Don’t read “How to Name a Baby” to learn how to name a baby. Read it for insights into historical baby-naming trends and to confirm your hunches (e.g., “the popular girl name Reagan is for Republicans”). Also: charts!
Given names are “one of the last social acceptable frontiers of class war.”Also: nominative determination, implicit egotism, and how the Internet has made baby naming more difficult. Part 1 of a four-part podcast series about names from Australian radio network ABC. The presenter, Tiger Webb, has an interesting name story himself. (Hat tip: Superlinguo.)
The not-so-secret jargon of doctors is full of acronyms: a flea—fucking little esoteric asshole—is an intern, an FLK is a “funny-looking kid,” and an “SFU 50 dose” is the amount of sedative it takes for 50 percent of patients to shut the fuck up.
Ever wonder what value-creating winners do all day? Here’s Business Town to enlighten you. It’s “an ongoing project attempting to explain our highly intangible, deeply disruptive, data-driven, venture-backed, gluten-free economic meritocracy to the uninitiated. With apologies to Richard Scarry.”
“The decision is made. The name won’t be changed.” – Tim Mahoney, head of marketing for Chevy, speaking to the Detroit Free Press about the Bolt electric vehicle, whose name is strikingly similar to that of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. In fact, a Spanish speaker would pronounce the two names identically. (Hat tip: Jonathon Owen.)
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.”
Anglish: A form of English “stripped clean of the last 1,000 years of non-Germanic influence, while also being brought up to date in terms of modern syntax, grammar and spelling.” (Source: Tom Roswell, guest-blogging at The World in Words.) Also known as New English. Its complement is Anglo-Norman Conventional Written English, or Ancwe.
Scholars and linguistic hobbyists have dabbled in Anglish for more than a century. Tom Roswell writes [punctuation sic]:
The Anglish movement has roots way back in the late 1800s when Elias Molee advocated an English purged of its Romance components. He made his case in two books; “Pure Saxon English” and “Plea for an American Language, or Germanic-English”. He proposed a language similar to Anglish called Tutonish, which was intended to be a “union tongue” for all the Germanic-language speaking peoples, with a schematised English syntax and a largely German- and Scandinavian-based vocabulary.
A wiki called The Anglish Moot—mootis Old English for society, assembly, or council—puts the origins of Anglish even earlier:
Modern ideas about New-English started around the mid-1800s with William Barnes, the Dorset dialect poet. He reasoned that if English words were closer to everyday speech, then the language as a whole would be easier to understand for the average speaker of Common English. He published a book along these lines, and gave some suggestions for new words which could be used to replace some of the more difficult borrowed words.
In 1989 an American science-fiction writer, Poul Anderson, wrote an essay in Anglish called “Uncleftish Beholding” (“Atomic Theory”). An early passage demonstrates both the familiarity and the pleasant strangeness of Anglish:
The firststuffs have their being as motes called *unclefts*. These are mightly small; one seedweight of waterstuff holds a tale of them like unto two followed by twenty-two naughts.
The Anglish Moot’s wordbook—“dictionary” in Anglish—includes “all known and suggested Anglish/New English words and their meanings”—but not, unfortunately, most of Anderson’s invented words, such as seedweight (gram) and waterstuff (hydrogen). There are entries for historical Old English words (pith, abaft, eady, meadow-month) and also creative inventions such as banewave (tsunami), mindsee (imagine), and limberhall (gymnasium).
Anglish is not to be confused with Anguish Languish (English Language), created by Howard L. Chace in the 1940s and most famously examplified in “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” (Little Red Riding Hood).
“Picking a product name is all agony and no ecstasy,” writes Trello founder Dan Ostlund (“The Agonies of Picking a Product Name”). His detailed account of his own DIY effort is a cautionary tale, although he doesn’t explain why the company felt it necessary to jettison its perfectly good placeholder name.
