Drought-shaming: Calling public attention to the wasteful use of water during a drought.
Drought-shaming gained currency in 2015, as California’s dire lack of rainfall reached crisis proportions. But the concept emerged in 2014, when the state emergency was first declared. “Californians Keep Up with the Joneses’ Water Use,” tsk-tsked a headline in the New York Times on July 4, 2014:
Some drought-conscious Californians have turned not only to tattling, but also to an age-old strategy to persuade friends and neighbors to cut back: shaming. On Twitter, radio shows and elsewhere, Californians are indulging in such sports as shower-shaming (trying to embarrass a neighbor or relative who takes a leisurely wash), car-wash-shaming and lawn-shaming.
Later that month, the community-reporting app Vizsafe (which is based in Rhode Island) added a drought-shaming feature that, according to an NBC News story, “allows people to share reports of water waste with their neighborhood. Users can anonymously take photos of the waste and map the location, for all to see, including law enforcement.”
In some cases, drought-shaming seems to be a downright civil response to drought deniers. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle’s op-ed pages on April 21, 2015, Laguna Niguel (Orange County) resident Jeff Pearlman confessed that he sometimes feels like “strangling my neighbors” when he sees them blithely over-watering their lush lawns:
I’ve given this much thought over the past few months, and I’ve come up with the only realistic solution. One that, I’m quite convinced, will work. Simply put, we need to go Justin Bieber on these fools and turn to the tried-and-true tactic of public humiliation.
I know ... I know. It’s harsh. And maybe even a bit babyish. But if green grass and reluctance to change is about status, what better approach than to knock down one’s status a few pegs? So, the next time my neighbor’s hosing down his BMW for the 17th time this week, I’ll walk past and loudly scream into my iPhone, “Yup, he’s watering his car again — WHILE MY KIDS AREN’T ALLOWED THE FLUSH THE TOILET!”
Shame in general is enjoying a moment in the spotlight. We’ve seen slut-shaming(“the act of making someone, especially a woman or girl, feel guilty for certain sexual behaviors”) for several years; recently tax-shaming was proposed, in the New York Times’s op-ed page, as a means of forcing tax delinquents to settle their debts:
Public shaming is already used throughout the world to collect taxes. The city of Bangalore, India, hires drummers as tax collectors to visit the homes of tax evaders and to literally bang the drum if they don’t pay. In England, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs publishes details of deliberate tax defaulters. Argentine local governments are also adopting shaming lists. … Social media offers an even greater opportunity for shaming. Tax agencies could use targeted online advertisements on social networks to raise awareness among the social contacts of delinquents.
Two new books offer different perspectives on shaming on the 21st century. In Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, the environmental social scientist Jennifer Jacquet argues that shame can “improve behavior”; unlike guilt, which “operates entirely within individual psychology,” shame “can scale,” Jacquet toldThe Guardian (UK). “It can work against entire countries and can be used by the weak against the strong.” Jon Ronson, a Welsh journalist, takes a more jaundiced view. In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson looks into the cases of people who have been shamed on social media and finds that publicly shamed men often bounce right back, while women—both the shamed and the shamers—are much more likely to lose their jobs and their reputations.
Petrel: Any pelagic seabird of the order Procellariiformes, in particular the shearwaters (Procellariidae), the storm-petrels (Hydrobatidae), and the diving petrels (Pelecanoididae). All have “long wings, mainly black (or grey or brown) and white plumage, and a slightly hooked bill with tubular external nostrils” (OED).
“Petrel” is the English translation of the Chinese word Haiyan, which is the international name of the “supertyphoon” that has ravaged large areas of the Philippines in recent days. (In the Philippines, the typhoon was called Yolanda.) The typhoon, one of the most powerful ever recorded, brought waves as high as 15 feet and may have a death toll of as many as 10,000 people, according to weekend reports. (Photos of the devastation here and here.)
The origin of the word “petrel” is “uncertain and disputed,” says the OED. A 17th-century spelling was pitteral; the Online Etymology Dictionary when the English explorer William Dampier recorded the modern spelling in 1703, he wrote that “the bird was so called from its way of flying with its feet just skimming the surface of the water, which recalls the apostle's walk on the sea of Galilee (Matt. xiv:28); if so, it likely was formed in English as a diminutive of Peter (Late Latin Petrus).” However, this is likely a fanciful folk etymology.
Although “storm petrel” is the correct ornithological term, a famous poem by Maxim Gorky has sometimes been translated from the Russian with the title “The Song of the Stormy Petrel,” and “stormy” frequently appears in the bird’s name. Here is one stanza as translated by Lyudmila Purgina:
The stormy petrel, screaming, hovers, As the black lightning in heavens, As an arrow, he is piercing The grey clouds, with his wing He is picking up the wave's foam.
