I’m over at the Strong Language blog today with a new post about advertising that flirts with naughty words without tipping over into actual obscenity—from “FXing serious” (AMD processors) to “a shiatsu-load of masseuses” (Thumbtack.com).
“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.
“THIS IS BULL SHEET.” Note that bull is slightly obscured by the folds in the paper.
“Bull sheet” is defined in the small type as “tedious paperwork”; sheet is meant to be a punning reference to paper. The clenched fists provide the emotional backstory.
As I’ve noted many times over the last few years, advertisers have lately been embracing near-profanity with the zeal of 9-year-olds who have just learned their first dirty joke. (See “F-Plus,” “Half-Fast, Whole F-Word,” “Reflexive Fun,” and other posts in my Profanity category.) What’s unusual about the Adobe ad is the business-to-business angle: ads in the business section usually favor buzzwords over swear words.
“Bull sheet” is the third of three sequential full-page Adobe ads in today’s Times. The other two avoid double entendres but compensate with double exclamation points:
Gone are the days when an aspiring wine brand had to sound aristocratic. Today’s successful wines have names like Jealous Bitch, The Ball Buster, and Le Vin de Merde. “Dirty Wine,” my new post on the Strong Language blog, examines the trend and catalogues the players. Take a look, but be forewarned: Strong Language calls itself “a sweary blog about swearing,” and it delivers on that slogan—but in the most edifying and even scholarly way.
“Clickspittle: an unquestioningly loyal follower who obediently shares every trivial thought of their idol on social media.” Post-modern portmanteaus from The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, excerpted in The Independent. (Via @Catchword)
“Most important, it stood for Internet. But it also stood for other valuable i things, like individual, imagination, i as in me, etc. It also did a pretty good job of laying a solid foundation for future product naming.” A knowledgeable Quora answer to the question “What is the history of the i prefix in Apple product names?”(Via @AlanBrew)
“Around the time of the birth of OK, there was a fad for komical Ks instead of Cs on the pages of newspapers … including from 1839: ‘The gentleman to the left of the speaker, in klaret kolored koat with krimson kollar, is Mr. Klay, member of Kongress from Kentucky’.”Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, marks the 176th anniversary of “OK” with a post about the word’s “konspicuous, kurious, komical” … uh, kwalities. (Read my 2010 post about “OK.”)
What do we lose when dictionaries delete words like bluebell, catkin, lark, and mistletoe to make room for blog, broadband, MP3 player, and chatroom? British nature writer Robert Macfarlane—most recently the author of Landmarks—writes in The Guardian about “the importance of preserving and plenishing a diverse language for landscape.” His essay includes some beautiful, obscure words like ammil, “a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs, and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.” Plenishing is pretty wonderful, too. (Via @StanCarey)
I’m back at the Strong Language blog today with a post about “Schitt’s Creek,” a new sitcom that makes its U.S. debut tonight on cable TV’s Pop channel. The title was too taboo for NPR’s television critic to utter aloud, so he spelled it out, provided a rhyming mnemonic, and subsequently truncated the offensive name to “Creek.”
There’s a second naming story hidden in that one, although it’s not as racy: Pop (as in pop culture) was formerly known as the TV Guide Network; it rebranded last year as “a multi-platform destination dedicated to celebrating the fun of being a fan” where “fans don’t sit at the outskirts of pop culture making snarky comments, they live right smack in the middle of it.” Pop is targeting “modern grownups” age 35 to 40 (a rather narrow demo, don’t you think?) “who have a lot of disposable income and still go to the gym, want to look good and want to watch the show everyone is talking about,” according to the channel’s president of entertainment and media, Brad Schwartz.
My latest post for Strong Language(“a sweary blog about swearing”) is about Sofa King: “a real brand, a parody brand, a tribute brand, a song title, the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit, and the punchline to a joke.” SNL may have popularized Sofa King, but there had already been a furniture store by that name in the UK for six years before the skit aired. (Tagline: “Our prices are Sofa King low!”) And the joke had been circulating online for at least a year before that.
