Betteridge’s Law: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no’.” Named for British technology journalist Ian Betteridge, who articulated what he called “my maxim” in a February 2009 blog post. Also known as Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.
Before Ian Betteridge lent his name to it, this truism about rhetorical questions went by a few other names, including Davis’s Lawand the journalistic principle (a subcategory of Murphy’s Law). A Wikipedia entryprovides other sources for the concept: in particle physics, it’s known as Hinchcliffe’s Rule, and refers to the titles of academic papers; another British journalist, Andrew Marr, said essentially the same thing in a 2004 book, My Trade.
The Gyges effect takes its name from a story related in Plato’s Republic about the Ring of Gyges, which bestowed the power of invisibility on the wearer. Gyges was a historical king of Lydia, but the story centers on a mythical shepherd said to be Gyges’ ancestor; in the tale, the shepherd uses the cloak of invisibility to seduce the queen, murder the king, and seize the throne. In recounting the tale, Plato’s brother Glaucon asks “whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of being able to perform any act without being known or discovered,” and concludes that morality is a social construct.
The Ring of Gyges has taken on metaphorical significance in the Internet era. In an opinion piece about “the epidemic of facelessness” published in the New York Times on February 15, 2015, Stephen Marche writes about “the faceless communication social media creates, the linked distances between people, both provokes and mitigates the inherent capacity for monstrosity”:
The Gyges effect, the well-noted disinhibition created by communications over the distances of the Internet, in which all speech and image are muted and at arm’s reach, produces an inevitable reaction — the desire for impact at any cost, the desire to reach through the screen, to make somebody feel something, anything.
“Sea lioning” is a very recent neologism inspired by a September 19 cartoon, “The Terrible Sea Lion,” by David Malki, who blogs at Wondermark.
“This comic is the most apt description of Twitter you’ll ever see,” wrote Dina Rickman in The Independent (UK) in late September. By early October “sealion” (verb) was appearing in tweets, and on October 23 Malki proudly announced that“‘sea lion’ has been verbed.”
The context for Malki’s cartoon and the subsequent verbing is Gamergate, a controversy involving misogyny and harassment in video-game culture (and also, sometimes, ethics and video-game journalism). On October 27, the technologist and blogger Andy Baio wrote on Medium:
Anyone who’s mentioned the #Gamergate hashtag in a critical light knows the feeling: a swarm of seemingly random, largely-anonymous people descending to comment and criticize.
I’ve been using Twitter for eight years, but I’ve never seen behavior quite like this. This swarming behavior is so prevalent, it got a new nickname — “sea lioning,” inspired by David Malki’s Wondermark comic.
It’s possible to interpret Malki’s comic in more than one way, as commenter David Hopkins observed:
The most interesting thing about it to me is that it’s quite ambiguous to me which of the parties is supposed to be “in the wrong”. The general reception of the strip seems to be “oh yes, I recognise that archetype, sea-lioning is an obviously terrible thing to do”. But that’s not at all how I read it originally.
* In the Chez Apocalypse definitions, “gaslighting” is derived from the title of the 1944 George Cukor film Gaslight, in which the Ingrid Bergman character is psychologically manipulated by her husband, played by Charles Boyer; the verb officially entered the lexicon in a 1969 psychological textbook, but had been circulating for more than a decade. “Gish galloping” is “the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that their opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time” (RationalWiki), more conventionally known as “spreading.” “Gish gallop” was coined in 1994 by Eugenie Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education, and is named for creationist Duane Gish.
This sense of titch* was new to me until very recently, when I encountered it in a brief New York Times Sunday Magazine story about Fatyo, a Japanese retailer that specializes in apparel that is—quoting directly now from the Fatyo website—“Metropolitan, tough. Real and daily, casual clothes. Identity always on the street. Representing Tokyo. FAT.” (Not phat: FAT.)