The poem is a call for revolution written as a fable; after its publication in April 1901, Gorky was arrested and later released.
I like the stark simplicity of the headline, which evokes the faux-Twainism without recycling it. The four-word tagline echoes the rhythm and supplies the missing season.
A few days ago, when I shot this billboard, the thermometer read 58°F at noon, on its way up to a high of 61°. Yes, in late July. I spent some time over the weekend at the Dolphin Club in San Francisco, and everyone who wasn’t in the water was dressed exactly like those kids. People wear earmuffs and mittens to baseball games here. I am not exaggerating.
Lake Tahoe, four hours to the east, is spectacular, and I love it, but it isn’t exactly Death Valley, temperature-wise. In Truckee on the north shore, elevation 5,900 feet, recent highs have been in the mid-70s, and overnight lows in the 30s and 40s. It’s true there’s no fog, but there can be afternoon thunderstorms—unheard of here on the coast—and snow in August.
That’s probably smart money, and I’m regretting my oversight.
“Sandy” is linked to two separate 2012 disasters, both of which occurred in the last quarter of the year. The first was Hurricane Sandy (aka Superstorm Sandy, Frankenstorm Sandy, or Bride of Frankenstorm), which smashed into the East Coast in late October. “Sandy” came from a storm-name list created by the World Meteorological Organization. Since 1979, the WMO’s lists have included male and female names in alternating alphabetical order, omitting the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z. (See the name lists for the next five years at the National Hurricane Center’s website.)
As a personal name, “Sandy” may have sounded old-fashioned to a lot of Americans. Its popularity peaked in the 1960s, when, according to the Baby Name Voyager, it ranked #167 among girls’ names. When you search “Sandra,” from which Sandy is often derived, the trend is even starker: Sandra was hugely popular in the 1940s, peaking at #6, and remained in the top 100 through the 1980s before falling steeply. The best-known “Sandy” today, other than the hurricane, may be the female lead in the Fifties-nostalgia musical Grease, played in the film version (1978) by Olivia Newton-John. Sandy can be a male nickname (Sandy Koufax, Little Orphan Annie’s dog), but it’s more often associated with a certain pert, wholesome, mid-20th-century female archetype: think of perennial Peter Pan Sandy Duncan, born in 1946.
(I found it interesting that many of the other girls’ names on the 2012 hurricane list were similarly Forties- and Fifties-ish: Betty, Patty, Debby, Joyce, Leslie. I suppose you have to reach back that far to find unambiguously girly names: today’s baby girls are likely to have androgynous or traditionally male names like Taylor, Sawyer, MacKenzie, and Maxwell. Compare anachronistically named Susie in the “lemonade-stand” Verizon Wireless commercials, played by a young actress with the trendily androgynous name Lennon.)
The other 2012 Sandy is, of course, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were massacred on December 14. This Sandy is a descriptive word modifying “hook,” a geographical term for a curved spit of land.
Two devastating Sandys in two months: That’s a lot of attention on a familiar-sounding yet out-of-the-mainstream name. It could be the deciding factor in January’s Name of the Year vote in Boston.
Hunker: To crouch or squat; to sit on one’s heels; to take shelter; to take a defensive posture. Usually in combination with down: “hunker down to avoid the icy wind.” Possibly from Old Norse hokra, to crouch; may be related to haunch (upper hip and thigh). The OED traces hunker to a 1720 Scottish usage; Etymology Online says hunker down is American Southern dialect popularized circa 1965.
There was a lot of hunkering down in the headlines during the days preceding Hurricane Irene’s landfall on the East Coast of the United States. “Quinnipiac University is preparing to hunker down for Hurricane Irene and the aftermath of the storm” read the lede of an August 26 story in The Quad News, the Connecticut college’s student newspaper. “Find a safe place to hunker down,” Delaware Governor Jack Markell advised residents of his state on August 27.
And this headline appeared in the Washington Post on August 26:
Hunker also has a history as a noun. “Originally, a nickname for a member of the conservative section of the Democratic party in New York; hence, one opposed to progress in general; a fogy” is one definition at Wordnik. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia goes into greater detail:
In American politics, a conservative; one who opposes innovation or change; a fogy: first applied in the State of New York as a name to the conservative section of the Democratic party who opposed the Barnburners or radical section, about 1845. Also used adjectively.
Although hunker is no longer used as a nominative political epithet, the sense of “opposes innovation or change” still lingers in some usages. “Holds stubbornly to a position” is another Wordnik definition, with this sentence example: “As the White House hunkered down, G.O.P. congressional unity started crumbling” (Time).
