A December 5, 2009, story in SF Luxe about “the Pacific Heights dream house,” a seven-bedroom Victorian at 2311 Broadway, had this gushing comment about a pent room:
The bright and airy pent room on the top level features soaring cathedral ceilings, sparkling views sweeping across the City and Bay, a wet bar with refrigerator and an abundance of skylights and windows. It works beautifully as a combination media and family/game room –– and is a perfect spot to enjoy sunsets over the Golden Gate Bridge*.
*On fog-free days.
Listed at $6,950,000, this house sold in 2010 for $6,500,000. A current Zillow estimate places its value at more than $10.5 million.
“For the adults, Jeff Schlarb of Green Couch Interior Design created the ‘Pent Room,’ a space for gathering, gaming, entertaining and relaxing.”
A pent room is the smaller cousin of a penthouse (first documented use: 1921), now defined as a luxury apartment on the top floor(s) of a skyscraper. According to a Wikipedia entry:
One of the earliest penthouse apartments in [New York] was publisher Conde Nast’s duplex penthouse at 1040 Park Avenue. The original 1923 plan for the building provided three units on each floor with additional maids’ rooms on the roof, but in 1924 the building’s upper spaces were constructed to provide a grand duplex for Nast. Connected by a staircase to the rooftop entertaining salons, the corner unit at the top floor was redesigned to be private family quarters.
But penthouse wasn’t coined in the 20th century. It first appeared in the early 14th century, when it was spelled pendize and referred to any attached building, often a simple structure. (According to Online Etymology Dictionary, in some Middle English homilies Jesus’ birthplace was called not a manger but a penthouse.)
The pent- of penthouse and pent room is unrelated to the pent in pent-up (confined), which is a past participle of pen. In fact, penthouse is an example of a false etymology’s influence on spelling. Here’s Daily Etymology:
The Middle English word “pendize” was changed over time to a combination of the more familiar English word “house” (a natural assumption since the original word indicated a somewhat house-like structure) and the Middle French “pente” meaning “slope.” In other words, the penthouse was originally an attached building with a sloping roof.
So a pent room is actually an appendage room – what might, in a less frenzied market, have simply been called a bonus room, attic, or garret.
There’s evidence of even further pent- drift in a 2011 listing for a Telegraph Hill (San Francisco) house with a “view pent level family room & spacious deck.” “View” is intended here as an adjective, and “pent” may be a shortening of “penthouse.” In Brooklyn, “pent level” can refer to something far more modest, as in a recent Craigslist listing for a “large pent level studio flat!!” with “modern flare [sic].” Rent: $1,925 a month. In San Francisco, that would be considered a bargain.
I bring glad tidings for Festivus 2013! Last week Denver celebrated its second annual Beer Festivus (“A Beer Festival for the Rest of Us!”). There’s a Festivus pole constructed of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans inside the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, erected by “artist/protester/drinker of cheap beer Chaz Stevens” to protest the Nativity scene in the same government building. And I’m back for the fifth consecutive year with a public Airing of Grievances, one of the canonical rites of this defiantly non-canonical holiday.
If you go in for tradition, Festivus is celebrated on December 23. But we Festivusians say feh! to tradition. We also say, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!”
Whisper listing: An off-market real-estate deal marketed through word of mouth alone.
Whisper listings are becoming more common in New York, according to a September 22, 2013, article in the New York Times (“For Your Ears Only”):
Off-market deals, known as whisper listings, have long been the purview of the ultra-high-end market. Certain properties, often with price tags of $20 million or more, are shopped with a shroud of mystery among a small circle of well-connected agents instead of being put on the market for the world to see.
Now this hush-hush approach has spread to many price points, including apartments below $1 million, as sellers realize the advantage they have, thanks to the lack of apartments available for sale in Manhattan.
“Sellers feel cocky. Sellers feel like they have the ball,” said Brian K. Lewis, an associate broker at Halstead Property who in the last six months has taken on seven whisper listings from clients who do not want to list their apartments, but are willing to entertain offers. These range from a two-bedroom for $1.295 million on the Upper West Side to a downtown loft for $12 million. “In an improving economy with no inventory, they have the asset people want.”
