If you’re joining us late, here’s how the game is played: The name must consist of “Mister” or “Mr.” plus some generic noun (or, occasionally, verb). “Mister Smith”—a business owned by John Smith—wouldn’t make the cut, but “Mister Blacksmith” would, if the company manufactured, say, horseshoes or wrought-iron fences.
Trilby: A soft hat, traditionally made of felt, with a narrow brim and indented crown.
The trilby hat style takes its name from Trilby, the title and principal character of an 1894 novel by the British writer and caricaturist* George du Maurier (grandfather of Daphne du Maurier). In Du Maurier’s story, Trilby O’Ferrall is a half-Irish woman living la vie bohème in Paris; she’s transformed from artist’s model to opera diva through the hypnotic powers of a sinister mesmerist named Svengali. In one production of the play that was adapted from the novel, the actress playing Trilby wore a distinctive short-brimmed hat that became a fashionable menswear staple. Du Maurier may have borrowed the name “Trilby” from an 1822 novel, Trilby, ou le lutin d’Argail,by Charles Nodier, in which Trilby was a Scottish fairy; the ballet La Sylphide is based on the French story.
(Like trilby, “Svengali” also entered the lexicon: it’s “a person who exerts a sinister controlling influence,” usually over a woman. “The name has been absorbed into the language as irrevocably as ‘Simon Legree’ as a definition of cruelty, or ‘Scrooge’ of parsimony,” wrote Avis Berman in a 1993 article for Smithsonian Magazine. Trilby also contributed the phrase “in the altogether” as a euphemism for “naked.”)
From the back cover of the Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition of Trilby (2009):
Immensely popular for years, the novel led to a hit play, a series of popular films, Trilby products from hats to ice-cream, and streets in Florida named after characters in the book.
One side of a sandwich board in front of the John Fluevog store on Grant Avenue, San Francisco:
“Know You’re Weird!”
The other side:
“No, You’re Weird!”
The resemblance to the “Keep Calm and Carry On” oeuvre is probably not coincidental, but the weirdness and wordplay are pure Fluevog. The Canadian shoe company is weird and proud of it, starting with its name—John Fluevog is the founder and chief designer—and carrying on, as it were, through the merchandise.
Take, for example, this current boot, the Angelina.
The Escarpinhas a ball-and-claw heel inspired by the cabriole legs of Louis XV furniture.
The men’s styles are equally striking.
The Alexander. (A metallic cap-toe oxford? Brilliant.)
Sometimes the weirdness overlaps with pure design genius.
The Neptune, perfect for a gala at the natural history museum or a stroll through the Everglades.
Lots of companies pay lip service to customer service and community, but Fluevog is the rare business that follows through. Its community (or “Flummunity”) includes a marketplace (“Fluemarket”) for secondhand Fluevog shoes and an invitation to submit a shoe design. Quite a few submissions have made the cut. (It’s “open source,” so no one gets paid, but the citizen-designer gets a free pair and the honor of having the design named after her or him.)
I’m a Vogger myself: I own two pairs of Fluevog sandals (these and these), whose styling skews toward the less-weird end of the Fluevog spectrum but is still distinctive enough to elicit admiring comments. (I think they’re admiring.) The shoes are beautifully made and very, very comfortable.
Cromnibus: The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 11 and by the Senate on December 13. The word is a portmanteau of omnibusbill (per Vox, “how Congress funds the government when things are working normally”—which in recent sessions is never) and the initials of continuing resolution, (“how Congress funds the government when it can’t come to a deal”). The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature. Also spelled CRomnibus.
Omnibusentered English—from a Latin word meaning “for all”—around 1829; it described “a four-wheeled public vehicle with seats for passengers.” By 1832 it had been truncated to bus. In reference to legislation, the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us, omnibus goes back to 1842.
Cromnibus caught on, however briefly, not only because of our enduring affection for portmanteaus but also because the word triggered similar-sounding associations that tickled our collective fancy. One of those associations is cronut, the croissant/donut hybrid invented—and trademarked—in 2013 by New York bakery owner Dominique Ansel. It has inspired dozens of imitators.