I’ve added Ruth Wajnryb’s blog, Words Woman, to my blogroll, and I recommend that you bookmark it, too. Ms. Wajnryb is an Australian linguist who writes in an approachable and open-minded manner about new words, new meanings for old words, word play, and, yes, the addition of heart (v., tr.) to the OED. I first cited Ms. Wajnryb several years ago in a post about the migrating meaning of “erstwhile.”
More multiple meanings: Take the Language Log polysemy quiz. And read the rest of the post, in which author Geoffrey K. Pullum asserts, using boldface for emphasis: “Languages love multiple meanings. They lust after them. They roll around in them like a dog in fresh grass.”
What are blancmange, fish slice, pong, and skivers—all words from the British English lexicon—doing in So Much for That, a novel written by the American Lionel Shriver and set in the US? Jan Freeman explains. (P.S. So Much for Thatis one of the best novels I’ve read in the last five years.)
OK, we know that “Eskimos have a hundred words for snow” is a fallacy. But it turns out that English speakers have dozens of words for rain, from “ablaqueate” to “whisp.” Read them all in Ben Schott’s pluviovocabulary.
Got 10 minutes? Watch an episode of “The Beauty of Maps,” a BBC documentary that originally aired last year. The series is a guided tour through the British Library’s collection of 4 million (!) maps. (Via Swiss Miss.)
Speaking of maps, Muckety uses fascinating interactive maps to chart “the relationships of muckety-mucks”—i.e., people with power and influence, including Martha Stewart, LeBron James, and former Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter. Register at the site to create your own Muckety. Vocabulary bonus: “muckety” derives from “high-muck-a-muck,” a corruption of Chinook jargon “hayo makamak” (literally “plenty to eat”—by extension an important person). Chinook jargon was a Pacific Northwest trade language that was used well into the twentieth century.
How would a linguist translate “Dumber than a box of rocks” from the original Texan? Easy: “Dumber than a department of Sapir-Whorfians.” There’s a whole mess of useful conversions in “Texan for Linguists,” a possibly non-peer-reviewed article in Speculative Grammarian, “the premier scholarly journal featuring research in the neglected field of satirical linguistics.”
And speaking of flavorful Texas expressions, I’m partial to “Don’t just sit there looking like a tree full of owls,” from Maud Newton’s “Like We Say Back Home.” (Via Stan Carey.)
Pogonip: A dense winter fog containing ice particles, found in mountain valleys of the western United States. From Shoshone pakenappeh or paγɨnappɨh, “thundercloud.” In Greek, pogo- or pogon- means “beard,” and English-Word Information speculates (possibly facetiously) about a relationship between pogo- and pogonip. It’s true that the ice crystals can make leaves and other structures appear bearded.
Pogonip Flat offers no shelter whatever from the fury of the bleak, cutting blasts . . ; and here, too, it is that the dense piercing fog hangs from hour to hour in the dull dreary days of the winter. Hence “Pogonip” is now the conventional term for a roaring, piercing, cutting, bleak, merciless snow-storm, with all the furies of Boreas cut loose and filling the air with hideous noises.
[T]he humidity has to be near 100% as the air temperature drops to well below 0°C (32°F), allowing ice crystals to form in the air. The ice crystals will then settle onto surfaces.
Pogonip is the name of a creek and a greenbelt district in Santa Cruz, California, and was once the name of a golf course, polo grounds, and clubhouse there. The Santa Cruz Public Library website includes this bit of folk etymology:
Many mistakenly believed “Pogonip” was an acronym for PO-lo, GO-lf and a NIP at the clubhouse bar. But the area was named for Pogonip Creek, after an Indian word meaning “river fog.”
By the way, you can follow Dr. Samuel Johnson—but not The Economist’s Johnson— on Twitter.
Another excellent language blog, new to me: About English Idioms. Ever wonder where we get the expressions “the cat’s pajamas,” “takes the cake,” and “Potemkin Village”? Find answers here.
I recently heard behavioral economist Dan Ariely speak about the research behind his books Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, so I was primed to discover You Are Not So Smart, “a blog devoted to self-delusion and irrational thinking.” Do you think it takes years of study and experience to appreciate wine? That makeup “is just a cultural norm”? That “music with mass appeal rises to the top of the charts”? You are not so smart.
The ancient Greeks would have understood Homer Simpson when he said, “Fame was like a drug, but what was even more like a drug were the drugs.” That’s because Homer was employing the rhetorical device of metanoia, the self-correcting figure of speech. Figure of Speech, the blog that “rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls,” discloses the rhetoric behind a comprehensive list of Homerisms (and also Lisa-isms, Moe-isms, and Grandpa-isms).