The Times story, in full:
Euphemism-averse sneakerheads might consider buying clothes from Tokyo-based Fatyo, a tell-it-like-it-is streetwear brand that sizes not with traditional words or numbers but with more descriptive terms: “titch” and “skinny” on the small end of the spectrum, “fat” and “jumbo” on the other. The website burbles: “Being Fat. Wanting to be FAT. Being more like you, to be FAT.” It might be a tough sell in Japan, where the obesity rate is an enviable 3.5 percent.
This illustration accompanied the story:
In English-speaking countries, when sizes aren’t expressed numerically they’re usually given as Extra-Small, Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large. J. Crew, the American retailer, caused a bit of a furor earlier this year when it introduced clothes with an XXXS label. (For more on this move, and on “vanity sizing” in general, read “Who’s Buying J. Crew’s New XXXS Clothes?” in the New Yorker; for a larger historical perspective, read Kathleen Fasanella on the history of women’s sizing.)
I’d read (and tweeted) about Fatyo’s unusual size categories in June, but back then only the “fat” and “jumbo” designations had made headlines and raised eyebrows. Now titch piqued my curiosity. Did it have a Japanese origin, like skosh (from sukoshi, meaning “little”), to which many Americans were introduced via Levi’s ads in the 1980s? (Levi’s even trademarkedthe phrase “with a skosh more room.”)
The original was Little Tich, a famous music hall performer whose real name was Harry Relph. He was born in 1867 with slightly webbed hands that had an extra finger on each. He stopped growing at age 10 and as an adult was only 4 ft 6 ins tall (about 1.4 m). As a child, he was nicknamed Tichborne because he was short and stoutly built, like Arthur Orton, the famous fraudulent claimant to the Tichborne inheritance.
Little Tich himself, via World Wide Words.
In case you’re not up on your Victorian legal scandals (I certainly wasn’t), the Tichborne casecentered on Roger Tichborne, heir to the Tichborne baronetcy, who was presumed to have died in a shipwreck in 1854.
World Wide Words has this to say about the spelling of titch:
At some point — it’s hard to be sure when, though presumably long enough after Little Tich’s death in 1928 for the link to him to be broken — the spelling largely shifted to titch to match that of rhyming words like itch, pitch and stitch.
I still don’t know how titch made its way to Japan. A British or Australian copywriter? One of those quirky borrowings with a lost history? I await the wisdom of the Internet.
* I’d occasionally heard titch in the sense of “a small amount,” as in “I’ll have a titch more coffee.” This sense may be related to touch.
This “Charlotte’s Web” isn’t the beloved children’s book by E.B. White. But it does have a connection to childhood.
Some background first:
The five Stanley brothers of Wray, Colorado, grow medicinal marijuana in greenhouses and—now that medical and recreational cannabis are legal in Colorado—outdoors. Federal law prohibits them from shipping their product across state lines. But they’re hoping to circumvent that ban through what reporter Dave Phillips, writing in the New York Timeslast week, calls “a simple semantic swap: They now call their crop industrial hemp, based on its low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot.”
That isn’t the only name the Stanleys have changed in their drive to “serve thousands of people instead of hundreds,” in the words of 27-year-old Jared Stanley, one of the brothers.
Here’s how Phillips tells the story:
The brothers, who had a Christian upbringing in conservative Colorado Springs, started a small medical marijuana business in 2008 after seeing the relief it brought to a relative sick with cancer. At first, they grew mostly marijuana high in THC that packed a serious psychoactive punch. On the side, they experimented with breeding plants low in THC but high in another cannabinoid known as cannabidiol, or CBD, which scientific studies suggested was a powerful anti-inflammatory that a handful of small studies showed might have potential as a treatment for certain neurological conditions, including seizures and Huntington’s disease.
For years, this variety languished unused in a corner of their greenhouse. “No one wanted it because it couldn’t get you high,” said Joel Stanley, 34, the oldest brother and head of the family business. They named the plant “Hippie’s Disappointment.”
Then, in 2012, a Colorado mother named Paige Figi came seeking CBD-rich marijuana oil for her 5-year-old daughter Charlotte, who has a genetic disorder called Dravet syndrome, which caused hundreds of seizures per week.
