine, I know: the business was founded (in 1873, at Fifth and Hill streets) by George Ralphs.
“I sculpt baby names from love, from hatred, from the reality of this hellhole of a world that you’re forcing an innocent life to endure.” Bob Powers, artisanal baby namer, at McSweeney’s. Yes, he jests. Mostly. (Via Karen Wise.)
According to Helen Sword, author of a column for the New York Times and creator of something called the Writer’sDiet test, a “zombie noun” is any noun (proliferation, formation, indication) that “cannibalizes” a verb. Now linguistics grad student Josef Fruehwald, blogging at Val Systems, delivers an incisive counterpoint. “Ain’t nothing like exploiting the collective dysmorphia of a nation to push your quarter-baked usage decrees,” says he.
I had some errands nearby, so I stopped into the Title Nine store in Berkeley over the weekend to see what was new with this local brand.
A bit of background: Title Nine was founded in 1989, taking its name from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex to any person seeking the benefits of any federally funded education program. Title IX opened doors to girls and women who wanted to play sports in school; Title Nine sells non-technical sports gear and clothing. The company has 19 retail stores—none in malls, the website boasts—243 employees, and a manifesto.
Appropriately, there’s a lot of playful, you-go-girl energy in a Title Nine store. This poster typifies the spirit:
“You are so busted!” is very cute. The medallion touts the company’s “bravangelists”: also nice.
I actually laughed out loud at this sign displayed above the entrance to the bra department—excuse me, the “Home for Unruly Girls Support Center.”
So far, so good. By the evidence, Title Nine is a company that makes a big investment in copywriting, and that’s a good thing. The attention to words carries over into the dressing rooms—or so I thought until I encountered this sign:
“Have a Fit!” is fun. So are the other headings: Containment, Mind the Strap, Be Smooth, Know the Terrain, and Think Straight. Then I read the very last sentence: “The bra should lay straight.”
Aha! So Title Nine’s editorial department has an Achilles heel after all: the lay/lie fault. The bra should lie straight, if you please.
(Listen, I get that a lot of people mix up lay and lie, and in fact I tolerate “lay” for “lie” in casual speech. But I can’t condone its appearance in published prose. And that includes marketing copy: See my critiques of the Hanes Lay Flat Collar, the SpeedSleep ad, the Back2Life back-pain “solution.” This is why professional copyeditors were invented. They know this stuff. They can help.)
I picked up a fall catalog to see whether the dressing-room sign was anomalous. Nope: The error is even worse in the catalog (insert, page 7), where in addition to the lay/lie error we have a comma splice:
“The bra should lay straight, if it rides up, it’s still too loose.”
There needs to be a period—a colon would be OK, too—after “straight.”
I leafed through the catalog to distract myself from all this lay-ola. Unfortunately, my eye fell on an even bigger boo-boo—in a name with a trademark symbol, no less:
Page 19, fall catalog.
I was drawn to that “Wooliscious” headline because in all the time I’ve been tracking -licious compounds—see here, here, here, and here—I’d never come across a -liscious. It looked odd, and I wondered whether it was a clumsy attempt at a portmanteau with “luscious.” Nope again: In the product copy—and on the Web—the word is spelled “Woolicious.”
I’m guessing Title Nine’s lawyers have already pitched a fit over this mistake, so I’ll leave it at that.
In my crappy photo you can just barely make out the name of this garment: “The Swacket.” It’s “more than a sweater—not quite a jacket,” the copy says. Honestly, is that the best they could come up with? Because all I can think of is the poor sacrificial fracket.
I’ll have another post about Title Nine later this week.
The J. Crew July catalog arrived this week. It features a lot of lightweight clothing that I’m sure is delightfully wearable if you live somewhere other than San Francisco, with our blustery, foggy, 60-degrees-if-we’re-lucky “summers.”*
One such item, the Military Tunic, caught my attention not for its wardrobe potential** but for the accompanying copy. (Photo and copy shown here are from the online catalog; the print version of the copy is shorter but very similar.)
“Our designers took an easy cotton silhouette and manned it up with military details like camp pockets and shoulder epaulets. Pair it with skinny jeans and go-for-broke heels for a look that commands attention.”
Sure, “go-for-broke heels” evokes entertaining images of splints and full leg casts. But I’m more curious about manned itup.
