“Clickspittle: an unquestioningly loyal follower who obediently shares every trivial thought of their idol on social media.” Post-modern portmanteaus from The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, excerpted in The Independent. (Via @Catchword)
“Most important, it stood for Internet. But it also stood for other valuable i things, like individual, imagination, i as in me, etc. It also did a pretty good job of laying a solid foundation for future product naming.” A knowledgeable Quora answer to the question “What is the history of the i prefix in Apple product names?”(Via @AlanBrew)
“Around the time of the birth of OK, there was a fad for komical Ks instead of Cs on the pages of newspapers … including from 1839: ‘The gentleman to the left of the speaker, in klaret kolored koat with krimson kollar, is Mr. Klay, member of Kongress from Kentucky’.”Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, marks the 176th anniversary of “OK” with a post about the word’s “konspicuous, kurious, komical” … uh, kwalities. (Read my 2010 post about “OK.”)
What do we lose when dictionaries delete words like bluebell, catkin, lark, and mistletoe to make room for blog, broadband, MP3 player, and chatroom? British nature writer Robert Macfarlane—most recently the author of Landmarks—writes in The Guardian about “the importance of preserving and plenishing a diverse language for landscape.” His essay includes some beautiful, obscure words like ammil, “a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs, and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.” Plenishing is pretty wonderful, too. (Via @StanCarey)
The Seattle Seahawks lost the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots. Maybe they’d have fared better under one of the other names nominated in a 1975 naming contest, including the Rainbeams, the Lumberjacks, and the Needlers. (Mental Floss)
“Check the trademark early on,” “Avoid focus groups,” and other good advice about naming from professional name developers. (Communication Arts)
“People talk about expensive meals using sex metaphors; for noodle joints and cupcake counters, they resort to drug lingo.” A visit to a London pub with linguist Dan Jurafsky, author of The Language of Food. (The New Yorker)
The Daily Brute, The London Asswipe, The Quibbler, and other fictional newspaper names. (Wikipedia)
“Be specific—but not wordy” and other tips for naming a blog. Includes a nice shoutout for Strong Language, where I publish from time to time. (The Daily Post)
Would you spend $30,000 to find “a unique name for your unborn child? A wonderful first name that sounds so good that it just had to be invented? A brand-new name with an exciting derivation and unmistakable history? “ This Swiss firm—whose own name is tough to pronounce—is banking on it. (erfolgswelle® AG)
A drugroll—um, drumroll—for the 2015 drug name awards. It’s a tough, confusing field: Zerbaxa, Zontility, Vimizin, Zykadia… (Gary Martin)
Last week North Korea’s Workers’ Party released 310 exclamatory new slogans created to mark the country’s 70th anniversary, and Western news media have been having a glorious people’s field day with them. “Even allowing that they probably come off more melodious in their original Korean,” observed NPR, “some of the commandments are so awkward that it's hard to imagine them sounding right in any language.” Some are malodorous (“Let the strong wind of fish farming blow across the country!”), while others are creepy (“Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialized!”) and still others could have come from an overeager U.S. marketing department (“Go beyond the cutting edge!”). Here’s the complete list on KCNA Watch, an official English-language publication of the Korean Central News Agency.
I’ve been interested for years in advertisers’ penchant for turning adjectives into nouns and nouns into verbs. In his regular column for The Week, James Harbeck, a linguistics-trained editor, looks at why these switches—collectively known as anthimeria—work. It’s all about bisociation: “You have two things operating on two different planes or according to two different scripts, and at the point where the two meet, you jump from one to the other. … Bisociation tickles your brain, and that’s just what marketers want to do.”
Here’s something lovely: Vernacular Typography, “dedicated to the documentation and preservation of vanishing examples of lettering in the everyday environment.” A project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, it catalogs ghost signs, Coney Island signs, no-parking signs, subway signs, grammatical-error signs, and much more.
Reason #46,313: The best worst names in superhero comics, compiled with frightening thoroughness by Drew G. Mackie of Back of the Cereal Box. A few of my favorites: Egg Fu, Microwavebelle, Flemgem, and Rice O’Rooney (the San Francisco Threat). If you don’t know why the last one is so bad it’s good, watch this.
On April 22 the New York Times launched The Upshot, an online section that focuses on politics and policy. The name was chosen over 45 also-rans, including Crux, Kernel, Sherpa, and Uncharted. Why did The Upshot prevail? “It’s simple and straightforward,” the editors write, “and there’s no inside joke or historical reference you’ll need to understand what it’s about: a clear analysis of the news, in a conversational tone.”
Now that Pied Piper, the fictional startup in HBO’s “Silicon Valley” series, has an official logo, how well does it stack up?
