Are city slogans obsolete? Cleveland, Ohio, recently announced that it would phase out its famous slogan, “Cleveland Rocks,” in favor of “This Is Cleveland”—which isn’t a slogan at all, its creators insist, but rather “a repository” and “a collection of stories.”
My new column for the Visual Thesaurus, “The Slogans That Never Sleep: How to Brand a City,” reviews the history of city slogans, which traditionally have served to boost tourism and rally civic spirit, and explains the distinctions between city slogans, city mottoes (like London’s Domine dirige nos—“God direct us”), and city nicknames (like New York’s “The City That Never Sleeps” and “The Big Apple”).
In the past, cities and towns (or the largest employer therein) often sponsored civic slogan contests. In a 1911 contest, Modesto, California, chose an immodest but lyrical city slogan: “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health.” (The prize: $3.) That slogan, now considered unofficial, still adorns a downtown arch. A 1929 contest produced “The Biggest Little City in the World,” the long-lasting slogan of Reno, Nevada. (The winner, one G.A. Burns of Sacramento, received $100.) That slogan, too, appears on a downtown arch.
Real-estate developers tried their hand at sloganeering as well. In 1925 Jacob Ruppert, who owned the New York Yankees from 1915 to 1939, bought a swath of swampy real estate in Florida adjoining the team’s spring-training field. He dubbed the property Ruppert Beach and gave it the long-winded slogan “Where Every Breath Brings Added Health and Every Moment Pleasure.” Unfortunately, in September 1926 a massive hurricane struck the region. Ruppert Beach was never built.
Urban Renewal (on the Twin Cities’ “More to Life” and Las Vegas’s “Your Vegas Is Showing”)
World Capitals (on California cities that call themselves “The __ Capital of the World”)
Tales of the Cities (one of my earliest posts, published in June 2006, about the focus-group death of an Indianapolis city slogan)
And if it’s state tourism slogans that interest you, the New York Times’s Gail Collins devoted a column to them yesterday. Idaho, for example, recently dropped its “Great Potatoes” in favor of “Adventures in Living” after conducting some “attitude research.” Collins observes: “Well yeah, when you hire people to do a marketing survey, they are not going to come back with a root vegetable.” Check the comments for readers’ contributions (example: “New Orleans: We’re Here Because We’re Not All There”).
The smallest of the world’s dog breeds was chosen over four other finalists in a “Name The Team” contest that garnered over 5,000 submissions, triumphing over Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs. …
El Paso general manager Brad Taylor said Chihuahuas was chosen as the team name because they “represent fun and are fiercely loyal.” The region’s fans were able to submit names through the team’s website. The list was narrowed based on creativity, marketability, fun, relevance to El Paso’s unique character and the ability to trademark the name.
“El Pasoans played a significant role in identifying our new team name – they attended focus groups, suggested several hundred different names, and voted in record numbers for all the names,” said Alan Ledford, president of MountainStar Sports Group.
¡Ay, chihuahua! Just because they crowdsourced the name doesn’t mean the whole crowd approves. “What a complete slap in the face to all of us El Pasoans!!!” lamented Scott Ziegler in a comment to the MiLB article. “#Padres must be thinking it will motivate players to get to the Majors quickly,” tweet-snorted Kenneth Dame. As of yesterday afternoon, more than 8,000 people had signed a Change.org petition asking MountainStar Sports Group to “not only strongly reconsider the name of our city's baseball team, but allow our taxpayers to vote on the final name, not just simply ‘recommend’ ideas for the name.”
Here’s my own dos pesos: A polarizing name—even a negative name—can make a strong brand. And “Chihuahuas” scores well compared to some other baseball-team names. Padres? Sexist and faithist! Indians? Racist! Two major-league teams are named for socks. Socks! (I do, however, tip my cap to the Amsterdam-Gloversville-Johnstown Hyphens.) By contrast, the association of Chihuahuas with “small and feisty”—feisty comes from feist, “a small, belligerent dog”—seems appropriate and engaging.
“A Meticulous Metric of Team Names.” Embiggen (and order the poster.)
Then there’s the international-friendship potential: Why couldn’t the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, name its baseball team the El Pasos?