The cronot, a specialty of Bay Area bakery chain Posh Bagel. (Spotted earlier this month on Piedmont Avenue, Oakland.)
The omni- prefix has been used with sardonic intent in another recent-ish coinage, omnishambles, invented by British writer/director Armando Ianucci for a 2009 episode of “The Thick of It.” It was famously used in 2012 in the British House of Commons.
Update: Ben Zimmer alerted me to “the clever meta-blend cromnishambles,” as seen on Twitter last week.
Speaking of -bus words, and of Britain (but not of politics), IncubusLondon is a newish venture whose name is intended to be a portmanteau of [startup]incubator plus bus: it’s a co-working space in a London double-decker bus. Unfortunately, incubus has a separate and sinister meaning: “a male demon who comes upon women in their sleep and rapes them.” You’d think the London gang would have learned from Reebok’s costly misstep, back in 1996, when it named a women’s running shoe the Incubus. According to the Snopes entry, “Reebok Incubus” had been developed in-house and selected from a master list of about 1,500 names. Whoops:
Much chagrined, the company recalled 18,000 boxes of these unsold $57.99 shoes. The poorly researched name did not appear on the footwear itself but merely on its boxes, which provides a potential explanation for how the product’s rollout process got so far along before anyone commented on the unseemly name.
More of an excuse than an explanation, if you ask me.
Single-sole: Descriptive of a shoe style without a platform sole. Usually seen as a modifier for pumps or heels.
“Single-sole” is a retronym: a “throwback-compound” that differentiates the original form of a word from a more recent version. (In a 2007 New York Times columnabout retronyms, the late language maven William Safire attributed the coinage of “retronym” to Frank Mankiewicz, then president of NPR, in 1980. Safire’s examples included skirt suit, land line, and analog watch; he didn’t live long enough to see the rise of single-sole pump.)
I’m a little late to the party on this one: my first encounter with “single-sole” was in an email sent last Thursday from the flash-sale site Gilt:
In fact, though, “single-sole” has been showing up steadily for almost three years—a reaction, perhaps inevitable, to the dominance of platform soles in women’s footwear for about a decade. (Platform shoes’ previous heydays were the 1940s and 1980s.) In February 2012, the trade publication WWD reported on high-end designer Manolo Blahnik’s Fall 2012 “collab” with mid-market retailer J. Crew: “For the show, J.Crew chose to reimagine the single-sole pointy-toe pump in 41 different ways, with glitter, suede and a variety of colorful fabrications culled from its apparel line.”
Blahnik has continued to beat the single-sole drum.“I only make single-sole shoes,” he told Vogue.comin January 2013. “They transform the way a woman walks: in heavy platforms like truck drivers, in my shoes like ballerinas.”
Also in January 2013, the luxury retail site Net-A-Porter “loved” single-sole pumps:
“Time to abandon the platform shoe,” fashion correspondent Misty White Sidell declared in The Daily Beast in June 2013. Her rallying cry was more wishful than prophetic; Sidell acknowledged that beauty-pageant culture has played an outsize role in platforms’ continuing popularity. Despite someretailers’attempts to make “single-sole” a trend, Fall 2014 fashion forecasts were still full of platform styles (see Glamour and Lucky, for example, both of which featured some ultra-clunky flatform styles).
Like most fashion trends, “single-sole” isn’t as novel as it first seems. I found a citation in an article published in the New York Times on October 25, 1952, under the headline “10,000 Expected at Shoe Exhibit”:
“The platform shoe is very popular but the single sole type is cutting in on the demand. The consumer wants single-soled shoes, Mr. Keane said, because it [sic] affords a sheet of foam rubber or other material which supplies a soft layer to walk on.”
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!”
Some names are born bad, others achieve badness, and still others have badness thrust upon them. Here are four bad names, each bad in its own tragic, annoying, or inept way.
There is simply no excuse for the spelling of Ketchuppp.
