Since 2009 I have observed Festivus – the holiday for the rest of us, celebrated on December 23 – by publishing misspellings, grammar flubs, and punctuation errors committed in the name of commerce. It’s all been lighthearted and lightly instructive: my way of honoring The Airing of Grievances, a mock-tradition of this mock-holiday.
This year, however, my grievances are much more grievous than a misplaced apostrophe or a misspelled brass plaque.
Like many of you, I was dismayed by the 2016 presidential campaign, its outcome, and its aftermath. As I surveyed the devastation, I saw root causes in the practices of my own industry – marketing and branding – and in the ideology of technology, which now permeates the general culture.
And so my grievances this year aren’t minor infractions but rather more serious sins. Here, as I see it, is how we came to this sorry pass.
Via Pinterest. An authentic Festivus pole would be unadorned: decorations are “distracting.”
This post marks my eighth annual foray into word-of-the-year (WOTY) speculation. My first such summing-up, in 2009, included birther, Tea Party, and FAIL, among other lexical units. How things have changed. Or not.
As in the past, my choices for 2016 follow the guidelines of the American Dialect Society, which will choose its own WOTYs on January 6, 2017, at its annual meeting in Austin, Texas. (If you happen to be in the vicinity, the vote is open to the public, and it’s hella fun.) There are a few new ADS categories this year – political word of the year, digital (tech-related) word of the year, slang word of the year, WTF word of the year – and there’s always the possibility of even more categories being nominated from the floor. (For my own list, I’ve created three new categories: Obscenity of the Year, Import of the Year, and Spoonerism of the Year.) Nominated words don’t have to be brand new, but they do need to “show widespread usage by a large number of people in a variety of contexts and situations, and which reflect important events, people, places, ideas, or preoccupations of English-speakers in North America in 2016.”
Join me at Strong Language today, where I’ve published a post about a phrase in a sign that appeared on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) last week. The sign was fake (but looked authentic); the phrase was an imperative that included a four-letter word that’s common in speech but uncommon in official pronouncements. I write about the phrase and its history – not very ancient, it turns out – and about GYST, the acronym formed from the phrase. Language-of-commerce connection: GYST is also the name of a couple of U.S. companies.
What if you lose the right to your company name … and the name is your own? When it happened to fashion designer Kate Spade, she changed not only the brand name but her own. (The Fashion Law, via Catchword)
The strange case – as in legal case – of the Hasbro toy hamster named Harris Faulkner and the Fox News anchor named Harris Faulkner: “either a really weird coincidence or some very niche cross-marketing on Hasbro’s part.” (Consumerist)
I’m over at the Strong Language blog today with a story about a Hollywood recording studio that recorded some of the biggest names of the 1960s and 1970s: the Doors, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Linda Ronstadt. The studio’s own name was the acronym T.T.G., which may have stood for “Two Terrible Guys.” Or it may have stood for a Yiddish-Arabic expression that was considerably swearier.
I have a pair of related posts up on Strong Language (a sweary blog about swearing) that may be of interest to some of you. In them, I take a deep dive into a word whose offensiveness is variable and subjective: uttered by a presidential candidate, it caused consternation among headline writers; used as a brand name, it may run afoul of trademark laws. Yet it’s unobjectionable as a botanical or fashion modifier.
What in the world am I talking about? See for yourself in Part 1 and Part 2 of “A Feline Profanity.”
There are three unrelated businesses called What the Truck, a Flight of the Conchords fan site called What the Folk, two radio shows called WTF, a typeface-identification website called What the Font, and a book about women’s health called – I kid you not – What the Yuck?