“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.
Mastermind: An outstanding or commanding mind or intellect; a person with such a mind. Also: a person who plans and directs a complex and ingenious enterprise, especially a criminal operation. (Both definitions via Oxford English Dictionary online.) The original usage of mastermind – a brilliant person – first appeared in the late 17th century; the second originated in 1872, in a passage written by Anthony Trollope. The verb to mastermind first appeared in a 1923 baseball story published in the Salt Lake City Tribune: “Little Miller Huggins did a bit of masterminding himself in that stirring eighth.”
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.)
Platisher: A new media hybrid that combines elements of an open publishing platform—such as WordPress or TypePad—with characteristics of a traditional publisher such as the New York Times. A portmanteau of platform and publisher.
Platisher is the rare neologism that can be traced to a single creator on a specific date. The word was first used in “Rise of the Platishers,” a February 7, 2014, post for Re/Code by Jonathan Glick, CEO of the “subject-based social-media network” Sulia:
What should we call a publisher — like Gawker — that provides a tech platform on which anybody, not just its staff, can create content? What should we call a tech platform — like Medium* — that has a team of editors and pays some contributors to create content?
It’s something in between a publisher and a platform — something that weaves together the strengths of both.
Don’t laugh. Okay, you can laugh, but we still need a name. There’s something new going on right now. A new generation of media companies is experimenting with opening their content-management systems to outsiders. Tech platforms are realizing the benefits of combining algorithms with editors and experts. This is resulting in a new hybrid.
Hybrid phenomenon apparently requires hybrid name, at least if you’re working on deadline.
The response to Glick’s invention was quick and mostly merciless.
Gawker pointed with alarm to platisher in a “Word Terrorism” post published the same day as Glick’s “Rise of the Platishers”:
What do you call an online publisher that also wants people to create content (for free) using the publisher’s platform? As this situation applies to all websites with comments, you could probably call these publishers “website publishers.” But that's not stupid enough for the Tech Press, so today we were introduced to the make-believe word platisher, which is apparently a special kind of company that has its employees and contractors and freelancers post things to the Internet, and also lets random strangers post comments or whatever. Don’t just be a publisher! Be something that sounds much, much worse ... be a platisher!
Others piled on.
Matthew Ingram wrote on Gigaom that platisher “borders on the gag-inducing.”
One exception: Dave Winer of Scripting.com calledplatisher a “nice bit of word-work .” Winer—who developed the first blogging software—is a friend of Jonathan Glick’s.
Before I immersed myself in the story, I came down on the side of Yiddish interpretation: “A Hasidic sect in Williamsburg that follows the teachings of the Platisher Rebbe (originally from Platish, Lithuania).”
Or perhaps simply: Gesundheit!
If platisher sticks, it will beat the odds for neologisms. “Most newly coined words fail,” observes language maven Allan Metcalf in Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success (2002). (One exception is “OK,” which was coined in 1839 and is the subject of Metcalf’s second book.) For a new word to succeed, Metcalf suggests, it has to meet the FUDGE test: Frequency of use, Unobtrusiveness, Diversity of users and sources, Generation of additional forms and meanings, and Endurance of the thing or concept that the word refers to.
“Of the five factors,” Metcalf writes, “Unobtrusiveness seems especially important. If a word seems familiar rather than new, it will insinuate itself into our vocabulary, as a cowbird insinuates its look-alike eggs into the nests of other birds, who then raise the chicks as their own.”
On those criteria, platisher does not appear destined for flight. For the time being, though, it’s fun to talk about.
* Medium was founded in 2012 by Ev Williams, the co-founder of Twitter and Blogger, as “a personalized blogging site that allows users to post their writings of more than 140 characters with embedded images.” Each Medium story is accompanied by an estimated reading time in minutes. Note that it “pays some contributors” (emphasis added).
Misty Harris, who writes about consumer trends and pop culture for Canada’s Postmedia News, interviewed me and other word-watchers—Grant Barrett, Marty Chan, Erin McKean, and Ben Zimmer—about our picks for the words of the year for 2013. Her story, “Cronuts and Selfies and Twerking, Oh My!”, is now available online.
The me part:
Nancy Friedman, a professional name-developer and columnist for Visual Thesaurus, said food portmanteaus stood out for her as having a banner year. Among the most notable were cronut (a croissant-donut hybrid), s’monut (s’more-donut), and frissant (fritter-croissant).
“(It) must say something about wanting it all — or wanting at least two things at once — and then indulging our playful side in the naming,” said Friedman, whose other picks for 2013 include “glasshole” (someone who wears Google Glass in a socially inappropriate way), “lean” (as in, lean in), and “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device).