In November 2012, voters in Washington State legalized marijuana use and authorized the licensing of retail outlets to sell cannabis. (Voter turnout, Wikipedia notes with no apparent irony, was 81 percent, “the highest in the nation.”) Now that Seattle’s first pot stores have been chosen by lottery, let’s take a look at their names. Lots of greens (Greenjuana, Evergreen, Street of Greens, Green Vision, Greenco, Behind the Green Door), quite a bit of 420 (Seattle 420, 420 PM Corp, Highway 420, 420-911), and a few whose owners appear to be fans of “The Wire” (Bellinghamsterdam, Vansterdam, Hamsterdam, New Vansterdam). Kinda meh, if you ask me, but hey—it’s still a budding industry. (Hat tip: Benjamin Lukoff.)
In related news, Fast Company’s Co.Design blog talks to four cannabis-industry experts about “how to brand a high-demand, once-illegal product.” Cherchez les femmes, says Cheryl Shuman, who points to “stiletto stoners”—successful working women who smoke pot—as a key demographic. (Hat tip: Irene Nelson.)
The business and techbloggers who covered the episode found nothing amiss in the story. But to anyone who knows how business names work, it betrays the naïveté of the show’s creators.
The protagonist of “Silicon Valley” is a programmer, Richard, who’s inadvertently developed a file-compression algorithm. For reasons that haven’t yet been explained (and may never be), he named the algorithm—and the start-up he creates around it—“Pied Piper.”
Everyone but Richard hates the name. But that’s not his biggest headache.
Like much of writer/actor Larry David’s oeuvre (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Sour Grapes), the HBO original film Clear History, which premiered on August 10, is a comedy about envy, resentment, and failure. But what sets Clear History’s plot in motion is something else: a product name.
The film’s opening scenes are set in Silicon Valley in 2003. Will Haney (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm), founder of Electron Motors, is introducing his employees to a breakthrough invention: an electric car that’s better than anything else on the road.
“I know what you’re asking,” says Haney. “What are we going to call this bold new vision?” Ta-da: the Howard.
Larry David (left) and Jon Hamm.
The Howard is named after Haney’s literary hero, Howard Roark, protagonist of Ayn Rand’s libertarian doorstopper The Fountainhead. (Haney has also named his only child Howard.)
Larry David, unrecognizable in shaggy mane and beard, plays Electron Motors’ unfiltered marketing genius, Nathan Flomm. While everyone else in the room applauds admiringly, Flomm explodes:
The Howard? That’s what we’re calling it? Nobody’s gonna buy a car named Howard! Call it a Dewey! That’s a good name! Call it Duncan!
By the end of the scene, Flomm has quit Electron Motors and given up his 10 percent stake in the company. Over the next decade the Howard becomes—you guessed it—a huge success, and Flomm, who has moved to Martha’s Vineyard, shorn his locks, and changed his name to Rolly DaVore, is scraping by with odd jobs instead living it up as a billionaire. (As the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley pointed out, “Nathan Flomm” sounds like “Ethan Frome” and “Rolly” is an inversion of “Larry.” Not for nothing, “DaVore” is pretty close to “David.”) When Will Haney shows up on the island with a gorgeous new wife, Rolly/Nathan begins plotting his revenge.
Besides the Fountainhead reference—a clip from the 1949 film adaptation, starring Gary Cooper, turns up later in Clear History—“Howard” may allude to the Edsel, which was also named for a founder’s scion. The name may also be an inside-Hollywood joke: Howard the Duck, the 1986 live-action comedy produced by George Lucas, among others, is remembered mostly as one of the biggest box-office flops in history.
As for the Howard car itself, the auto blog Jalopnik is not impressed: “[T]he design for the revolutionary car … reveals the stigmas and stereotypes electric cars still have in mainstream society. … Awkward proportions aside, the car feels like a cobbled-together prop as opposed to a fully designed car, and HBO certainly has the resources to do better.”
I’m willing to bet the cartoonish design was intentional.
Side Effects, the new film from Steven Soderbergh that’s now in theaters, is a twisty thriller, more gris than noir, in which almost every character is taking mood-adjusting prescription drugs. Beta blockers, Adderall, Paxil, Effexor, Celexa, Zoloft, Wellbutrin—in the film, these real-world drugs are casually discussed at cocktail parties and liberally dispensed by doctors for pre-interview jitters, anxiety, the blues, you name it. (Another recent release, Silver Linings Playbook, also features a memorable conversation about name-brand meds. Is this the dawn of Cinema Pharma?)
The pivotal pill in Side Effects, however, is an invented one. “Ablixa” (generic name “alipazone”) is introduced as an antidepressant with an upbeat slogan—“Take Back Tomorrow”—and some worrisome side effects that include confusion, suicidal thoughts, and sleepwalking (and also, as it turns out, sleep-table-setting, sleep-loud-music-playing, and sleep-vegetable-slicing).
To say anything more about the plot would spoil the pleasures of this grim yet exhilarating movie, so I’ll stick to the Ablixa story, which contains some surprises of its own.
Someone--or more likely some obsession-driven cabal--with a whole lot of free time has compiled this list of fictional companies cited in books, movies, and television shows. They're helpfully organized by industry. Under "Financial," I especially like Rive Droit Bank ("The Right Bank for You"), from the very funny 1990s TV series The Tick, starring Patrick Warburton.