909er: A resident of Southern California’s Inland Empire, classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metropolitan area. The numeral refers to one of the region’s area codes; in 2004, the western part of Riverside County was split off and assigned a new area code, 951.
Southern California area-code map via Wikipedia. The area labeled “3” comprises Los Angeles’s 323 and 310 213 area codes.
For years, a stubborn divide between youth in Orange County's beach communities and those who visit from the inland has been summed up in the term ‘909ers,’ a less-than-flattering reference to an Inland Empire area code that — in beach slang — has come to mean anybody east of the county line.
Its popularity has waxed and waned but resurfaced with a vengeance in the aftermath of the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach in July.
When the weeklong event ended in a chaotic night of broken windows, street fights and a mess of tossed food, word that 909ers were to blame spread quickly among locals, despite the fact that only three of the 12 adults arrested were from the Inland Empire. The rest were from Orange County, San Gabriel Valley and Ventura.
The 909 area code was created in 1992 and “quickly gained a negative reputation,” according to the Times’s Paloma Esquivel: “ ‘The 909’ was used on TV shows and by comedians as shorthand for a low-class community.”
Area-code shorthand is popular in Southern California and can mystify outsiders. Times reporter Esquivel interviewed one 43-year-old man who hadn’t quite assimilated:
He said he moved to Huntington Beach from Las Vegas and was perplexed by the way locals use ‘909ers.’
“Area codes — I’m new to that,” he said. “It’s so weird in California you’re defined by the area code you’re from. It’s ridiculous.”
The earliest Urban Dictionary citation for “909er” is from 2003; it says, succinctly: “trashy riverside [sic] people.” Other Urban Dictionary definitions include “white trash,” “hayseeds,” and “worthless idiots, pure and simple.” As with many terms originally intended as slurs, the “909er” label can also be worn with pride, as in this UD counter-definition: “A Term Used By Snobby Little White Kids To Describe Us Good Ghetto Folk.”
Numerical-code branding has been used to more positive effect in Chicago, which earlier this year renamed a public walkway “The 606,” from the first three digits of Chicago’s ZIP codes. [Thanks to commenter David for the correction.]
Similar in sound but unrelated etymologically to “909er” (although in some cases there may be overlap): “99ers”—people who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.
During the lead-up to D-Day—June 6, 1944—the Allied nations undertook an elaborate deception strategy designed to mislead the Germans about the real date and location of the Normandy invasion. The overall plan was called Operation Bodyguard; one of its more bizarre elements—the creation of a decoy army, complete with inflatable tanks and fake artillery—had the code name Operation Fortitude.
The choice of code name for this particular operation—the crux of Bodyguard—was much debated. [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill had given instructions that no code name should be selected that might seem flippant in retrospect or give a hint of the individual or action involved. But he also disliked code names that meant nothing at all, which is why the original choice, “Mespot,” was rejected. Also vetoed were “Bulldog,” “Swordhilt,” “Axehead,” “Tempest,” and, obscurely, “Lignite.” Finally, a name was selected that seemed to evoke the resolution required to pull it off: Operation Fortitude.
The story of Operation Fortitude is told in a new documentary by Rick Beyer, “The Ghost Army,” that had its premiere Tuesday night on PBS. (Repeat broadcasts are scheduled throughout the week.)
It wasn’t only the operations that were deliberately named. The code names of the double agents who worked for MI5, the British intelligence agency, were also chosen with care and a hefty dash of dry humor. Dusko Popov, for example, a risk-loving Serbian playboy, was dubbed “Agent Tricycle.”
This may have been, in part, a reference to Popov’s insatiable appetites and his reputed but probably apocryphal taste for three-in-a-bed sex. It also recognized that the Tricycle network now consisted of one big wheel—Popov—supported by two smaller ones, Agents Balloon and Gelatine.
The Americans took a different approach to code names. When Popov came to Washington in 1941 on an assignment from MI5, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who regarded foreign spies as “just another species of criminal,” was not amused. “The FBI did not go in for jocular code names,” Macintyre tells us. “Popov was ‘Confidential Informant ND 63,’ an austere title that aptly reflects the bureau’s chilly attitude.”