It’s Portmanteauber! But first, let’s welcome the return of the Name of the Year Tournament, “a celebration of unconventional names and the people who wear them.” After a 30-year run, NOTY’s originators stepped down in 2012; the tournament is now run “by two recent graduates of a university near Chicago” with “boring names” who are carrying on the tradition under a new URL. This year’s brackets include Hurricane Weathers, Fancy English, and Leila Bossy-Nobs. Go forth and vote!
“One of my biggest language pet peeves is the phrase ‘That’s not a word’,” writes James Callan, a content strategist and linguistics aficionado in Seattle. So he launched the Nixicon “to find and retweet people on Twitter who claimed that something isn’t a word.” In less than a week he’d discovered and circulated more than 200 “not a word” tweets.
A few days after starting this, one thing is clear: people really hate irregardless, ain't, and mines.
As for the Nixicon name, James says it’s “a portmanteau of ‘nix’ (meaning ‘no’) and ‘lexicon’.”
Speaking of non-words and portmanteaus, in May 2012 a group of lexicographers, poets, and authors coined “phubbing”—a portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing”—to describe “the phenomenon of ignoring people in front of you in favor of paying attention to your phone,” according to an article in Advertising Age. Since then, the ad agency McCann Melbourne has been seeding the word—on Facebook and the StopPhubbing website, among other platforms—as a way to create interest in, and sell more copies of, a new edition of Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary. The Wordability blog (which slightly misrepresents the word’s origin) calls phubbing “the best new word of the year” and says the word’s rise demonstrates “all that is good about modern word formation.”
Watch Macquairie’s video about the birth and spread of “phubbing.”
Why do some invented words—gobbledygook, blurb, and smog, for example—catch on? Ralph Keyes writes in The American Scholar that “need and usefulness” and the ability to “capture a widespread sensibility” are key indicators. So is playfulness: “A remarkable number of terms we use today originated in the speech bubbles and captions of cartoonists,” Keyes observes.
Thirty days hath Septaper? In Word Routes, Ben Zimmer looks at “the financial word of the moment,” taper, and how it gave rise to the portmanteaus Septaper (a gradual slowdown of bond-buying in September) and Octaper (ditto, for October). “September through December seem to lend themselves to creative blending,” Ben writes, “perhaps because the names form a prosodic pattern: each is a three-syllable sequence with a stressed middle syllable (i.e., an amphibrach) and ends in -er.” My own “portmonthteau” sightings include Socktober, Sharktober, OAKtober (celebrating the Oakland A’s), and Archtober (pronounced, perplexingly, ark-tober). (And see my 2012 post on X-toberfest.)
Today, September 24, is National Punctuation Day, a holiday I’ve happily ignored since 2009. This year, however, I’m getting into the spirit and celebrating with a clutch of brand names that wear their punctuation on their sleeves, so to speak. I’ve already written about SIX:02, the new “concept store” from Lady Foot Locker with a colon in its name. Here are five additional punctuation-mark names.
Han:dleis a “priority engine” that “allows you to capture ideas, triage your inbox, plan a schedule for the day and focus on your priorities,” according to a TechCrunch review from April 2013. I don’t know what the colon is supposed to signify—maybe it’s nothing more than a vertically oriented gratuitous umlaut—and apparently neither do the company’s founders, because it can’t be found anywhere but in the logo. Elsewhere, the company and app are simply “Handle.”
FYI, trademark law takes a dim view of a company name used as a verb (“It’s your life. Handle it”). That sort of thing indicates that your name is merely descriptive (bad, from a legal standpoint) rather than suggestive (good).
From the website: “Silky vanilla bean ice cream swirled with sea salt caramel and covered in a golden coating made with Belgian Milk Chocolate.”
There are also Magnum Mini Gold?!bars, which have all the confusion—er, pleasure—in a smaller serving.
Speaking of interrobangs, The Interrobang is an online news and entertainment publication (“It’s the questions that matter”) that does not use an interrobang in its logo. It does, however use “cool shit” in its self-description.
In the getting-it-right column is Novant Health, a healthcare network headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The new logo makes clever use of negative space.
