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October 05, 2011


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What's your take on the semantics-of-phonology assertion in the article? i.e., that people have universal responses to certain sounds.

Mike: I don't pretend to be a linguist, so I'm reluctant to make any assertions that will reveal my ignorance. In my own experience, I've found it helpful to explain to clients that certain sounds evoke certain associations among English-speaking North Americans. I couldn't possibly know whether those associations are universal.

The linguist on the Lexicon staff, Will Leben, studied with Noam Chomsky at MIT, which may have influenced his thinking on the subject. I'd love to hear other linguists' opinions.

I've seen a number of fact-checking failures in the New Yorker over the past few years. One was in a piece by John MacPhee, whose reputation seems to rest on his deep study of his subjects--California geology, shad fishing--but who got a basic fact about railroading not just wrong but wrong in a way that should have been obvious even to a non-specialist, because it made no sense. I've heard speculation to the effect that the applicants for fact-checking jobs are less skilled than an earlier generation, because of the decline of undergraduate education; I can't judge the truth of that claim. But I do know I find factual or grammatical howlers far oftener than in the days of Katherine White.

Or, as you say, Katharine White. I knew I should have checked that spelling.

Thanks -- I just read the piece and was eager to hear your insider perspective. And as someone who once, a decade ago, repeated the Chevy Nova myth in print, I'm glad to find you correcting it; I winced when I saw it in the magazine (and hoped I wasn't among the sources!).

Man, Placek sure must know something about showing up in Google searches - he's in about 75% of all known stories about the naming business. It'a always either him or Anthony.

I'm aghast that the Nova zombie lives on, but can we all give a collective sigh of relief that this story didn't use one of the only two Authorized Headlines for a Naming Story?

Nancy, I think that's about as much weight a phonetician would give to the semantics of sound symbolism.

Thanks for the summary, sounds like there isn't enough reason for me to get behind the pay wall or track down a paper copy of the edition.

For those of you mystified by Namer X's comment, allow me to fill in the blanks: "Anthony" is Anthony Shore, former global director of naming and writing at Landor; his blog, Operative Words, is listed in my blogroll under Naming.

And the two Authorized Headlines for a Naming Story are, of course, "What's in a Name?" and "The Name Game."

I knew about "Nova," but the car that always puzzled me was the short-lived AMC Matador. Unless I've forgotten all my Spanish (which is not impossible), "matador" means "killer" - and not necessarily of bulls, either.

Nancy, your critique is so much more interesting than the article.

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