“We’ve turned learning vocabulary into an addictive game,” says Vocabulary.com, which this week announced its new app (iPhone and iPad only, for now). Vocabulary.com’s chief technology officer, Mark Tinkler, told Fast Company that some people play “over 10 hours a day. It’s crazy.”
You’ve probably heard about Facebook COO Sheryl “Lean In” Sandberg’s campaign to ban the “bossy” descriptor for girls and women. Perhaps you’ve tangentially wondered, as I did, why cows are frequently called “Bossy,” at least in the U.S. There are two theories, and “no matter which of the two theories you pick, you end up in Latin.” (World Wide Words)
I attended my first roller derby match a couple of weekends ago, and couldn’t believe my ears when the announcer said that Fatal Dreidel would be skating for the Oakland Outlaws. Not only is that her actual nom de derby, it turns out there’s a whole subgenre of Jewish derby pseudonyms, including Mayhem Bialik, Yom Tripper, and Hebrewno Mars. (Jewniverse, via Diane Fischler.)
For more on derby names, see my May 2011 linkfest and law professor Dave Fagundes’s “Talk Derby to Me” (great title!), on “intellectual property norms governing roller derby pseudonyms,” published in 2012 in the Texas Law Review.
The Barbie cover wrap appears on 1,000 copies of the magazine. Inside: a four-page Barbie ad spread. The issue hit newsstands on February 18.
Barbie herself turns 55 this year; her waist has gotten a little thicker, her feet a little flatter, and her thighs even more toothpick-like, but she’s still perky and game. In fact, the theme of the swimsuit-issue ad tie-in is #Unapologetic—yes, with a social-media-friendly hashtag. (New York Times ad critic Stuart Elliott noted that the singer Rihanna got there first with a November 2012 album called “Unapologetic”; Rihanna “often uses the hashtag #Unapologetic in social media,” Elliott wrote.)
The coordinated campaign has kicked up some controversy. But I remained neutral until yesterday, when a full-page ad, designed to look like an open letter, appeared in the main news section of the New York Times.
Now I wish Barbie would #ShutUp.
The headline is clever enough.
“Why posing for Sports Illustrated suits me.”
And the first sentence—“I am a doll”—seems to promise a playful, self-mocking first-person confessional. But the rest—all 500 words of it—is, I am sorry to say, as painful as a hike in five-inch stilettos: awkward, rambling, poorly punctuated, cliché-ridden. It’s like listening to one of those extemporaneous pageant-contestant speeches.
“Over time, I’ve become an icon,” Barbie humble-brags, “and as with all icons, I’ve been pulled into the cultural conversation”:
My bathing suit now hangs beside a Presidential power suit, Pastry Chef hat, and Astronaut gear in a wardrobe reflecting the more than 150 careers I’ve pursued to illustrate for girls that they can achieve anything for which they aim.
That’s a 40-word sentence. Did you make it through all the prepositional phrases? Note the Random Capital Letters and the tortured effort to avoid ending the sentence in a preposition. Barbie loves a zombie rule.
Barbie also loves “conversation”:
Every year, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit [sic] drums up conversation and controversy.
Barbie is a little confused about what “word” means.
I, for one, am honored to join the legendary swimsuit models. The word “model,” like the word “Barbie®,” is often dismissed as a poseable plaything with nothing to say. And yet, those featured are women who have broken barriers, established empires, built brands, branched out into careers as varied as authors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They are all great examples of confident and competent women.
I had not realized that a word could be dismissed as a poseable [sic] plaything.
Naturally, there’s a rousing finale, more appropriate for a middle-school debate tournament than for the nation’s newspaper of record.
So the Swimsuit issue is out, and there’s bound to be a conversation or two about the women in it. Ask yourself, isn’t it time we teach girls to celebrate who they are? Isn’t there room for capable and captivating? It’s time to stop boxing in potential. Be free to launch a career in a swimsuit, lead a company while gorgeous, or wear pink to an interview at MIT. The reality of today is that girls can go anywhere and be anything. They should celebrate who they are and never have to apologize for it.
If you’re keeping score—and since we’re talking about Sports Illustrated, why not?—that’s three “conversation”s.
Forget the sociology and gender politics for a minute: It’s depressing to see such amateurish copywriting from a major American brand. (Barbie is owned by Mattel, whose 2013 revenue was more than $6 billion; sales of Barbie products account for almost half of the revenue.) A full-page ad in the Timescosts between $60,000 and $100,000. For a tiny percentage of that sum, Mattel or its agency could have hired an experienced copywriter to create a witty ad that burnished Barbie’s reputation rather than providing critics with more ammunition.
Then again, the closest Barbie has ever gotten to an actual writing career is “News Anchor.”
Also available in Monsters University Shapes, Cheesy Alfredo, Cheesy Southwestern Chipotle, and Sponge Bob Square Pants Shapes.
After Andy Behr tipped me about this product (and ’tis grateful I am!), I searched for it at my local Safeway. No luck. But of course it’s available on Amazon, where the very first review, posted in 2010*, is a minor classic of the genre:
As I sit here, with a mouth full of this fine Kraft product, I can't help but remember that fateful December afternoon. The war had ended some time ago, yet you could still hear the resentment resonating through the townsfolk's gnashed teeth. Jake and I were at the bar, as usual, trying to drink away the sun. The barkeep, sliding a filthy rag across the counter, squinted as he tried to read our shirts. He let a grin escape and shook his head.
“You got a problem, old man?” Jake took off his glasses.
