God, or those who claim to speak on His/Her/Their behalf, has had a busy week.
In Rowan County, Kentucky, an elected official named Kim Davis, apparently misremembering that she is paid to render unto Caesar,cited “God’s authority” as the reason she has defied the law of the land and refused to grant marriage certificates to same-sex couples. She’s been held in contempt of court and, as of this writing, is in a county detention center.
Meanwhile, “Hand of God,” a new original series from Amazon, is available for streaming today. I’ve seen only the trailer for the nine-part series, which the New York Times’s Mike Hale called “a California neo-noir thriller” and which centers on a judge (played by Ron Perlman, whom you may remember as Hellboy) who believes he can hear the voice of God, but I can’t help imagining the fictional Judge Pernell Harris meeting the real Ms. Kim Davis in court.
And “Hand of God” isn’t the only deity-themed entertainment in the news. Cast thine eyes on this holy-ish trinity:
Almost overnight, it seems, the world has fallen head over heels for Slack.
“I am basically in love with Slack,” declares About.me founder Tony Conrad in a testimonial on Slack’s home page. “Slack, a messaging tool designed for team collaboration, is the working digital world’s latest paramour,” writes Scott Rosenberg in an admiring article published earlier this month on Medium (“Shut Down Your Office. You Now Work in Slack”). “Slack is the new favourite tool of newsrooms” reads a headline in Digiday, which calls itself “the authority on digital media.” In April, Slack’s co-founders won a Crunchie—one of the technology awards bestowed each year by TechCrunch—for founder of the year. Slack is also the investment world’s BFF: launched less than two years ago, it has only about 750,000 daily users—more than two-thirds of whom pay nothing for the service—but is worth $2.8 billion, according to Business Insider.
Chart via Business Insider(May 19, 2015), which is shaky on its spelling of Pinterest.
The numbers and accolades are impressive. But how does that name—Slack—stack up?
“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)
Despite the similarity of the drawings, Phat Buddha and Neon Buddha are not connected.
Interviewed by the New York Times in early April, Benishai said she “uses seamless fabric to create one-size-fits-many bras, leggings and tops, so there’s no potentially insulting size to be proffered helpfully over the dressing-room door”:
Ms. Benishai named her label Phat Buddha, after her favorite part of Bikram yoga class: When it’s over, there’s a breathing exercise in which the teacher tells the class to “let your Buddha belly hang out.”
“They close the lights at that point so nobody is looking at my fat belly, and I can let it all go and not judge myself,” she said.
Death Week continues with an odd, quasi-religious product-name pun: Shroud of Purrin, used by Nau International, Inc., for a line of waterproof outerwear. The name is a play on Shroud of Turin, believed by some people to be Jesus’ burial cloth, which has been on display at the cathedral in Turin, Italy, since 1578.
Nau’s Shroud of Purrin jackets look neither funereal nor otherworldly.
But “shroud” has meant “burial cloth” since the mid-16th century—just about the time the Shroud of Turin was moved to Turin. (In Old English, the noun form of “shroud,” or scrud, referred to any garment.) Calling a piece of adventure outerwear seems to portend a dire, “To Build a Fire” outcome.
I confess I couldn’t decipher “Purrin” at all—or rather, I couldn’t help seeing it as “purulent” (full of pus). A customer-service rep at Nau set me straight: it’s meant to represent purring, as in (quoting the website copy here) “feline-soft interior fuzz.”
Nau, pronounced “now,” is a Maori word meaning “welcome.”
I couldn’t find a trademark filing for “Shroud of Purrin,” but I did find a few other “Shroud” trademarks, including Poly-Shroud (for railway freight car axle bearings), Crimson Shroud (a video game title), Powershroud (portable electric fans), Refrigerated Shroud (refrigeration equipment), Add-a-Shroud (electrical plugs and receptacles), and Butterfly Pallet Shroud (cardboard floor display units).
Alas, the trademark for Snuggle-Shroud (“cloth used for burial of pets”) is deceased, defunct, expired, and, moreover, abandoned.
Miscellaneous non-trademark fact of interest: in British colloquial parlance, according to the OED, “shroud-waving” means:
(a) n. the practice of attempting to gain support for health-care funding by highlighting the life-threatening consequences to patients of underfunding; (in extended use) concentration on the negative effects of a particular policy, etc., in order to influence public opinion; (b) adj. that engages in shroud-waving.
Wudu: In Islam, the ritual washing of the face, hands, and other body parts in preparation for prayers. Wudu comes from Arabic al-wuḍūʼ; the closest English equivalent is ablution, although the latter word can also be used in non-religious contexts.
Wudu showed up in the news last week in obituaries for the Polish chemist and entrepreneur Wojciech Inglot, who died February 23 in Przemysl, Poland. He was 57.
Inglot had founded Inglot Cosmetics in 1983; in 2009, the company introduced O2M, a nail polish said to promote nail health by allowing oxygen (O2) and moisture (M) to pass through it. The polish – made from “a polymer similar to that in the newest generation of contact lenses,” according to a story in USA Today – sold poorly because of its high retail cost ($14 a bottle).
Then last fall, a Muslim cleric and academic in Southern California who was working on a book about purification and prayer learned that some Muslim women were trying to determine whether O2M’s porous properties might make it acceptable for wearing during prayer. Muslim women who wear nail polish often remove it as part of a ritual, called wudu, that involves washing with water before daily prayers.