After a few doses of oil made from Hippie’s Disappointment, Charlotte’s seizures all but stopped, and two years later, daily drops of oil keep her nearly free of seizures, Ms. Figi says. The Stanleys renamed the plant Charlotte’s Web.
“Industrial hemp” is a smart repositioning tactic. And “Charlotte’s Web” is ingenious and poetic: allusive rather than descriptive; out of the 1960s and into the future of cannabis branding. But although the state of Colorado has accepted “industrial hemp,” and although some 200 families now rely on oil from Charlotte’s Web for their children’s health, the federal government—which during the George W. Bush administration tried to ban all hemp products with even a trace of THC—remains unconvinced. “In the last four months,” writes Phillips, “the [Drug Enforcement Administration] has seized thousands of pounds of nonintoxicating industrial hemp seeds, including a shipment bound for a research project at the University of Kentucky.”
For more of my posts on marijuana branding, start here.
Snowden effect: “The increased awareness of the extent and scope of illegal or excessive surveillance in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations; the increased desire to be protected from such surveillance.” (Source: Word Spy.)
It seems as though the surveillance stepped up in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. I don’t recall anyone warning about that in the immediate aftermath. If you want to see what effect, if any, Edward Snowden’s revelations have had on the country, and on what it’s doing to itself, look for it there. I would almost guarantee you that you won’t like what you see.
Edward Snowden is the 31-year-old American technology contractor who in June 2013, while working in Hawaii for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, disclosed thousands of classified government documents to the media. Since August 2013 Snowden has been living in Russia, where he was recently granted a three-year renewal of asylum.
Plimsoll: A type of rubber-soled canvas sole developed in the 1830s as beach wear by the Liverpool Rubber Company. The footwear was originally (and in some places still is) known as “sand shoes”; in 1876 a sales representative for the company suggested the “plimsoll” name because, according to the OED, “their rubber band reminded him of the ‘Plimsoll Line’, marking the limit of safety to which merchant ships can be loaded. ‘Plimsolls’ are water-tight, so long as they are not immersed above the level of the water-band.” Originally and chiefly UK, but keep reading—it’s sneaking into the U.S. lexicon.
Traditional British plimsoll with laceless, elasticized vamp. Image via W. H. Thomas & Son, Gloucestershire, UK, “a family business established 1896.” A Wikipedia entry notes that “as it was commonly used for corporal punishment in the British Commonwealth, where it was the typical gym shoe (part of the school uniform), plimsolling is also a synonym for a slippering.”
“Plimsole,” an accepted variation, evolved from the association with “sole.” James Joyce used that spelling in Finnegans Wake, according to the OED.
“Adidas Plimsole” from Sarenza, a UK shoe e-tailer.
The Plimsoll line (or Plimsoll mark) is named for Samuel Plimsoll (1824-1898), a British MP who campaigned tirelessly for social justice and worker safety. Outraged by shipowners’ callous practice of sinking their own overloaded “coffin ships” to collect insurance money, he developed a mark that, when painted on the side of a ship, shows the vessel’s maximum loading point. For this simple yet effective innovation he was dubbed “the sailor’s friend.”
Although the Plimsoll line is used internationally, Plimsoll shoes remained a Britishism for more than a century. (But it wasn’t used everywhere in the UK: in some areas Plimsolls were, and are, called daps, pumps, sand shoes, or sannies. For other regional and Commonwealth variations, including “trainers,” see the comments on this 2011 Separated by a Common Language post.) In the U.S., this shoe style is most often called sneakers, although there are regional and historic variations here as well—tennis shoes, gym shoes, Chucks, etc. When I was growing up in Southern California, we called all lace-up canvas shoes Keds, although few of us wore the genuine trademarked article. (The Keds name is a blend of canvas and peds—Peds being the trademark the company wanted but couldn’t get, way back in 1916. Wikipedia, by the way, callsKeds “an American brand of plimsoll-style canvas shoe.”)