According to TechCrunch, “Ketchuppp wants to help you meet up with the people you actually like spending time with on a regular basis (or did before social media ate your social life) — and do so in person, not digitally.” (Imagine!) Evidently the founders fell in love with the “catch up” idea, never considered any other name directions or asked for professional advice, and kept fiddling with the spelling until finally they found a dot-com domain for $5.99. (Ketchup.com is for sale; Ketchupp.com—at least the double P would have suggested “app”—redirects to Pinocc.io.) Bad strategy, bad name. And to make matters worse, the web copy repeatedly uses “Ketchuppp” as a verb, which risks genericizing the brand name.
(Also, “Not Just Another Social App” is an I-give-up tagline. Tell us what you are, not what you aren’t.)
It could have been worse, I guess. As one TechCrunch commenter points out, “At least it’s not called KKKetchup.”
Scorecard: Unoriginal concept, tortured spelling. But it’s pronounceable. 30/100.
Ketchuppp is an app and a startup, so we can chalk up its bad name to inexperience. But Aesynt? It’s what McKesson Automation is called now that the division’s has been spun off from McKesson Corporation. And the parent company is an almost 200-year-old American institution with sales of about $122 billion (2012).
Take a minute to consider how you’d pronounce “Aesynt.”
Did you rhyme it with “adjacent” or “nascent,” with a long A sound in the first syllable? Did you focus on the /ae/ vowel cluster and try to connect the name with “aerial” or “aesthetic”? Did you see the “syn” as having something to do with “synthesis” or “synergy,” and pronounce it accordingly?
Now that you know how to pronounce Aesynt, try Lytx.
I’ll go first: I read the name as Lyt-X, or “light-ex.” (I assumed it was following the pattern of SpaceX.) Not so fast! Lytx is the new corporate name for 15-year-old San Diego-based DriveCam. The website gives no pronunciation clues, so we turn to Xconomy (another X name!) for the details:
So “Lytx” rhymes with “critics”? That’s a stretch. The /ly/ cluster can be pronounced at least three ways: as lie, lee, and lih. Yes, “lyric” and “lynx” are pronounced with the lih sound, but in coined names, /ly/ at the beginning of a name usually defaults to lie, especially when the addition of /t/ makes it look like a new spelling of light (see Lytro, Lytron, Lytera).
Scorecard: Tortured spelling, counterintuitive pronunciation, generic concept. Looks cool, though. The CEO’s last name is Nixon, which may explain the X. 30/100.
What pains me about “Blah” is that I’m a big fan of Fly London—I recently discovered the brand and now am the happy owner of several pairs of FL shoes—and I want it to do no wrong. I’m willing to indulge Fly London’s penchant for slightly wacky style names (Yif? Yush? Yoni? Faff?) because so many of the shoes are so fabulous. To be honest, I wouldn’t include the Blah in that category, but I also wouldn’t stigmatize it with a bad name. Blah goes beyond wacky, beyond whimsical; it’s just mean and dispiriting.
Scorecard: Pass the Prozac and lock up the kitchen knives. 0/100.
Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day (the 13th annual, by my reckoning), and to mark the occasion I’ve gone on a treasure hunt for pirate-type brands. I’m not dropping a dime on actual piratical deeds, you understand: this is just good clean yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum fun.
[W]hat the world really needs, of course, is an anonymous meme generator with a chain letter-styled remixable twist. Meet Yarrly (to be said with your best pirate voice). Created by London-based Dave Ganly and Holly Clarke outside of their tech day jobs, the Android app lets anyone create two panel images and add text in the style of a meme maker.
But here’s the part the makes branding consultants and trademark lawyers want to walk the plank: each Yarrly remix is called a “yarrly” – lower case. Bad, bad branding!
Yarr, Pirate Maps is “just like usin’ real google maps, but better – ’cos everythin’ is all piratey and mappy.” Example: when you mouse over a map, the manicule is a skeleton hand. Yarr, Pirate Maps, is not related to Yarrly, as far as I can tell.