The barkeep ran his forearm across his wrinkled face. “Ain’t no problem here. You boys have guts, is all, wearin’ those Kraft logos around these parts. This is a Stouffer’s county.”
Jake stood up, sliding his stool back across the hardwood floor. “If I wanted to choke down frozen food, I’d move my ass to Alaska. I’ll take The Cheesiest any day.” We used to call him Jake the Patriot. Always looking for a fight. I grabbed his arm in a vain attempt to pacify him. Looking around the room, I saw we were vastly outnumbered.
The lights, the carols, the shopping-mall Santas: verily, ’tis ’Tis the Season season once again. The ’tis-ing started early this year (mid-October!) and shows no sign of abating. In fact, this year I discovered a Tis the Season store—correction, “Christmas Shoppe”—in Millersburg, Ohio. (The apostrophe on that Tis is mysteriously missing.) And if the website design is any indication, this is a place to shoppe till you droppe in a queasy stupor.
The most popular ad campaign in Japan—it’s been running for six years—features “the White family”: mother, daughter, father (a human in a dog’s body), son (a black American), and maid (an alien incarnation of Tommy Lee Jones). Quentin Tarantino and a Japanese astronaut have made cameo appearances. The ads are for SoftBank, a mobile provider; there are no subtitles, but the surrealism transcends the language barrier. Watch a bunch of the ads here.
Newt Gingrich—remember when he ran for president and talked about building bases on the moon?—now appears to be campaigning for Andy Rooney’s old slot on “60 Minutes.” “We’re really puzzled,” he tells his YouTube audience, a look of grave concern furrowing his brow, a familiar-looking device in his hand. “We spent weeks [!] trying to figure out whaddya call this.” This is what you and I call a cell phone or a mobile phone or a smartphone, but that doesn’t satisfy Gingrich. He’s soliciting new, more precise names for the gizmo he used to call “a handheld computer.” Commenters have been gleefully obliging; my favorite nominations are Talkie-Viewie (maybe “TV” for short?), roundcorner-camera-communications-email-apps-thingy, iMoon, and horseless telephone. (Via TechCrunch.)
I caught this a few days too late for Underwear Week but can’t resist sharing it anyway. Triumph, the Swiss bra company, last week introduced its concept bra of the year at a Tokyo press conference. The theme: “branomics,” “a playful take on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ‘three-arrow’ economic revival plan,” according to Reuters. “We hope that as the Japanese economy grows, we can also help bust sizes to get bigger,” said a Triumph spokeswoman. (Via The 3% Conference.)
Andris Pone of Coin Branding, in Toronto, applauds Frogbox, a “green” moving company in more than one sense. It’s a great brand story, Andris writes: “The Frogbox positioning statement, From one pad to another, exemplifies the message of ease by creating a promise (completely delivered on) that one can move from their old home to their new one with all the difficulty of a hop.”
Corporate buzzword-wise, “delight” is shaping up to be the new “passion.” (Via MJF.)
You’ll need to subscribe to Visual Thesaurus to read Mike Pope’s excellent column, “What’s in a -Nym?”, which goes beyond antonyms and synonyms to more obscure and fascinating terms like contranym, retronym, and backronym. But of course you’re already a subscriber.
I also can’t resist an opportunity to combine entomology, etymology, and a plug for Fritinancy. As language maven Ben Zimmer—my editor at Visual Thesaurus—observed in an email to me:
I noticed that the first OED cite for “fritin(i)ancy” is from Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica, talking about cicadas. (In this edition, it’s actually “fritinnitus.”) Johnson defined “fritinancy” as “the scream of an insect, as the cricket or cicada” (citing Browne) and subsequent dictionaries used similar definitions. (Johnson didn’t define “cicada,” oddly enough.)
My original post about Fritinancy cited Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), which mentioned crickets but not cicadas. The post was written before I had access to the OED online, a weak defense but the one I’m sticking with.
But, Ben told me, “there are plenty of people who pronounce it KAH, and many dictionaries give it as an acceptable alternate. I don’t have a good sense of the regional distribution of the two pronunciations, though.”
A cursory search of the Internet reveals that people and things referred to in the media as ‘‘rock stars’’ include Rand Paul, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 smartphone, the Swedish mystery writer Camilla Lackberg and Pope John Paul II. Clearly, it’s high time we bought the term a watch and retired it.
—“On Rock Stars and ‘Rock Stars,’” New York TimesSunday Magazine, March 31, 2013. (The article is a bonus feature available in the replica edition to subscribers only. Here’s the accompanying article about business “superstars.”)
I think what the copywriter may have been searching for was voilà! or aha! or presto! Alas, we’ll never know.
Now that my holiday jolliness has curdled, I may as well unload a few more complaints:
1. Why is she getting dressed the night before the party?
2. Enough with the ’twas-the-night-ing – and all the other rusty holiday clichés. (The subject line on this particular email, I’m sorry to say, was “’Tis the Season for Super Duper Shaping.” No, ’tain’t.)
3. If you’re going to parody a well-known poem*, you must at a minimum get the rhyme and meter right. “Snug” does not rhyme with “glove.”
The ’tis-the-seasoning continues, and continues, and continues. Oh yes, I have evidence. In an attempt to be charitable—and to keep the list at a manageable length—I’ve omitted the many examples I’ve seen from consultants and individual blogs. Next year I may not be so lenient: you’re on notice.
Herewith, a week’s worth of ’tis from my in-box and mailbox.