“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.
Stuart Elliott, who used to be the New York Times’s advertising columnist, now writes about ads for Media Village. Here’s his take on the commercials that aired during Super Bowl 50. (“Though it's the biggest feel-good day of the year, Madison Avenue tried hard to bring viewers down – not only with those commercials, but also with spots with strange, off-putting and downright weird characters and premises.”
Hard can be the opposite of easy or the opposite of soft; we can solve hard problemswhile listening to hard rock. Or we can think long and hard about two new ad campaigns that use hard in a specific, modern way.
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus takes a look at how nouns become verbs – and vice versa – in the language of commerce and elsewhere. If you’ve seen ads inviting you to beauty, to movie, or to pumpkin, you’ll know what I mean. But what about to gift, to share, and to contact? All began their lives as nouns before being undergoing the process known as functional shift or anthimeria (and not without controversy, in some cases).
Access to the column is open to all this month! Here’s an excerpt:
Although the examples I’ve cited here are recent, the phenomenon is not. “Flaubert me no Flauberts. Bovary me no Bovarys. Zola me no Zolas,” the novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937. “And exuberance me no exuberances. Leave this stuff for those who huckster in it...” Facebook may have popularized to friend (the verb has been in widespread use since about 2005), but friend had occasionally been used as a verb since the 1200s, according to the OED. Four and a half centuries before there were mobile text messages, to text meant “to write in text letters” – the large writing used by clerks in the body of a manuscript. (The past-tense form of text still stymies many people. For the record, it’s texted. As linguist Arnold Zwicky pointed out in 2008, “Verbing has always weirded [not weird] language.”)
I’m marching to the beat of the Strong Language drummer, with a new post about naughty-sounding brand names with innocent meanings. It may be the only post you’ll read today that has the tags appliances, beverages, pee, and smegma.
Also: March 4 is National Grammar Day, an occasion for remembering what grammar is and is not. (It’s not spelling and punctuation, for starters.) Here are some good places to start:
“Do not aspire to be a grammar Nazi, and don’t indulge people who use the term. Nazis are not funny unless you are Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks. You are not Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks.” – John McIntyre, “Prepare Yourself for National Grammar Day”
Under the capable leadership of Mark Allen, ace copy editor, I was one of the judges in this year’s National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest. (The job was my reward/penance for having won the contest last year.) I am pleased to report that we have selected our winners. Congratulations to first-place poet Adriana Cloudand all the other contestants! Enjoy their haiku, and don’t let any dangling modifiers hit you on your way out.
Grammando: “One who constantly corrects others’ linguistic mistakes.” Neologism coined by Lizzie Skurnick from grammar and commando. First appeared in the March 4, 2012, issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, under the heading “That Should Be a Word.” In a blog entry published on the same date, Skurnick explainswhy she coined the word: “Because I have always HATED the term ‘Grammar Nazi,’ as it makes NO SENSE, unless Jew-killing means an adherence to precision.” (Skurnick’s use-it-in-a-sentence example isn’t exactly precise, either: “Cowed by his grammando wife, Arthur finally ceased saying ‘irregardless.’” As linguist Arnold Zwicky points out, “As usual the exemplary grammando’s complaint is not actually about grammar, but about word choice. What the hell, It’s All Grammar, right?”)
I’d read about grammando three years ago, then promptly forgot about it until last month, when Anne Curzan, an English professor at the University of Michigan, used it in a talk she gave at the American Linguistic Society meeting in Portland. She prefers it to “grammar Nazi,” she said. Curzan was an early adopter of grammando, mentioning it during a July 2012 episode of “That’s What They Say,” a Michigan Public Radio program about language. Grammando evokes the ambush tactics of militant language cranks—the people John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun has dubbed the peeververein—without resorting to images of swastikas and concentration camps.
Curzan admires grammando but is less approving of grammandizing. “It’s a real power play to suddenly talk about the way somebody is writing or talking as opposed to what they’re saying,” she told Michigan Public Radio:
So if you catch someone’s grammatical mistake, should you point it out? Curzan says it depends on why you are correcting the person.
According to Curzan, some people are sticklers about grammar because they feel like it’s a part of professional training.
“If that’s the reason, I think that’s a legitimate reason, but I wouldn’t stop them in the middle of talking. That’s very disruptive,” Curzan said.
Unsurprisingly, the comments on that MPR article are, with one exception, in the peevish-grammar-stickler vein
A grammando currently making headlines is Bryan Henderson, a 51-year-old American software engineer on a mission: to rid Wikipedia of every instance of “comprised of.” (To comprise means to contain or include; standard usage insists on composed of or consists of.) To date, he’s removed 47,000 offenses. In a 6,000-word essay published on his Wikipedia user page, Henderson reminds readers that “the whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole” and argues that comprised of is “completely unnecessary,” “illogical,” etymologically unfounded, imprecise, and “new”: “It was barely ever used before 1970,” Henderson writes. Of course, neither were many other words, including quite a few from the vocabulary of technology: app, flash drive, and voicemail, to name but a few.
Two years ago, the American Dialect Society selected hashtag as its word of the year for 2012. Last week, for its 2014 word of the year, the ADS chose an actual hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, the slogan that—as the press releaseput it—“took on special significance in 2014 after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., and the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in both cases.” It was the first time in the contest’s 25 that a hashtag had been selected for the distinction. The vote at the Hilton in Portland, Oregon, was nearly unanimous, but the response has been anything but. (“It’s not a word” and “It’s too political” were two of the negative reactions.) Read Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee, on the WOTY selection (and on other words discussed at the meeting). For supporting viewpoints, see Anne Curzan’s post on the Lingua Franca blog(“The linguistic work of hashtags is especially interesting”) and linguist/librarian Lauren B. Collister’s post on her own blog(“a pretty historic moment for the field of linguistics for a number of reasons”). For a dissenting view, see Schnaufblog: “Call me old school -- I like the idea of a word as a combination of form (sound, gesture, writing) and meaning (lexical or grammatical) that can combine with other words according to the rules of grammar to form a clause.”
Hoist the bare aluminum pole, my friends: today is Festivus, which means it’s time once again for my favorite holiday tradition, The Airing of Grievances.
For this year’s A of G—the sixth in a series—I’ve gathered some of the worst offenders from the world of marketing: the gaffes, goofs, and boneheaded blunders that we’ll recall for as long as schadenfreude remains in season.