Top executives writing about verbal branding may be a trend now. Here’s Larry D. Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California, on how his organization developed a new tagline (“What’s in a Tagline?”):
When I first proposed reexamining the tagline, I felt almost sheepish. The Hewlett Foundation pays little attention to self-promotion (that itself is a core value here), so why bother putting time and effort into something so marginal. Instead, the project proved to be both interesting and fruitful—an opportunity to reaffirm and remind ourselves about who we are and who we want to be.
You’ll have to scroll down to the tenth paragraph to learn what the new tagline is. Otherwise, nice process story.
This parody trailer for the new Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, aired during Sunday night’s live Golden Globes broadcast, and it was so smart and funny I wished I could hit the rewind button. AdFreak says the promo “does a double public service by also making fun of all the mass-media self-adulation that studios crank out during Hollywood awards season.”
The Oxford University Press blog has a comprehensive words-of-the-year roundup that includes words of the year in Spain, Norway, France, and elsewhere. I’m fond of “plénior,” the mot nouveau pour 2014; it’s a more positive word for “senior citizen” that implies “full of life.”
While we’re in Oxford, check out the Oxford English Dictionary birthday word generator, which scours the OED database for words’ first occurrences, 1900 through 2004, and offers up one for your birth year. If you were born in 1984, for example, your word is “shopaholic.” Happy 30th, you crazy shopper, you!
“Unneeded warnings against sentences that have nothing wrong with them are handed out by people who actually don’t know how to identify instances of what they are warning against, and the people they aim to educate or intimidate don’t know enough grammar to reject the nonsense they are offered. The blind warning the blind about a nonexistent danger.” That’s linguist Geoffrey Pullum in “Fear and Loathing of the English Passive.” It will be published later this year in the journal Language and Communication; but you can read the PDF now.Pullum cites 46 examples of tsk-tsking about “passive” constructions that aren’t passive at all.
Great news for researchers and thesaurus-lovers: the Historical Thesaurus of English is now fully online, with many new features. It’s based on the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and its supplements, with additional materials from A Thesaurus of Old English. (Via Marc Alexander.)
I linked to the Wordbirds blog back in 2009. Now this “irreverent lexicon for the 21st century” is available as a book containing more than 200 neologisms—150 of them not on the blog—coined by Liesl Schillinger and illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel. An excellent gift for the person who finds himself rushing cell-mell to a clusterfete, wouldn’t you say?
On his excellent Big Apple blog, Barry Popik documents the rise of “spicedictive” (Sonic Drive-in’s portmanteau of “spice” and “addictive”) and “beefulness” (McDonald’s South Africa’s blend of “beef” and “fullness,” and yes, I thought it had something to do with beekeeping). By the way, you can finally follow Mr. Popik on Twitter!
You know what else got started 20 years ago? The “Got Milk?” ad campaign. Ad man Jeff Goodby, who was present at the creation, tells how “the most boring product imaginable” inspired “the most remembered tagline in beverage history, outstripping those of beer and soft drink companies with budgets many times the size of ours.” (Not mentioned in Goodby’s story: The campaign didn’t translate well into Spanish: “¿Tiene Ud. Leche?” means “Are you lactating?”)
In Canada, Dutch-owned bank ING Direct was sold to Scotiabank and is now called Tangerine. Design blog Brand New says the name choice is “ballsy”: “At first, the name sounds like a late 1990s, early 2000s doomed clever company name, like Monday, but the longer you watch the video ... and the more you let the name sink in, it’s a rather impressively sticky name. It’s memorable. It stand outs [sic] in the banking sector. It’s interesting.” Name development by Bay Area agency Lexicon; logo by Toronto-based Concrete.
William Germano and I have something in common: a minor obsession with gratuitous umlauts. Germano writes in Lingua Franca about “the rise of the reckless diacritical,” a meditation triggered by a sighting of Clöudz travel blankets and pillows. And it gets worse, writes Germano: “The Tommy Hilfiger clothing line has launched, with a linguistic swagger, a global marketing campaign entitled Cärpe-díem Mañana.” (Also see my Pinterest board of brand names with gratuitous umlauts and my Visual Thesaurus column on the Ündeniable Ümlaut.)
