“When Simon Tam dropped out of college in California and moved to Portland, Ore., to become a rock star, the last tangle he imagined falling into was a multiyear battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over his band’s name.” The trademark tussle over “The Slants,” which the USPTO has deemed “disparaging” and thus ineligible for protection. (For a more technical perspective, see this Brent Lorentz post at Duets Blog.)
The strange charm of cutthroat compounds like pickpocket, scarecrow, and, well, cutthroat: Stan Carey on these rare English words“that have a long, colourful history and constitute a very interesting category.” (I wonder how the newish fondleslab fits in?)
The 2014 Social Security Administration stats on baby names are out, and the Baby Name Wizard blog has discovered some interesting trends in the data. The biggest trend? What naming expert Laura Wattenberg calls “the great smoothing of American baby names”: goodbye “chunky” names (Jayden, Jessica), hello “silky,” vowel-rich names (Amanda, Mia, Noah, Liam).
Speaking of popular names, here’s a fun tool to discover what your “today baby name” would be, based on the ranking of your own name in the year you were born. The tools works backward too: If I’d been born in the 1890s, chances are I’d have been named Minnie. More than a time-waster, the tool can be a big help in character-naming. (May take a while for the tool to load.)
“She originally went by Flo White, then Lord of the Strings. She eventually settled on the Period Fairy. It was more straightforward.” A new ad from category-busing Hello Flo, which sells a Period Starter Kit to adolescent girls.
Cornell University, in addition to asking for the slow dance music proviso, forced an agency to include a clause which would prohibit the ork [orchestra] from smoking on the bandstand.
Bracketed definition supplied by the author.
Curious about the term, which was new to me, I emailed Ben Yagoda* and asked him whether it was a Billboard coinage. He replied that he thought it came from Variety, the daily paper, founded in 1905, that coined or popularized a lot of show-biz lingo, including B.O. (box office), cleffer (songwriter, from musical clef), and biopic (biographical picture). But when I did a little independent digging, I was unable to find a link between ork and Variety. Instead, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ork first appeared in print not in an industry journal but in a New York scandal rag called Brevities;the magazine favored illustrations of what were probably called scantily clad cuties and headlines like “Fair Gals Grab Stiffs!” The OED’s earliest citation for ork is from the April 24, 1933, issue of Brevities: “Joe Haymes’ Nut Club ork..has been compelled to take on a few Noo Yawk musicians.” The other citations are from the American jazz magazine Down Beat (1935) and Billboard (1949), and from a couple of British sources: Colin MacInnes’s 1959 novel Absolute Beginners and a 1988 article in the UK jazz magazine Wire.
Ork is also, of course, the home planet of TV’s Mork, played by the late Robin Williams. And orc is either “any of various whales, such as the killer or grampus,” or “one of an imaginary race of evil goblins, esp in the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien.”
The pluralized form of ork has a separate history in British slang. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, published in 2005, gives orks as a truncation of orchestra stalls, rhyming slang for “balls” (testicles). (“Orchestra stalls,” often shortened to “stalls,” are what American theatergoers would call “orchestra seats”—that is, seats not in the mezzanine or balcony.)
If you know your botanical etymology, you’re probably thinking what I thought: Wait a minute, doesn’t orchid mean testes? (Yes, it does, from the Greek orkhis.) So couldn’t orks = balls have a Greek source? Well … maybe. The OED gives separate etymologies for orchestra (from orkheisthai, to dance) and orchid. But in A Garden of Words, published in 2005, Martha Barnette, co-host of public radio’s “A Way with Words,” notes that orkhis—or orchis—comes from the Indo-European root ERGH- (“to mount”), and that “some scholars link orchis and ERGH- to the Greek word orkhein, which means “to dance” … the orchestra in an ancient Greek theater being the area where the chorus danced.”
And that’s as far as I got – I never located those mysterious orchestra-orchid scholars.
“The tale of ‘scofflaw,’ born in Boston at a time when Prohibitionists were staging mock funerals of ‘John Barleycorn’ and fleets of Coast Guard rum-chasers patrolled Boston Harbor, shows that sometimes real words can actually be invented on demand. They just don’t always behave exactly the way their engineers hope they will.” (Boston Globe, via @ammonshea.) I wrote about “scofflaw” in a 2011 blog post. More on the language of Prohibition in this 2010 post.