For reasons best left undisclosed*, I recently found myself looking up facts about California cities. I wasn’t searching for nicknames or mottoes, but somehow I ended up on Wikipedia’s List of City Nicknames in California, and … well, there went the afternoon.
The list doesn’t include one city nickname I’ve always liked: Manteca, in Central California, is known as Fat City. (Manteca is Spanish for “cooking fat.”) But it does contain plenty of nuggets, many of them new to me (a California native). I learned, for example, that Chatsworth, in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, is sometimes called San Pornando, and that San Francisco has more nicknames (ten) than any other California city.
Then there are all the “X of the world” cities and towns. A lot of them.
I’d known, of course, that Castroville is the Artichoke Center of the World and that Gilroy is the Garlic Capital of the World; indeed, I’ve attended the Artichoke Festival and the Garlic Festival. But some of the other world capitals surprised me:
Fallbrook: Avocado Capital of the World and Raisin Capital of the World. (But also see Selma, below.)
Forestville: Poison Oak Capital of the World. (Hey, I’ve been to Forestville. It ain’t that bad!)
Holtville: Carrot Capital of the World. (I had to look up Holtville on a map. It’s a town of about 6,000 in Imperial County, about 10 miles east of El Centro.)
Indio: Date Capital of the World. (I have fond memories of spring vacations in Indio. It’s in the hot, dry Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs on the map but worlds away in style. We’d always stop at Shields Date Gardens to order date shakes and watch a grainy black-and-white documentary called The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.)
Watsonville: Strawberry Capital of the World. (Don’t tell Oxnard.)
Willow Creek: Bigfoot Capital of the world. (Had to look this one up, too. It’s in Humboldt County, near the Trinity River. Population about 1,000.)
I understand the inclination toward superlatives, but where city mottoes are concerned, I prefer the poetic: Modesto’s sublime “Water Wealth Contentment Health,” Del Mar’s much-imitated “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” Redwood City’s briskly reassuring “Climate Best by Government Test.”
I’m drawn to dark mottoes, too, like San Francisco’s “The City That Waits to Die.” But no California city beats Colma, just south of San Francisco, which Wikipedia reminds us was “founded as a necropolis in 1924.” One of Colma’s mottoes is “It’s Good to Be Alive in Colma”; it’s also known as “The City of the Silent” and as “The City That Waits for ‘The City That Waits to Die’ to Die.”
Another sadder-but-wiser tale: How not to name your restaurant. Author David Lizerbram, a trademark lawyer, leads off the story by observing: “It’s always astonishing to me that businesses will invest countless dollars in every aspect of their operations while relying on a name that will only bring legal issues.” Hear, hear!
If you’re launching a fashion brand, should you follow the traditional route and name it after yourself (which worked fine for Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Betsey Johnson)? Or should you follow the lead of some younger designers and choose a quirky name like Creatures of the Wind? Mark Prus, guest-blogging for Duets Blog, weighs the costs and benefits of “strange” as a naming strategy.
The Atlas of True Names “reveals the etymological roots, or original meanings, of the familiar terms on today's maps of the World, Europe, the British Isles and the United States. For instance, where you would normally expect to see the Sahara indicated, the Atlas gives you ‘The Tawny One’, derived from Arab. es-sahra “the fawn coloured, desert’.”
It’s funny how you can go for months without seeing “squirrel” in print, and then, bam, two sightings within three days.
The first squirrel is a red herring. It appears in Joseph Epstein’s Wall Street Journalreviewof Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist, a biography by Harriet Hyman Alonso of the man who wrote the lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “April in Paris,” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Harburg was born Isidore Hochberg in New York City in 1896; he changed his name to Edgar Y. Harburg in 1934 but was generally known as E.Y. Harburg or Yip Harburg.
Why “Yip”? In his review, Epstein says the nickname “came from the Yiddish word for squirrel, yipsl, which his parents called him when he was a child.” But the Yiddish word for squirrel is actually the Slavic-derived veverke; no Yiddish dictionary contains yipsl. According to Alonso, who devotes the first chapter of her book to the origin of “Yip,” Harburg related the yipsl-squirrel story to the oral historian Studs Terkel. Alonso passes it along without further comment, as does Epstein.