I’m supporting these worthy endeavors and encourage you to join me:
1. Schwa Fire is a new digital publication “that will marry language geekery with long-form journalism,” according to its founder, the journalist, linguist, and author Michael Erard. (I wrote about Michael’s first book, Um…, in 2007.) Here’s how he describes the project:
I’ve been saying that Schwa Fire is going to be like This American Life, but for language. We’ll look at life through a linguistic lens, and look at lives and circumstances in the language world.
Stories will be relevant to the times and accountable to the facts, and you won’t have to become a linguist to understand them. We don’t profess; we inquire. We’ll commission pieces from people who know both story-telling and language because they've been involved in both for years. This expertise will allow them to dive into the language-related implications of a story while keeping readers asking “What happened next?”
Yes, Schwa Fire will pay its contributors! Hurrah!
Michael is raising money for the first issues via Kickstarter, and he’s off to a promising start. You can learn more and chip in as much as you’d like on the Kickstarter page.
Why “Schwa Fire”? Michael Erard explains: “Because everybody likes to say ‘schwa’ (which, by the way, is the name of a mid-central vowel that’s usually not stressed in English)” and because “if you’re reading Schwa Fire, it’s because you love all aspects of speech, language, and communication. ‘Fire’ points to passion and enthusiasm.”
2. Word Detective is one of the longest running (since 1995!) and most enjoyable online sources of information about words and language. Check out, for example, this recent post about Formica, a brand name that has nothing to do with ants or Ender’s Game. Evan Morris, the sole author of Word Detective (and author of an excellent little book about brand names, From Altoids to Zima), has kept up his monthly publication schedule despite being diagnosed about seven years ago with primary progressive multiple sclerosis ... and despite the loss of revenue from newspapers and magazines that no longer pay their contributors. (Unlike Schwa Fire!)
3. GoldieBloxis an Oakland toy company with a twist: Its founder and CEO, Debbie Sterling, is an engineer who wants more girls to get excited about math and engineering. So she set about “disrupting the pink aisle”—all those princess dolls and costumes in the toy store—with her clever and appealing construction sets for girls. “We don’t have a national shortage of princesses,” Debbie Sterling points out, “but we do have a national shortage of engineers.”
Here’s the best part: GoldieBlox is one of four finalists in Intuit’s “Small Business Big Game” contest, which will award a free ad during the 2014 Super Bowl* broadcast (worth something like $4 million) to the winner. The other contenders—a Minnesota egg business, a North Carolina dog-treat company, and a business in Idaho that makes “natural dairy compost”—are all worthy in their own ways, I’m sure. But GoldieBlox gets my vote because it’s local, it’s educational, and it supports girls. Not for nothing, I love the GoldieBlox name.
You can vote once a day through midnight (PST) December 1. Go GoldieBlox!
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.”
Attention, thoughtful Thanksgiving cooks! This year, don’t make your vegetarian guests endure a wan simulacrum of the big bird (yes, I’m looking at you, Tofurky®). Instead, serve them a true pièce de résistance: the veggieducken, a k a “vegetarian turducken.”
Turducken, you will recall, is chicken stuffed in duck stuffed in turkey. Veggieducken does not, paradoxically, contain ducken, or even tofu ducken. (Tofucken®?) Rather, it consists of a two-foot-long banana squash artistically stuffed with onions, leeks, sweet potatoes, red bell pepper, breadcrumbs, and herbs. Its alternate name – equally portmanteau-y, somewhat harder to pronounce, but more technically accurate – is squashleekotato roast. The dish was developed by Dan Pashman, host of The Sporkful blog and podcast. (Motto: “It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters.”)
