Mountain Dew, the neon-yellow-green soft drink brand owned by PepsiCo, evidently failed to consult anyone in Scotland before it introduced its new ad slogan, “Epic thrills start with a chug.” If it had, it would have learned that chug is Scottish slang for masturbate. (Jelisa Castrodale for Vice, via Language Log)
That word: It does not mean what you think it means. Not in Scotland, anyway. (Via @jaysebro)
The design-critique blog Brand New last week reviewed the new look of LNER, a British railway with a nearly century-old history under various names and owners. The most recent owner was Virgin, which operated the line as Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC); the railway is now owned by the UK’s Department of Transport, and the LNER acronym – which stands for London North East Railroad – is appearing again for the first time since 1948.
The point of the review was, of course, the new LNER logo, but what caught my eye was a paragraph about three-quarters of the way down about the newest fleet of trains. Brand New says they’re “nicknamed” Azuma, but in fact Azuma is their official name.
Moreover, “Azuma” isn’t entirely new; the LNER/Azuma identity designer, Brand Cooke, tells us that it had been developed by VTEC – in 2016, according to a Wikipedia page – and was already familiar to passengers.
But what does this un-British-sounding name signify?
In my newest column for the Visual Thesaurus, I take a look at backronyms, defined in an Oxford Dictionaries blog post as “an acronym deliberately created to suit a particular word or words, either to create a memorable name, or as a fanciful explanation of a word’s origin.” Backronyms are rife in the names of legislation: witness the recent HONEST, COVFEFE, and MAR-A-LAGO acts. It’s a tradition that goes back to the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, whose rah-rah title expands into “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”
Backronym was coined (as bacronym) in 1983; examples were rare before then.
Full access to the column is available only to subscribers for three months. Here’s an excerpt:
I’ve been holding my tongue and staying my pen since January, when Fiverr – the online marketplace that matches skinflint budget-conscious business owners with freelancers willing to work for as little as $5 a gig* – launched its first ad campaign, “In Doers We Trust.” But my initial distaste for the ads has not faded with time.
Last week five Democratic congressmen introduced a bill that would require the Trump administration to release the visitor logs at the White House or wherever else the president holds court – including Mar-a-Lago, the Trump-owned private Florida club that the president likes to call the “Southern White House” and which the club’s website calls “The Legendary Pinnacle of Palm Beach.”
The name of the bill: Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness, or MAR-A-LAGO.
On Monday, the Current Occupant announced a new executive department: the White House Office of American Innovation, to be headed by his 36-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Like #45, young Master Kushner has never served in government or the military or worked for anyone other than his father – as a Chicago Tribune op-ed put it, “his entire experience in public administration can be counted on two calendar pages” – but he does possess the singular advantage of sharing a bedroom with the boss’s daughter. Plus, you know, that Russian business.
The Washington Post report reveals that the Son-in-Law-in-Chief has memorized some key phrases from the CorpSpeak lexicon:
“We should have excellence in government,” Kushner said Sunday in an interview in his West Wing office. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
(Digression: “The citizens” are not, in fact, government’s “customers.” Citizens are more like government’s shareholders. You could even say we’re the bosses. And there is little empirical evidence that even “greatAmerican companies” are necessarily efficient; often they’re ridiculously wasteful. End of digression.)
What most piqued my interest in the Kushner story were the comparisons of the WHO-AI to “a SWAT team of internal consultants.” Why that particular acronym, I wondered?
SWAT unit in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2014. Photo by Jonathan Wiggs via Boston Globe.
In 1879, a telegraphic code book proposed SCOTUS as shorthand for “Supreme Court of the United States.” Ammon Shea, writing for the Merriam-Webster blog, traced the next -OTUS coinage to the 1890s, when telegraph operators began using POTUS to abbreviate “President of the United States.” Both acronyms became widespread, joined in the 1980s by FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States), which may have originated as Secret Service code for Nancy Reagan. “Time will tell if additional -OTUS words continue to join our language,” Shea concluded.
We didn’t have to wait long. In early February 2017, after President Trump lashed out at a “so-called judge” who halted his travel ban, SCROTUS began circulating widely on social media. This tweet appears to be the first to use the definition “So-Called Ruler of the United States.”
@jonathanalter ... SCROTUS stands for "So Called Ruler of the United States."
If the deal goes through, Yahoo, the pioneer internet portal founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo in 1994, will be selling its core internet assets to Verizon for $4.8 billion. On Monday it was announced that what’s left – a 15 percent stake in the Chinese retail business Alibaba and the Yahoo Japan joint venture with Softbank – would be renamed Altaba. CEO Marissa Mayer and founder Filo will be leaving the board.
The old Yahoo billboard near the Bryant Street on-ramp to the westbound Bay Bridge. It went dark in 2011. Read my post about it.
Join me at Strong Language today, where I’ve published a post about a phrase in a sign that appeared on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) last week. The sign was fake (but looked authentic); the phrase was an imperative that included a four-letter word that’s common in speech but uncommon in official pronouncements. I write about the phrase and its history – not very ancient, it turns out – and about GYST, the acronym formed from the phrase. Language-of-commerce connection: GYST is also the name of a couple of U.S. companies.