Brand new whisper listing: Across from the U of A stadium, this 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath condo is ideally situated ( Sam Hughes) for easy access to the U of A. With a roomy and coveted 2 car garage, this property will list for $475,000. Call for additional information, tenant occupied until 12/31/2013. This property will list for $475,000. Easily shown by appointment [phone number]
“Whisper listings” — properties that are for sale, but not officially on the market — are becoming more common, as sellers seek to avoid the perception that they are unloading properties because of financial distress. Also known as “quiet listings,” they are often among the most expensive properties in the city.
“Whisper” comes from an Old English word, hwisprian, that was probably onomatopoetic. “Whisper” shows up in a few other compound nouns, if Urban Dictionary is to be credited: “whisper yell” (to argue without raising one’s voice), “whisper alley” (a street populated by promiscuous women), “whispersation” (a conversation conducted in low tones).
See also my post on Whisper.sh, a social-media app that encourages users to share secrets anonymously.
The name duplication isn’t coincidental. The two brands are related.
Vornado fans were first manufactured toward the end of World War II; the inventor of the original technology, an Oklahoma man named Ralph K. Odor (really), had started experimenting in the 1920s with improved airplane-propeller efficiency. In 1931 he introduced the Vornado Plane.
The Vornado name comes from “vortex action” plus a suffix, probably from “tornado.” (A 1936 news account of the plane said it would “roar through the skies on the wings of a span of man-made tornadoes.”)
In the 1940s Odor partnered with a Kansas entrepreneur, O.A. Sutton, and after the war ended the O.A. Sutton Corporation produced the first Vornado fans. Odor quit not long afterward over a patent-rights dispute, and the O.A. Sutton Corporation went bankrupt in the 1950s. The Vornado brand and company were resurrected in Andover, Kansas, in 1989.
As for Vornado Realty Trust, it traces its history to an appliance chain originally called Two Guys from Harrison, founded in 1946 by brothers Sidney and Hubert Hubschman of Harrison, New Jersey. In 1959, Two Guys bought the defunct O.A. Sutton Corporation and renamed the merged company Vornado. At the company’s peak, according to a Wikipedia entry, there were more than 100 Two Guys locations nationwide. Profits began declining in the 1970s, and in 1980, Vornado was acquired by Interstate Department Stores, Inc., which changed its name to Vornado Realty Trust and began selling the retail stores and leasing their physical locations.
Today, Vornado Realty Trust is a publicly traded company and one of the largest owners and managers of commercial real estate in the United States. And Vornado fans for home, business, and industrial use are sold at Sears, Costco, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and other retailers worldwide.
Officials in Incheon, the city in South Korea, announced plans this week to transform a small fishing island off the country’s west coast into a gambling and tourism center. According to a report in the Washington Post, the project will be called EIGHTCITY – Bloomberg News reported a different spelling, “8-City” – and will be built in the shape of the number 8, which has connotations of good fortune in several Asian cultures.
California’s new health-insurance exchange, formed in compliance with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), won’t be called Avocado after all. Instead, the five-member exchange picked a safe choice, Covered California, the Los Angeles Timesreported this week. (The tentative tagline is equally bland: “Your destination for affordable healthcare.”) The stated rationale for the name is on shaky grammatical ground: “Covered is an action verb, and if we do our job, that’s what we want to happen,” exchange-board member Robert Ross told the Times. Actually, in this construction “covered” is an adjective.
Other rejected names included Eureka (the state motto) and Ursa (a Latin word for bear, in honor of the state animal).
The cable company Comcast, which already owns faster, has applied for trademark protection for UPWARE. According to the industry publication Fierce Cable, the name would be used to market software as a service (SaaS). I suspect many Comcast customers are already using UPYOURS.
(Hat tip: MJF.)