Scurvy was the scourge of real pirates—the bleeding gums, the jaundice, the suppurating wounds—but apparently Sanuk, a Southern California footwear company, likes the sound of “Scurvy” for a men’s casual shoe.*
* They look like shoes to me, but Sanuk says otherwise:
The company name comes from the Thai word for “happiness.”
I learned of the Scurvy from Jan Freeman, who queried me in an email: “Do you suppose they think ‘scurvy’ is just a pirate word (‘ye scurvy dog’) and have no idea it's a disease?” Actually, Sanuk seems to know exactly what it’s doing. Here’s the product copy on Amazon (probably supplied by the manufacturer):
With a name like Scurvy, it’s got to be good!** In fact, this sidewalk surfer from Sanuk is the epitome of wholesomeness, crafted with vegan sensibilities. With a hand-crafted canvas upper and a “laces or no laces” option it’s like two shoes in one. Inside, a soft canvas liner a contoured footbed makes this shoe a nice place for your foot to be. And down below matey? A herringbone rubber outsole ensures you won't slip while walking the plank.
Still, severe vitamin C deficiency is no joke. I picture the Scurvy being worn by Bleeding Gums Murphy, R.I.P.
** A scurvy act of piracy! That “With a name like__” slogan was originally coined by Smucker’s and, of course, parodied by Saturday Night Live in the famous “Jam Hawkers” skit.
Creepers: Shoes with thick soft soles, usually made of crepe rubber.
“Smiley Face Unicorn Glitter Mega Platform Wedge Hand Made Collaged Art Creepers” on Etsy. The platform is 4 inches high at the heel.
The Smithsonian blog Threaded traces the history of “creepers” to a 1953 name-of-the-dance hit song, “The Creep,” recorded by British big-band leader Ken Mackintosh. “A slow shuffle movement, it was embraced by a subculture called the Teddy Boys, who became known as creepers”:
In addition to distinguishing themselves by their musical preferences, Teddy Boys made themselves known through their dandy-like sartorial choices that referenced the early 20th century. A popular look included drainpipe pants with exposed socks, tailored drapey jackets, button-down shirts, brogues, Oxfords or crepe-soled shoes. Those ridged, thick-crepe-soled shoes with suede or leather uppers became known as “creepers” because of their association with the Creep dance (and maybe because if you misspelled crepe, you got creep?).
Maybe, but crepe (or crêpe) and creep are unrelated etymologically. Crepe comes via French from a Latin root meaning “curled.” (Yes, it’s the same word whether you’re talking about a thin pancake, crinkly paper, or rubber with a corrugated surface. Because of the crumpled look of its petals, crape myrtle is related, too.) Creep comes from Old English créopan, which meant pretty much what it does today: “To move with the body prone and close to the ground, as a short-legged reptile, an insect, a quadruped moving stealthily, a human being on hands and feet, or in a crouching posture.” (OED)
Creepers became known as brothel creepers when British soldiers returned home from fighting World War II. From Smithsonian.com: “Still wearing their crepe-soled, military-issued boots, they hit the London nightclubs.”
Creepers’ popularity declined in the 1960s but re-emerged during the punk scene of the 1970s. They’re back again in exaggerated styles similar to the flatforms of several seasons ago.
Retailer Urban Outfitters currently sells 37 styles of creepers on its website – all for women, interestingly. One brand, T.U.K., based in Poway, California, accounts for about 40 percent of them.
Footwear footnote: Sneakers or sneaks to mean “soft-soled footwear” is very similar in connotation to creepers but much older. According to the OED, sneaks was used in this sense at least as early as 1862 (“The night~officer is generally accustomed to wear a species of India~rubber shoes or goloshes on her feet. These are termed ‘sneaks’ by the women [of Brixton Prison]”. Sneakers is classified as “orig. and chiefly U.S.”; the earliest citation is from an 1895 edition of Funk’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language. In 1900 the American humorist George Ade wrote in More Fables: “His Job on this Earth was to put on a pair of Pneumatic Sneakers every Morning and go out and investigate Other People's Affairs.”