[T]he project leader’s initial idea was straightforward: the Anti-Qassam, referring to the type of missiles most commonly fired by Hamas. When that was rejected as “problematic,” he and his wife came up with Golden Dome, an image that brings to mind the palaces of Kubla Khan or perhaps (closer to home) the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. That name was rejected as being too ostentatious, so under the pressure of time, gold was reduced to a lesser metal, and Iron Dome was born.
Twenty-four-hour classical-music radio stations are a dwindling breed, hit hard by competition from online music-streaming services like Pandora and by the stark realities of a graying audience. All the more reason to cheer a healthy and good-humored survivor.
“Sanity Now!” KDFC outdoor ad, San Francisco. Love the script typeface.
Perhaps your first association, like mine, was the Seinfeldian rallying cry, “Serenity now!”
But KDFC has an independent claim on the slogan. The station, which was founded in 1946 and has stuck to classical programming ever since, has had five owners during the last 20 years. Before the station went nonprofitin 2011, it was owned by the Mormon-controlled Bonneville International Corporation, which promoted middle-of-the-road programming, refused to sell ads for a gay dating service, and pulled an ad for a book critical of the Christian Right. During the Bonneville era, KDFC produced a series of CDs called “Islands of Sanity,” with Classics Top 40 tracks like “Clair de Lune” and “Moonlight Sonata.”
Today, in addition to regular San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera broadcasts, the station broadcasts a daily “Island of Sanity” program hosted by Rik Malone. If you need a more immediate sanity fix, try the on-demand “instant island of sanity”: click the button, turn up your speakers, and bathe your ears in soothing strains.
Fifty shades of blue. Can you discern the difference between LinkedIn blue and Disqus blue? IBM blue and Evomail blue? Test your powers of perception at Name That Blue, then graduate to pinks, reds, purples, greens, and a whole lot of tech companies you’ve never heard of.
Helvetica the perfume. “We have created the ultimate Modernist perfume – a scent distilled down to only the purest and most essential elements to allow you, the content, to convey your message with the utmost clarity.” Translation: for $62, not including tax and shipping, you get distilled water in a clear bottle with a label.
“For those who dare to be the same.” Image via AdFreak.
Hideous holiday music. I note with sadness the passing in 2013 of Jim Nayder, curator of Chicago Public Radio’s Annoying Music show (frequently heard on NPR); and of Regretsy (“Where DIY Meets WTF”), the blog that compiled the very worst of Etsy craft projects. But there’s hope for both camps of mourners: the multitalented April Winchell, who ran Regretsy for four years (posting as Helen Killer), can still be found on her eponymous blog. And in an effort that would do Jim Nayder proud, she’s compiled her own catalog of wretched holiday tunes, from “Homo Christmas” (by Pansy Division) to the Bethlehem Rap, from “I Yust Go Nuts on Christmas” and “Yingle Bells” by that great, great faux-Swedish entertainer Yogi Yorgesson (né Harry Stewart) to the world’s worst version of “O Holy Night.”
And speaking of holiday traditions, watch this space for my annual Festivus Airing of Grievances, coming later this week.
The Days of the Dead come to their inevitable end (boo!) with a quick survey of deathly branding.
The floor display for Sinful Colors’ “To Die For” Halloween collection, at Walgreen’s, features a disembodied hand that appears to be on the verge of reanimation. The polish-color names themselves don’t quite measure up, deathworthiness-wise, unless there’s something I’m missing in Unicorn, My Turn, and Over It. Of course, if you think about it long enough, you start to see morbid overtones in all of those names.
Is that ominous-sounding, be-umlautted word an IKEA product or a death metal band name? Take the IKEA or Death quiz and test your powers of discrimination (or obsession).
The quiz was created by Pittsburgh ad agency Gatesman+Dave. Not only did I do pretty well (15 out of 20), but I also learned that there is a sub-genre of death metal called Pure Depressive Black Funeral Doom Metal. Unless that guy made it up.
Ever wonder why video-game characters die the way the do? It all started in 1983, Drew Mackie writes in “Three-Dimensional Death in a Two-Dimensional World,” when Nintendo’s Mario Bros. made its debut. In the game, Drew writes, Mario “leapt to his death, more or less. It’s weird when you think about what you’re actually seeing: In a game where Mario spent the whole time either facing left or right and scurrying along a two-dimensional plane, he died by facing the screen and jumping off the platform, toward the screen.”