Hot damn! I have a new post up on Strong Language, the newish “sweary blog about swearing.” This time I’ve written about brand names like Mother Pucker, Mother Clucker, Mother Effer, and MoFo. Guess what they have in common?
My first post for Strong Language (“a sweary blog about swearing”) is up today. It’s not exactly about swearing per se but rather about the use of a vulgar idiom, a pot to piss in, in the headline of an ad for antique silver that appeared in the New Yorker earlier this month. I also do a quick survey of other piss idioms, a surprising number of which emerged in the 20th century. And I finish with a couple of brand names that incorporate piss, which was one of George Carlin’s famous “seven words you can’t say on television.”
As usual, Oxford Dictionaries was first out of the gate, nearly a month ago, with its WOTY choices. And the winner was… vape.
As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vapehas grown significantly in popularity. You are thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year.
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year—based on a spike in number of lookups on the dictionary’s website—is culture:
Culture is a big word at back-to-school time each year, but this year lookups extended beyond the academic calendar. The term conveys a kind of academic attention to systematic behavior and allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group: we speak of a “culture of transparency” or “consumer culture.” Culture can be either very broad (as in “celebrity culture” or “winning culture”) or very specific (as in “test-prep culture” or “marching band culture”).
This year, the use of the word culture to define ideas in this way has moved from the classroom syllabus to the conversation at large, appearing in headlines and analyses across a wide swath of topics.
Runners-up include nostalgia, insidious, legacy, and feminism.
The twentieth Kanji of the Year took a total of 8,679 votes, or 5.18% of the total 167,613. The reasons for its selection are clear: on April 1 this year the government raised Japan’s consumption tax for the first time in 17 years, bringing it from 5% to 8%. Meant to bolster funding for the country’s future social security needs, this tax hike impacted Japanese wallets and brought about drastic swings in the economy as a whole, with consumers front-loading major appliance, vehicle, and home purchases ahead of April 1 and curtailing spending after the higher rate went into effect. Two straight quarters of negative growth thereafter convinced Prime Minister Abe Shinzō to put off the next planned rate hike, from 8% to 10%, until the spring of 2017.
The German word of the year is lichtgrenze, the “border of light” created by thousands of illuminated helium balloons that were released November 9 to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall. Other words on the German list were less celebratory: “It was a year of terror, strikes, and football frenzy.”
Geoff Nunberg, the linguist-in-residence on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” picked God view as his word of the year:
It’s the term that the car service company Uber uses for a map view that shows the locations of all the Uber cars in an area and silhouettes of the people who ordered them. The media seized on the term this fall when it came out that the company had been entertaining itself and its guests by pairing that view with its customer data so it could display the movements of journalists and VIP customers as they made their way around New York.
Nunberg continued: “What we’re talking about here, of course, is the sense that the world is getting more and more creepy. …Creepy is a more elusive notion than scary. Scary things are the ones that set our imagination to racing with dire scenarios of cyberstalkers, identity thieves or government surveillance — whereas with creepy things, our imagination doesn't really know where to start.”
Also in radioland, Ben Schott presented the most ridiculous words of the year, from the ridiculous active nutrition (“sports nutrition for people who don’t exercise”) to the appalling catastrophic longevity (“insurance-speak for people living too long”). Schott writes the Jargonator column for Inc. magazine; he spoke with NPR’s “The Takeaway.” (Link includes full audio and partial transcript.)
Here’s a reminder that there are as many Englishes as there are words of the year: the Australian National Dictionary Centre selected shirtfrontas its word of the year for 2014. It’s a verb, it comes from the vocabulary of Australian Rules football, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott used it in a threat to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin:
The term was little known outside of its sporting context, although the figurative use has been around since at least the 1980s. Abbott’s threat to shirtfront Putin, and the word itself, was widely discussed and satirised in the Australian and international media.
The ANDC’s shortlist includes man-bun, Ned Kelly beard, and coward punch.