It’s entirely possible, though, that Harburg was pulling Terkel’s leg – or beingsquirrelly(“cunningly unforthcoming or reticent”). Because while yipsl has no meaning in Yiddish, the acronym YPSL is both meaningful and relevant: it stands for Young People’s Socialist League, which was founded in 1907 as the student arm of the American Socialist Party and whose members were known as – yep – “Yipsels.” In a 2004 column for The Jewish Daily Forward, the pseudonymous language columnist Philologos wrote that “Harburg was a political radical who was blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1940s, and it is possible that he was nicknamed ‘Yipsel,’ subsequently shortened to ‘Yip,’ because of his YPSL-like views even if he never was a YPSL member.” Other distinguished Yipsels or sympathizers included the political scientist Daniel Bell, the literary and social critic Irving Howe, the writer Saul Bellow, and the journalist (and eventual neoconservative) Irving Kristol.
The second squirrel is a semi-secret one.
Secret Squirrel Cold Brew Coffee is a bottled coffee concentrate; one 16-ounce bottle makes six to seven eight-ounce drinks. The company is based in Studio City (Los Angeles County), but according to the clumsily written FAQ the name has a different geographic origin:
Growing up in Washington DC area a secret squirrel was something like knowing a shortcut around traffic, or knowing the hideaway parking spot, or knowing the unknown electrical outlet in the coffee shop. It only seemed fitting for this centuries old method for brewing coffee that few people know about.
(That awkward dangler at the beginning of the paragraph is one good argument for editors. Another is knowing how to hyphenate compound adjectives. Elsewhere on the website, a proofreader would have caught “anyway” for “any way,” sentences that end without periods, and introductory clauses without commas. But I digress.)
I have no idea whether the D.C. story is true – anyone care to confirm? I do know, however, that “Secret Squirrel” was the title character of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that aired for a few seasons in the mid-1960s and was briefly revived in the 1990s. The character was a spy; whether it got its name from the Washington shortcut or vice versa, I cannot say.
Finally, a few squirrel tidbits:
The Latin word for squirrel, sciurus, translates to “shadow tail.”
In many Germanic languages the word for “squirrel” translates to “oak kitten.” (It’s Eichhörnchen in German.)
The Spanish word for “squirrel,” ardilla, translates to “like a flame.” (From arder, to burn.)
See “squirrel” translated into almost 300 languages, including Klingon, here.
And here’s my favorite cinematic squirrel sighting, or near-sighting:
Forget everything you know about Banana Republic as it is today, and try to imagine the company in its crazily unconventional youth, when the stores had animal-call soundtracks and Jeeps in their windows and the mail-order catalogs—this was pre-Web, kiddies—featured sly, literate copy, interviews with famous-ish and once-famous people (James Fallows; the American-born former crown princess of Sikkim), and illustrations instead of photographs. I don’t have to imagine any of this, because I worked for Banana Republic back then*, after it was sold to the Gap but before Gap-ization eliminated every last whiff of creativity from the endeavor. Now, though, we can all return to that khaki-hued era, because BR’s founders, Mel and Patricia Ziegler (who, by the way, hired me), have written a history of their time with the company. In alternating first-person voices, Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic tells how an unemployed newspaper reporter (Mel) and artist (Patricia) used their powers of storytelling to spin heaps of military surplus from the far corners of the earth (but mostly the British Commonwealth) into gold. For a preview, listen to an interview with the Zieglers on the public-radio show Marketplace. (“I wish they’d changed the name,” Mel says of BR’s current incarnation.) And to get a sense of the hold the original Banana Republic still has on loyalists—including a few who are too young to have shopped in the 1980s—see Scott C. Adams’s blog, Abandoned Republic, which lovingly reproduces and annotates every one of the old catalogs.
And before we move on, please allow me to correct a common misconception: Banana Republic, founded in 1978, came first; J. Peterman, which appropriated the copy and illustration style and was parodied during several seasons of “Seinfeld,” was founded in 1987.
