Federal-level idiocy was on full, florid display this week. On Sunday, the current occupant of the White House and Mar-a-Lago took to Twitter to share his innermost thoughts, and got so carried away he misspelled the word principles.
It’s probably not a word he’s had much occasion to use.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re having our usual cool and foggy summer. But in the hotter inland and upland parts of the state, wildfire season is entering its third month. A couple of weeks ago, I drove home from Los Angeles on I-5, near where the poetically named Sand Fire was consuming more than 41,000 acres in the Santa Clarita Valley. The name suggested a hellish haboob, but in fact the fire was named for nearby Sand Canyon.
Most wildfires are named that way: after local landmarks. “The commander on the scene often uses a nearby geographical feature to describe the fire, but he's not bound by any official rules,” Daniel Engber wrote in a 2005 Slate article about fire-naming. “He first suggests a name to the interagency fire dispatcher, who passes it along in fire reports, dispatches, and so on.”
How, then, to explain the Cold Fire, which is currently raging in Napa and Yolo counties?
Good news for liberal-arts majors: “Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.” (“The Next Hot Job in Silicon Valley Is for Poets,” Washington Post.)
“From the very first moment I heard of the .io TLD a few years ago, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. The geek in me just really responded to the idea of a domain name that ended in IO - the input/output connotation seemed like a perfect fit for web services.” In praise of the .io domain extension. (Russell Beattie)
Bill Simmons, who was ousted by his ESPN overlords from the sports-and-pop-culture site Grantland (which ESPN later shut down, to the general wailing and weeping of the site’s many fans), is starting a new site that promises to be similar to Grantland. He’s calling it The Ringer. Here’s his account of how he arrived at the name, apparently without any professional help, poor fellow. (Hat tip: Lance Knobel)
And for those of you who, like me, care about journalism and its future, here’s “Confessions of a Sponsored Content Writer,” by Jacob Silverman for The Baffler. I hope he was well paid for it, because it’s dynamite, but given the doleful state of affairs he reveals, it’s unlikely. Here’s a tiny excerpt:
But as journalists imitate advertisers and advertisers imitate (and hire) journalists, they are converging on a shared style and sensibility. Newsfeeds and timelines become constant streams of media—a mutating mass of useless lists, videos, GIFs, viral schlock, service journalism, catchy charts, and other modular material that travels easily on social networks—all of it shorn of context. Who paid for this article, why am I seeing it, am I supposed to be entertained or convinced to buy something? The answers to these questions are all cordoned off behind the algorithmic curtain.
Today is Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us made famous and beloved by “Seinfeld.” This year, a Florida man named Chad Stevens designed a rainbow-hued Festivus pole that he hopes to display –according to a story in Slate – “in Republican-dominated states—Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Michigan—as a protest against what he views as their support for laws respecting an establishment of religion.” Three cheers for Chad!
The Festivus tradition closest to my own heart is, of course, the Airing of Grievances. This isthe seventh year of my public kvetchings about preventable errors committed in the name of commerce and journalism. Read ’em and weep.
The American Name Society is accepting nominations for Names of the Year, with the winners to be announced at the society’s annual meeting in Washington, DC, on January 8, 2016. Anyone can play; submit your nominations before January 5.
Here are my own nominations in the categories established by ANS – names “that best illustrate, through their creation and/or use during the past 12 months, important trends in the culture of the United States and Canada.” My top picks are *starred.
How do you translate a colloquial, nonliteral expression like Trainwreck—the title of the new Amy Schumer feature film—into non-English languages? IMDb has a list of global akas; Mashable has helpfully re-translated some of them. (Not included in the Mashable list: Y de repente tú (“And suddenly you”), probably the most romantically inclined of the bunch. In France, by the way, the official title is Crazy Amy—yes, in English.
Translation of the French Canadian title, Cas désespéré.
Three guys were watching HBO’s “Silicon Valley” when it occurred to them to create a dictionary of jargon used on the show. The result is Silicon Valley Dictionary, where you’ll find definitions for terms like This changes everything (“Nothing has changed. Pure marketing”) and Awesome journey (“used when a startup has failed”).
“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.
If you’re considering a coined name for your company or product, it’s helpful to keep in mind a general rule of English pronunciation: When a vowel precedes a single consonant that’s followed by an e, the first vowel is long. Double the consonant and the vowel becomes shortened.
Later: long a. Latter: short a. Miler: long i. Miller: short i.
Yes, yes, there are exceptions. But coined words are like hoofbeats: we expect a horse, not a zebra. We look for simplicity, not conundrums.