After the cleric published an article saying O2M was “good news” for devout Muslim women, “a craze” built up around the brand, USA Today reported:
Though the Muslim holy book, the Quran, does not specifically address the issue of nail polish, some Islamic scholars have said that water must touch the surface of the nail for the washing ritual to be done correctly.
Some Muslim women might put nail polish on after finishing the last prayer of the day before going out, and then take it off again before dawn prayers. They can also wear it during their periods, when they are excused from the prayers, but some find it embarrassing to do so because it could signal they are menstruating. Some simply don’t want to take the trouble of getting a manicure that won't last long.
The late success of O2M caught Inglot by surprise, USA Today reported:
“I don't think there is a single Muslim living here,” Inglot said in an interview with The Associated Press nine days before his death at his factory in Przemysl, near the border with Ukraine. “We didn't even think about this.”
When I read the obituaries, I was struck by the similarity between Inglot’s surname and the French word for nail, ongle. A coincidence, to be sure, but an apt one.
Gundamentalist: A person who goes beyond the language of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and takes his or her unrestricted right to bear arms as a tenet of religious or quasi-religious faith. A portmanteau of “gun” and “fundamentalist.”
Keep the focus on the children. This was a massacre of children. Gundamentalists will try to focus on the shooter. That allows them to make a reasonable-sounding case for school prayer: As our morals deteriorate, more sick people will do horrible things. Frame the issue around making it harder to massacre children. You can’t pray away legally acquired assault weapons and large-capacity ammo clips.
In a comment, Heinrichs defined “gundamentalists” as “gun-loving fundamentalists with an unusual interpretation of Jesus’ peace message.”
Heinrichs didn’t coin “gundamentalist”; in fact, the word has been around for more than 80 years. I found a citation in the July 31, 1926, issue of The New Yorker in the “Of All Things” column, an un-bylined collection of news items (paywalled):
Down in Texas the shouting Baptist has evolved into the shooting Baptist. Rev. J. Frank Norris has now reached the position of America’s leading gundamentalist.
“Gundamentalist” lay dormant and possibly forgotten for many decades. Then, about five years ago, it began appearing again – this time in connection with groups, not individuals, and with a new shade of meaning: not necessarily a religious fundamentalist who pulls a trigger but any person who venerates guns.
In 2007, Reverend Rachel Smith, founder of the God Not Guns Initiative, wrote in “A Meditation for God Not Guns Sabbath” that “Gundamentalism” was “a spiritual problem”:
Gundamentalism is a spiritual movement without spiritual grounding. It is rooted in the sale and promotion of violence.
Gundamentalism willfully ignores the loss of nearly 30,000 lives each year to gun suicide and gun homicide. The mantra, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” is a magnificent half-truth that attempts to absolve gundamentalism of responsibility for the uniquely American epidemic of gun violence.
Its adherents believe that nothing is as important as the right to own a gun. Or many guns. Or many kinds of guns.
In 2008, Washington Post religion reporter David Waters wrote about a Baptist church in Oklahoma City that planned to give away a gun at an annual youth conference. Waters concluded:
I see people who are products of our gundamentalist culture, people who drape the cross with a flag, people who believe the Second Amendment should be one of the Ten Commandments, people who seem to have more trust in guns than in God.
“Gundamentalist” has occasionally been claimed with pride by those it’s meant to shame:
Today I was called a Gundamentalist. I think it was meant to be insulting or belittling. The more I think about it, the more I find it charming. – We the Armed, 2009.
The election results are just one indication of larger trends in American religion that Christian conservatives are still digesting, political analysts say. Americans who have no religious affiliation — pollsters call them the “nones” — are now about one-fifth of the population over all, according to a study released last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones. A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.
According to the Pew study, the religiously unaffiliated are “about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). In the last five years, the unaffiliated have risen from 17% to 24% of all registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic.”
The latest namifying example to catch my attention is Zenify, a relaxation drink. The manufacturer was handing out free cans at last weekend’s Brewery Art Walk in Los Angeles.
Brother, can you spare a hyphen?
At least the makers of Zenify have made up a story about their verbifying suffix. It’s poorly articulated, but it’s something:
Zenify is a Zen state of mind, clearing away mental clutter to the power of the Phi(fy), which represents the perfect balance between excess and insufficiency. When you drink Zenify, you will be in a Calm, Sharp & Focused [sic] state and this feeling will allow you to react at peak performance in over-stimulating times. Zenify helps you harness your existing energy without being distracted by your surroundings.
Elsewhere on the site, you learn that by “the power of the Phi(fy)” they’re referring to the “golden ratio” or “golden mean,” a mathematical concept expressed by the Greek letter phi. What does all that have to do with the exponential numeral in “Zen2”? I’m in a state of not-knowingness.
The “zen” part of Zenify is even more pervasive in commerce than the “-ify” suffix. As I wrote in a 2008 column for the Visual Thesaurus, zen often stands in as “a synonym for ordinary nothingness”:
Zen can be combined with mail to describe “an incoming e-mail message with no message or attachments.” Zen spin is a verb meaning “to tell a story without saying anything at all.” And to zen a computing problem means to figure it out in an intuitive flash — perhaps while you’re plugged into the earphones of your ZEN MP3 player, now available from Creative with a 16Gb capacity.