Two things I learned from a Daily Candy email this week: that there is a salon in San Francisco called Lonni’s Punani, and that the salon employs “body hair stylists,” a job title that was new to me. Lonni is the first name of the salon’s owner; she’s originally from New Jersey. And “Punani”? “Not Lonni’s last name,” Daily Candy said coyly. Further research revealed that punani is a Hawaiian word meaning “heavenly flower” and a Pacific Islander slang term for “vagina” or “vulva.”
You gotta admit that “Lonni’s Punani” sounds classier – and rhymier – than “Virginia’s Va-jay-jay.”
Mansionis the unapologetically 1 percent-ish name of the Wall Street Journal’s new weekly section devoted to “high-end property.” In a letter to WSJ subscribers, managing editor Robert Thomson said Mansion would be “the home of both aspiration and real-estate realization.” I look forward to the quarterly spin-off, Car Elevator.
What the fut was Alaska Telecom thinking when it renamed itself Futaris? This, apparently: “Based on the word future, Futaris represents limitless possibilities and progress.” Funny, because when I look at this sad excuse for a logo, I see “futility.”
UPDATE: Reader Dan Freiberg suggests that “this variation helps with pronunciation, and
works better with the symbol.”
Juniper is a new subscription service for women who don’t own calendars. Oh, sorry: it’s “a monthly care package” consisting of tampons (five brands are offered) and a collection of “gourmet sweets and artisan savory treats.” (Yes, it’s that word!) “Never panic shop again,” says the home-page copy. The price, however, may cause cramping: $28 a month. I couldn’t find a story behind the name—which is lovely in its nondescriptive way—but I’m wondering whether founder Lynn Tao, young as she appears to be, is a Donovan fan. Remember “Jennifer Juniper,” who “longs for what she lacks”?
UPDATE: Mystery solved (although I’m still fond of my own theory):
I’m even more mystified by Tassafaronga Village, a mixed-income residential development in East Oakland that I learned about this week via a New York Times story. There’s no explanation of the name in the story or on the website of the architect, David Baker, so I tried to dig deeper. I learned that Tassafaronga Point, on Guadalcanal (Solomon Islands), was the site of several naval engagements between US and Japanese forces during World War II. But that wasn’t very helpful: the housing project is meant to heal a troubled neighborhood, so why name it after a bloody, 70-year-old series of battles? And why the Melanesian reference in Oakland, where Pacific Islanders make up less than 1 percent of the population?
It’s certainly a distinctive name, fun to say if a little challenging to spell. Here’s hoping someone who knows the whole story reads this post and leaves a comment that clears up the mystery.
UPDATE: It took less than half an hour to get an answer to my question about Tassafaronga. See comments below from Gene, proprietor of the excellent Our Oakland blog.
It’s been a good month for numbered lists about names and naming. Starting with the longest list: Paola Norambuena, senior director of verbal identity at the global branding agency Interbrand, identifies 10 of the most common naming mistakes, including one that tops my own list: “Forgetting that naming is as strategic as it is creative.”
In a guest column for Fast Company, Matt Gordon and Nick Foley of Landor’s Chicago office enumerate eight principles of product naming, from “Make it memorable” to “Expect its story to involve.” The title’s a bit misleading, because they cover corporate names, too—including one of Landor’s own, Accenture. Sneaky devils. (Via @operativewords.)
Trademark lawyer Jessica Stone Levy just received her first Birchbox delivery of cosmetic samples. Gather ’round as she opens the lid and reveals the branding hits and misses within. Like Jessica, I snickered over “For hair on days of unwash,” the legend on Lulu Organics Hair Powder.
I’ve been sending Ben Yagoda’s “Rules for Quotes” to a lot of people who probably wish I’d just shut up already. But a) it’s excellent advice from a language expert and b) for some reason, writing quotes is trickier than you’d think. Even if you’re in the business (*cough* *publicists*) of writing quotes.