Then there’s Apostrophe, an elegant new quarterly publication (online only) from Lands’ End, the Wisconsin clothing retailer with the conspicuously mispunctuated name. Talk about making lemonade from lemons:
Perhaps you’ve noticed a (not so) minor punctuation error in our name, Lands’ End – the apostrophe is in the wrong place. Our very first catalog was misprinted and at the time we didn’t have the money to fix it. Though it started as a mistake, we quickly learned to accept it, to celebrate it even. It showed that it didn’t take ourselves too seriously, that we could embrace happy accidents and make the most of them, that we’re human. That sentiment is as true today as it was then, so we bring you our newest endeavor with a nod to our irreverent past.
On second thought, why not just kill the apostrophe? Writing for The Week, James Harbeck—a linguistics-trained editor with a wry sense of humor—asserts that “we would all be better off without it.” And he drives home the point by following his own suggestion.
The new name comes from the network’s longtime on-air identification: “Ici, Radio-Canada.” The network’s domain name, currently radio-canada.ca, will change in October to ici.ca.
The announcement “swiftly met widespread condemnation and mockery, especially from those angered over dropping the word Canada,” writes Ian Austen in the New York Times. He adds: “Some online critics, particularly on English-language Web sites, suggested that Quebec separatism was a factor in the new name.”
Coin Branding’s Andris Pone points out that ICI “cannot possibly be a good choice” because the network’s government funding stipulates that programming be “predominantly and distinctively Canadian” and that it be “in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community.” Not only does ICI flout these requirements, the name is also “totally unrelated to the abiding message of the network,” Pone writes.
William Chambers, Radio-Canada’s vice president of brand, communications, and corporate affairs, “said it was all a misunderstanding induced by the network’s ‘enthusiasm’ for its new identity,” according to the Times story. He said the network’s abstract logo – Chambers called it “the gem,” but most people, says the Times, call it “the pizza” – will not change.
Epistemic closure: In US political debate, a reference to closed systems of deduction that are unaffected by empirical evidence. The term was borrowed from epistemology (the study of knowledge), where it’s sometimes called “deductive closure” and means, roughly, “we know all of the consequences of those things that we know.” The political sense may imply “echo chamber,” “groupthink,” “information bubble,” “false consensus,” “willful ignorance,” or “denial.”
The first political use of “epistemic closure” is usually credited to Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. In a March 2010 blog post, Sanchez wrote:
One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile.
The term caught on quickly. In April, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein wrote in his Plain Blog About Politics: “Sanchez's point is that if one only gets information from a narrow set of sources that feed back into each other but do not engage beyond themselves … one will have a closed mind (not his phrase, by the way) regardless of what one does with that information.” (In a comment on another blog, The Philosopher’s Eye, Sanchez explained why he didn’t go with “closed-mindedness”: “I wanted to distinguish the collective/media phenomenon from any kind of individual disposition. The problem … is not that conservatives happen to be individually closed-minded people; the lockdown is at the group level.”)
Later in April, Patricia Cohen of the New York Times provided a summary of the fledgling epistemic-closure debate that quoted, among others, Bruce Bartlett, Jonah Goldberg, and Ross Douthat. Meanwhile, in his Times blog about economics and politics, Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman noted that epistemic closure is also prevalent in his own field: “And like the political version of epistemic closure, it’s not a ‘both sides do it’ issue. It’s a fresh-water phenomenon; salt-water macro isn’t subject to the same problem.” (Fresh-water and salt-water economics explained here.)
There’s epistemic closure in discussions of climate change, too. And it’s a pitfall to be avoided in branding – a topic I hope to explore in a future post.
“Epistemic closure” got a boost after President Obama’s reelection last week, which appeared to catch many of Mitt Romney’s supporters – including professional pundits – by surprise. In his column for the conservative British magazine The Spectator, Alex Massie rounded up the “howling and wailing and gnashing of teeth” from US conservatives; the headline was “The View from the Cocoon of Denial and Epistemic Closure.” On this side of the Atlantic, David Brooks, the conservative-ish opinion writer for the New York Times, chimed in during a November 9 chat with NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Epistemic closure, Brooks said, “is a very useful phrase these days, believe me.”
BROOKS: Epistemology is the study of what we know, and epistemic closure is being in an information cocoon where you just believe what you want to believe. Confirmation bias is another phrase. And there’s a lot of that going around, not only on Fox News but apparently with Mitt Romney, who we now know was totally shocked. Well, doesn’t he read the newspaper?
For a corrective to epistemic closure of all stripes, I recommend The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business. It’s about the moral “matrices” that bind us and blind us, liberals and conservatives alike: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. It certainly challenged my own assumptions. Read a review of the book here. To discover your own degree of epistemic closure, answer the questionnaire at MoralFoundations.org, a group created by Haidt and his colleagues to test theories about morality and social psychology.