Clearly, though, I lagged behind some of my SoCal compatriots. I remember hearing in the late 1970s about The Plimsouls, a band that was straight outta Compton-adjacent Paramount, California. Because I’d never heard of plimsoll shoes, the pun went right over my head.
Today, however, I’d be much more likely to be in the know—not because of any special Brit-dar but because “plimsoll” is beginning to join other Britishisms like “gobsmacked,” “stockist,” and “queue” in American parlance.
The New York Times fashion pages, for example, have added “plimsoll” to the roll of variations on “sneaker.” For example: “On the heels of the now ubiquitous high-end luxury sneaker, the new Swedish brand Eytys offers a refreshingly low-key alternative: platform plimsolls that channel ’90s Venice Beach skater shoes.” – September 3, 2013
In a 2012 article in The Atlantic titled “The Racial Divide on … Sneakers,” Emily Chertoff wrote that “Jordans and Chucks come from the same originary sneaker, a canvas plimsoll from the mid-19th century.” (Yes, originary. It’s a real word.)
Urban Outfitters, based in Philadelphia since 1972, is gradually acclimating American shoppers to the British lexical import by using “plimsoll sneaker” in its product descriptions.
Massimo Dutti, the upscale offshoot of Spanish mega-brand Zara that recently opened a store on New York’s Fifth Avenue, also plays it safe, selling a “Mixed Plimsole” whose description begins “Combined sneaker in fabric, suede and nappa.”
Plimsoll Gear (tagline: “It’s All About Balance”) in Wilmington, North Carolina, sells casual clothing but no plimsolls. It takes its name from the Plimsoll line, and uses the mark extensively on branded apparel.
Plimsoll Gear also plugs The Plimsoll Sensation, the well-reviewed 2006 biography of Samuel Plimsoll by Nicolette Jones.
But a company in Santa Barbara called SeaVees(tagline: “Authentic California”) sells a whole line of “plimsolls” for men and women. Here’s one.
The juxtaposition of “plimsoll” with “Hermosa” (as in Hermosa Beach, California) and “Presidio” (as in the San Francisco fort) may leave many British readers gobsmacked.
“SeaVees” was originally a trademark of the B.F. Goodrich rubber company of Akron, Ohio, registered in 1965 and left to expire. The new SeaVees revived the trademark in much the same way the new Shinola of Detroit has done.
The oldest “Plimsoll” trademark on record is neither British nor American: it’s German. “Universal Plimsoll” was registered February 4, 1896, to a company called Vereinigte Gummiwaaren (United Rubber Works):
“Universal Plimsoll” logo as registered in the Recueil officiel des marques de fabrique et de commerce, Volume 8.
Flutz: In ice skating, an incorrectly executed lutz jump. Contrary to appearances, the word is not a portmanteau of “flub” and “lutz”*; rather, the fl- comes from flip. A flutz is a lutz that devolves into a flip jump.
The lutz’s entry edge must remain on the outside edge. If the edge changes to an inside, the lutz jump is considered a flip jump and does not receive full credit (About.com).
The lutz (sometimes capitalized) is named for Alois Lutz, the Austrian skater who first performed it in 1913. It is “a toepick-assisted jump with an entrance from a back outside edge and landing on the back outside edge of the opposite foot” (Wikipedia). Because it is counter-rotated—the rotation of the jump is opposite that of the entry edge—it’s considered one of the most difficult jumps to execute. From the Wikipedia entry:
The body’s natural impulse is to “cheat” or begin to pre-rotate the jump by veering off at the last minute onto the inside edge, which really makes the cheated jump a flip.
There’s evidence that flutz may have crossed the Final Frontier. Back in August 1998, a member of an online sport-skating discussion group posted this observation:
Interesting FYI for those interested in linguistics. In two recent Star Trek novels (“Star Trek New Frontier: Martyr” and “STNF: Fire on High,” both by Peter David), the word “flutz” is used. In the first book, one of the characters tells another that the word “flutzed” has been added to an official dictionary. He says that it was originally a slang term for messed up. In the other book, a character used the word “flutz” to show that the engines were indeed, messed up.