[I]t ended up everywhere in video games from that era — mostly Mario-style platformers, of which there were many, but some other genres too. Your character died, and he or she looked at directly at the screen — at you, effectively — before they spasmed and leapt into oblivion. It’s like they were saying, “Hey. Fuck you. You killed me.” And then the leap. It seems strange, given that it adds a z-axis into a world that often only had an x and a y previously. But that’s how it happened.
Numeral-based names are inherently risky: numbers are a code, and not everyone has the patience for deciphering. I’ve been collecting new brand names that incorporate numbers in a variety of ways, from cryptic to evocative. Here are three that caught my attention recently; I’ll cover a few more later this week.
KFC eleven(capitalization sic) is the chicken chain’s new concept, currently being tested at a single location in Louisville, Kentucky. Did you think the name came from “These go to 11”? I did; I was wrong. KFC tells us that 11 is the number of “secret herbs and spices” in the breading. Gone is the Colonel; in his place is a stylized chicken silhouette. According to the Louisville business journal Business First:
The store will be used to test innovative ideas at a single site. Initially, its menu will include items such as rice bowls and flatbreads, revised versions of its mashed potatoes and cole slaw, and side items such as waffle fries, and macaroni and cheese.
I understand wanting to maintain “KFC” in the new name, but the number is too opaque to create a satisfying brand extension, and the KFC Eleven website makes no attempt to tell the name story. To me, it just looks like “KFC Store #11” … out of 18,000.
Portland’5is a rebranding of the Portland (Oregon) Center for the Arts, which comprises—you guessed it—five theaters and auditoriums.
We wanted to communicate to Portlanders that these are their venues, so the apostrophe infused a sense of ownership while the “5” calls out their full family of venues. It’s a concise, perfect way to pack that big idea right into their name.
It may work conceptually, and the individual logos are quite elegant, but in practice that apostrophe-5 thing is simply baffling. How the heck are we supposed to pronounce the name? If it’s “Portland Five,” why the apostrophe? The odd construction reminds me of the old logo for Selix Formalwear, in which the S was replaced by a 5, presumably to represent “after 5 [p.m.].” I always wanted to pronounce the name Felix. Yeah, I’m literal that way.
Here’s a number-name that’s more successful, mostly because of a strong story: 961 Beer.
In an article published August 4, the New York Times’s Nathan Dueul called Beirut-based 961 “a very rare Middle East microbrewery” that “makes a beer that was named best lager at the Hong Kong International Beer Awards last year.” The numerical name is Lebanon’s international telephone code; it’s a nice blend of local pride and global communication.
Chap hop: A “genre of comedic British rap music with lyrics in Edwardian English about quintessentially British topics, such as tea and cricket, often with steam punk elements (e.g. ‘I’m British’ by Professor Elemental).” (Source: “Among the New Words,” American Speech, Fall 2012.) Also spelled chap-hop. For more on steampunk, see my May 2008 post.
“I’m British,” by Professor Elemental (2012)
The chap in chap hop is derived, at least in part, from the British magazine The Chap (1999-), which “takes a wry look at the modern world through the steamed-up monocle of a more refined age, occasionally getting its sock suspenders into a twist at the unspeakable vulgarity of the twenty-first century.” Chap to mean “lad, fellow” was first documented in 1716; it was an abbreviation of a 16th-century term, chapman, which meant “customer.” The hop is a libfix from hip-hop (see also trip-hop, hipster hop).
describes his sound as “Noel Coward and Afrika Bambaataa enjoying a sweet sherry together”. He has forsaken baseball caps and medallions for cravats and cuff links, and employs a banjolele and backing track in place of the usual set of decks.
“It’s reconnecting hip-hop with the Queen’s English,” he says. “There are an awful lot of dribblers and mutterers out there. Enunciation and grammar are terribly important.”
“Chap-Hop History,” by Mr.B The Gentleman Rhymer (2009)
Chap hop appears to have made some inroads into the North American music scene, at least among steampunk aficionados. Mr.B. The Gentleman Rhymer will perform on both days of Steamstock 2013, to be held in Richmond, California, on July 27 and 28.
See also this North American equivalent of chap hop (prep hop?).
“Tea Partay,” by Prep Unit (2006). “Where my WASPs at?”