Speaking of barfy names, Johnson, the language blog of The Economist, has compiled a little list of “novelty names that contain unnecessary punctuation, bogus foreign accents and diacriticals, random use of capitals or lower-case letters, and so on.” Commenters have been gleefully adding their own nominations. I’ve griped here about Co. and Co:, two gratuitously punctuated design/brand agencies. (Hat tip: Hanging Noodles.)
Ever wondered who would live in the rooms pictured in “lifestyle” catalogs like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware? Catalog Living—the creation of Los Angeles actor/writer/comedian Molly Erdman—reveals the secret, stylish lives of “Gary” and “Elaine,” using actual catalog photos and invented storylines. Here’s one of my recent favorites:
“On a cold winter night, nothing pleases Gary and Elaine more than snuggling up in their comfy metal chairs and tossing around the decorative polyhedron.”
Up against a writing deadline? Write or Die—“putting the ‘prod’ in productivity”—lets you set your word goal, your time goal, the grace period, and the consequences of failure (beware the Electric Shock Mode!). Via Swiss Miss.
As regular readers know, I have a bit of a mania for man-words like mansplain and mancession. So does language maven Mark Peters, whose recent column for Good magazine explores man-caves, manssieres, Man Laws, and other hypermasculine lingo. (Oh, and he quotes me, so naturally I’m pleased.)
The blog of British retailer Debenhams has compiled a dictionary of fashion portmanteaus to help customers decipher the meanings of neologisms like jardigan (“a thick, jacket-like cardigan”) and meggings (“male leggings”). But really: whorts? (Via Lori Burwash.)
Trademark/branding expert Kevin Houchin lays down the law—well, he’s a lawyer—on how to avoid lame names. His posts add up to a clear, concise primer on name categories, trademark strength, and brainstorming tips. I especially like this tip: “Force something unfamiliar into the mix.”
I would probably love maps even if I didn’t depend on them so pathetically. (I have a terrible sense of direction.) I especially love fanciful or imaginary maps, so I’m especially pleased to see xkcd’s Updated Map of Online Communities, a recent revision of the 2007 original. (The updated map will soon be available as a poster; you can place an order now.) Ethan Bloch of Flowtown has created his own 2010 Social Networking Map, which differs pretty significantly from xkcd’s. Meanwhile, Ian Huebert’s lovely Literary City map, which first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009, is finally available as a poster from Electric Works in San Francisco.
Our long national nightmare is finally over, mes amis. Let's go shopping! But not for just any old tchtochkes. Let's load up on Obama swag.
Thirsty? NPR's Morning Edition reports that Jones Soda has introduced Orange "You Glad for Change" Soda and that some D.C. bars are pouring Ale to the Chief. Brewery Ommegang of Cooperstown, New York, wanted to name its celebratory quaff Obamagang—a neat multiple pun—but the feds nixed it; the label now reads "Inaugural Ale." You can see the original label art here. (Hat tip: ETBWrites.) Prefer wine? Allow me to pour you a glass of 2005 Yes We Cab!—"elegant and stately, just like Obama himself." Love that illustration. (Hat tip: Karen at Verbatim.)
The ballots featured are either standby-by ballots (used in case the voting machines break down) or absentee, military and special ballots. The double-sided necklace showcases two parties that supported Barack Obama: the Democrat [sic] party and the Working Families Party.
You'd better not be in a hurry, though: this handmade keepsake is back-ordered till Feb. 10. (The McCain-Palin necklace is available a little sooner.)
Uncommon Goods is also selling a framed paper ballot "printed specifically for the old-fashioned, pull-lever voting machines used in New York City": $350. On the opposite end of the spectrum: a Zortz note-holder featuring a slightly scary representation of Obama's head. It's a bargain at $25.
What's that smell? Why, it's Yes We Can fragrance, "directly inspired by Obama's acceptance speech." It contains "notes of celery seed, lavender, citrus accord, and pine," and no, I don't know what "citrus accord" is. The perfume is available for $34 on Etsy.
Another Yes We Can fragrance is for sale on eBay, with no description whatsover, for only $0.99. Tip: Change the name to Eau-bama (change is good!), add some flowery copy, and jack up the price to $25. It'll fly off the shelves.