You may have noticed that slut has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to a certain bloviator whose name rhymes with Flush Flimflah. (Not to brag or anything, but I was totally ahead of the slut curve.) Language mavens and cultural critics have been quick to offer analysis and opinion. I especially liked linguist Geoff Nunberg’s recent commentary on “Fresh Air”: “Maybe someday ‘slut’ will be as comically dated as ‘bounder’ or ‘cad,’” Nunberg observed. “But in recent times, it has actually become stronger and more offensive”—to the point that it’s sometimes spelled with an asterisk replacing the U.
My new favorite Tumblr, ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS, also got on the slut bandwagon: “HELLO, AND WELCOME TO PLANNED PARENTHOOD, YOU SLUTTY SLUT. WHAT’S THE PROBLEM TODAY? YOU WANT A SLUTTY MAMMOGRAM TO DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT YOU’VE GOT SLUTTY BREAST CANCER?” Go see the whole thing. (Hat tip: Nancy Nall.)
Yes, that’s Crapi Apartments, and no, it isn’t PhotoShopped. A dyslexic version of “Capri”? No budget for a proofreader? You tell me. The building is on Overland Avenue in West Los Angeles, and you can look it up. (Thanks, Judith!)
Balloting has begun in the Name of the Year contest, now in its 29th year of providing merriment at others’ expense. The ground rules, in case you’ve forgotten: all names are real, many are from the world of sports, all comments are welcome, reporting of results may take a while. In the first round, I’m quite smitten with Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson, “armed robbery suspect.”
From A Walk in the Words, links to four very interesting articles about language and sports, including a 2006 American Speech paper about Homeric and hypocoristic nicknames in professional baseball and hockey. Seriously. You’ll love it.
Eavesdrop as some New York City building developers brainstorm names for their new properties. Some of the coinages, writes the New York Times’s Joanne Kaufman, “are as whimsical as those of movie stars’ children.”
Speaking of errors, did you screw up and write “sneak peak” instead of “sneak peek” in a tweet? There’s a bot for that, the excellently named Stealth Mountain. (Yes, a sneaky peak.) Misspell the phrase and Stealth Mountain will tweet back a mild-mannered correction: “I think you mean sneak peek.” Check out the favorites page, which reveals that people do not always appreciate being led onto the path of knowledge. Shocking, I know. (Via Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic.)
In Chinese culture, the number eight has associations of good fortune: the word for eight, bā in Pinyin, sounds similar to words meaning “wealth” and “prosper” in Cantonese and other Chinese languages.
That’s why you’ll see an unusual number of symbolic eights in the Bay Area, which is home to large Asian and Asian-American populations.
This mixed-use development on the site of a former Howard Johnson’s motel in Oakland calls itself “Chinatown’s happiest community.” The “88% sold” sign has been displayed for many months, and may or may not be strictly accurate. Shortly after the project’s completion, in early 2008 (surely no coincidence), an article in the San Francisco Chronicle explained the Eight Orchids name:
The numeral 8 … was not chosen randomly. To the Chinese, eight is a lucky number that stands for prosperity and good fortune. When you take the numeral and turn it on its side, it becomes the symbol for infinity - forever. Triple it and you’ve got 888 - three times the luck and the last three digits of the price tags on the condos.
Speaking of 888:
888 Brannan (at 8th Street), San Francisco.
This South of Market building houses the Giftcenter and Jewelrymart (yes, that’s how they spell those words). It’s open only to the trade.
Double eight has its own symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. According to Wikipedia, the two digits resemble 囍, “the ‘shuāng xĭ’ (‘double joy’), a popular decorative design.”
88 Kearny St., San Francisco.
88 Kearny is an office building in San Francisco’s Financial District, a short walk from Chinatown. The double eights create a striking logo.
The Kearny and Brannan buildings may not have begun their lives as 88 and 888, respectively. Street addresses are assigned by city or county agencies, but developers and owners sometimes petition to have the numbers changed. You may recall that that’s what Ronald and Nancy Reagan did when they moved to Bel-Air, California, in 1989. Their house number was originally 666 St. Cloud Road, but Nancy Reagan had it changed to 668 because in the New Testament Book of Revelation, 666 is “the number of the Beast.” Of course, 888 would have been even better, but that would have required buying a different house on a different block.