If the comic site xkcd baffles you, help is on the way: Explain xkcd is the “For Dummies” of xkcd-dom, providing an earnest exegesis of every panel of almost every strip.
Speaking of humor and not getting it, let’s see how stories from The Onion (satirical!) would look on Facebook (credulous!). Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Literally Unbelievable. (Via Karen.)
The book-recommendation site Goodreads polled its users about their presidential-candidate preferences and then analyzed reading habits across party lines. The result is the fascinating infographic “You Are What You Read.” There’s some crossover between the two camps, but I bet it doesn’t surprise you that Romney supporters think much more highly of Atlas Shrugged than Obama supporters do.
Did you miss the recent kerfuffle over Britishisms (a k a Briticisms) in American speech? Catch up right here! The first salvo was fired by the fabulously named Cordelia Hebblethwaite of BBC News (“Bit by bit British English is invading America”), which prompted tworesponses from Geoff Nunberg on the linguistics blog Language Log and one from Mark Liberman. Then came “Americans Are Barmy Over Britishisms” in the New York Times (the print edition had a better hed: “And Bob’s Your Uncle”), and a Times blog post that rounded up tweets with Americans’ favorite Britishisms. The Atlantic Wire and The Economist’s Johnson blog eagerly piled on, while Lynne Murphy at Separated by a Common Language attempted to bring some academic rigor to the discussion.
Meanwhile, Ben Yagoda continues to add entries to his Not One-Off Britishisms blog. Lately, “toff,” “twee,” and “snarky” have been hotly debated in the comments section.
Mazel tov to Lena (“Girls”) Dunham on selling her essay collection for $3.5 million. For that kind of dough, Ms. Dunham can afford a less generic title than Not That Kind of Girl, which is not that distinctive. (Via Jessica Testa.)
* In fact, I interviewed Mr. Fallows—I woke him up in his Kuala Lumpur home, to my chagrin—and Ms. Hope Cooke, the former crown princess who had divorced the prince and was leading walking tours of Manhattan.
Speaking of nicknames, derby girls—that’s how roller-derby competitors prefer to be known—have some colorful ones: Ovary Reaction, Hell O’Kittie, Val Catraz. But although some derby names are trademarked, “the vast majority of the thousands of U.S.-based derby girls have not” pursued legal protection for their names, write Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman in the Freakonomics blog. Instead, they’ve developed a surprisingly effective system of private regulation backed by the threat of social disapproval. And if dirty looks don’t do the trick, “there’s always violence.” (I wrote about the derby girls’ Master List of names here.)
Mafia guys have colorful nicknames, too; one defendant in the Family Secrets trial, Joseph Lombardo, had three: “the Clown,” “Lumbo,” and “Lumpy.” But, writes Andy Grimm in the Chicago Tribune, “modern mobsters are so paranoid about wiretaps and FBI surveillance that they seldom even risk using a nickname.” (Hat tip: MJF.)
What are the Boylston, the Cambridge, the Ainsley, and the Hamilton? They’re all names of collar styles, as defined in an essential guide for the well-dressed gentleman, “Comprehending Copious Collars.” Please note: button-down describes a collar, not any old shirt with buttons down the front. (A longtime peeve of mine.)
Here’s a gleeful discussion of pejorative nicknames for US locales, with –tucky blends (Springtucky, Pennsyltucky, etc.) leading the list. Most creative, and new to me: San Diego is “The Dirty Waffle” (Sandy Eggo). A few I didn’t see on the list: Lost Wages, Nevada; Slo Town (San Luis Obispo); Contraceptive (Contra Costa) County, California; and San Remote (Ramon), California. (Via @Wayword.)
In March, Indianapolis copy editor Andy Hollandbeck (@4ndyman on Twitter) began compiling a sure-to-be-massive A to Z of Editorial Peeves, beginning with “alright.” He published the “I” list this week (i.e. vs. e.g., impact, incentivize), but you’ll certainly want to read all the entries.
Speaking of copy editors and peeves, John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun makes the case for maintaining distinctions that matter: imply/infer, pallet/palate/pallet, discrete/discreet, reign/rein. He admits, however, that his confidence “has been shaken” on the compose/comprise issue.