I’m of the “life’s too short to stuff a mushroom” school, so I’m not going to be making veggieducken this year, or any other year. (But if you want to make it, I’ll happily eat it.) I’m interested in veggieducken because of how the word was constructed. The fact that it references “turducken” is evidence of how far the latter word has come since it first appeared in print in 1982, courtesy of chef Paul Prudhomme. (Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blends company registered the Turducken trademark in 1986. Yes, we should be capitalizing the word.) Not only is turducken well accepted, if only as an aspiration or a joke*, but with the advent of veggieduckenwe see -ducken evolving into a bound morpheme. Linguists sometimes call bound morphemes cran-morphs, from the cran- in cranberry that now attaches itself to brand names like Cran-Apple. Other familiar cran-morphs include burger and -licious.
In short: The -ducken in veggieducken has nothing to do with duck + chicken; it now communicates the more general idea of “elaborately stuffed/nested food.”
I’ve been researching the rise of online education for a project I’m working on. One of the companies in this growing field has a name that fits nicely into this week’s Life-or-Death theme: Livemocha.
Livemocha was founded in 2007 to bring language learning to a global audience. It currently offers courses in 38 languages, including Arabic, Japanese, Hindi, Urdu, Indonesian, Hebrew, and Turkish. Fees start at about $10 per course; students come from “every country in the world.” The website is elegantly designed, informative, and welcoming.
I originally encountered the Livemocha name out of context, and nothing about it suggested “education” or “language learning” to me. I was uncertain about the pronunciation: did “live” have a short vowel (suggesting an imperative verb) or a long one (suggesting “alive”)? Was “mocha” pronounced with a /k/ in the middle, like the color/coffee drink/city in Yemen; or phonetically, as in “cha-cha-cha”?
So I emailed the company to get the name story. The gracious reply came from Kira Fickensher, Livemocha’s community manager:
Livemocha is 2 parts: Live and Mocha. Live is pronounced lahyv as in “live broadcast” (the adverb/adjective form of the word). It represents live learning, live conversation, live practice - everything language learning should be. Self-study and online learning are such an essential evolution for language learning, because they are far more accessible and practical than traditional methods. But these need not exclude human interaction and immersion. Our approach of using social networking to reduce the barriers of distance actually bring [sic] live practice and immediate feedback into the act of self-study.
The second part of Livemocha is mocha, pronounced like the coffee drink. This is both a nod to our hometown of Seattle, which is known for its coffee culture, and a way of incorporating the ambience and sentiment of a coffee shop, where you can both study by yourself with a laptop or chat with a friend.
I’m glad the company gave this much thought to the name story; too many businesses with puzzling names default to “It’s just a name” or “It’s something our PR agency dreamed up.” And I’m happy to see those positive associations: “live learning” plus “sociable setting.”
But I’m a native English speaker. I wonder how well those meanings translate to a native speaker of, say, Mandarin Chinese (one of the top 10 languages spoken by Livemocha members). The pronunciation isn’t transparent, either: The short I, the ambiguous CH, and the V—pronounced B or W in various languages—could be confounding. Would a native Spanish speaker with no knowledge of English pronunciation be tempted to pronounce the name Lee-bay-MO-tcha?
Then there’s the leap required to get from “Livemocha” to “language learning.” The tagline—“Creating a World without Barriers”—is of only limited help: It could apply to a concert (think Live Aid or LiveNation), an international philanthropy (think Doctors without Borders), or a campaign for wheelchair access. I’m not saying the name and tagline need to be descriptive or pedestrian, but they should provide a clue about what’s being offered here.
My grade for the Livemocha name: B-minus. It’s distinctive and evocative if you speak English, and easy enough to pronounce once you see the word split. (The cursive treatment of the logo makes it a little clearer; an intercap M or a space between the words would be even better.) But it’s an oddly challenging choice for a global brand that focuses on cross-border fluency. It makes me wonder about the thoroughness of the pre-launch linguistic screening.