San Francisco’s new Transbay Transit Center, a 1.2-million-square-foot hub for four Bay Area counties’ bus systems plus intercity Greyhound buses (and light rail, too, eventually), officially opened on August 11 to huge crowds. I skipped the festivities but heard rave reports from friends who'd gone, and so on August 13 I took an AC Transit bus from Oakland to San Francisco to see it for myself. I was not disappointed. Indeed, I was elated by the light-filled Grand Hall, the clear signage, the well-integrated public art, the pristine restrooms (every fixture is touchless), and the astonishing 5.4-acre rooftop garden, officially called Salesforce Park. (The software company bought the naming rights to the park and transit center in 2017; the adjacent 1,070-foot-tall Salesforce Tower, which opened earlier this year, is the tallest building in San Francisco.)
During the eight years of construction, I’d frequently driven beneath a filigreed white overpass that marked one of the center’s boundaries. While researching the completed center I learned that the filigree’s distinctive pattern has a name: Penrose tiling. And it’s not merely some designer’s fanciful grace note: it’s a mathematical marvel discovered in the 1970s and defended in a famous lawsuit.
Filigreed Penrose tiling outside the new transit center.
When does a following become so avid, so unquestioning, so blindly loyal that it deserves to be called a cult?
That question, and that label, have spiked in recent discourse. “We’re in a strange place. It’s becoming a cultish thing, isn’t it?” U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee,mused to reporters last Wednesday. He continued: “It’s not a good place for any party to have a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be purportedly of the same party.”
No, no, no,joked Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina: “You got to be organized to be a cult. ... I don’t think we’ll ever qualify as a cult.” Or maybe Graham was deflecting; after all, in May 2016 he had tweeted: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.......and we will deserve it.” What a difference 13 months make.
Happy Birthday, Mr. President!
You’re keeping your promise to make America safer and more prosperous.
“Cult 45” – often seen as a hashtag on social media – spoofs Colt 45, the malt liquor brand. “45” is a reference to the 45th president. Colt .45 is a firearm cartridge; Colt 45 is a 1950 western starring Randolph Scott.
How best to mark the end of the shitshow that was 2017? With a pilgrimage to an institution that mocks and celebrates all manner of flops, lemons, fiascos, misfires, and fuckups, of course. Which is how I found myself last week at the Museum of Failure in downtown Los Angeles’s Arts District. The traveling installation, housed in the A+D (architecture + design) Museum, is open to the public through February 4; it then returns to its permanent home home in Helsingborg, Sweden.
It’s rare that a nonce word – a word invented for a single situation, also called an occasionalism – takes root in the language and continues to thrive centuries after its original use. But that’s the case with defenestration, which was created from Latin roots meaning “out the window” and which first appeared in English in 1619, a year after the Second Defenestration of Prague, in which “a group of Protestant Bohemian protestors threw two Catholic imperial officials and their secretary out of a window in Prague Castle, thus helping to precipitate the Thirty Years’ War” (source: OED).
The Second Defenestration of Prague, from a 1618 pamphlet. Source: Coins Weekly.
That’s right: the second defenestration. There have been three famous defenestrations in Prague, a city that is to window-ejecting as Paris is to guillotining. The first took place in 1419; the third, of the liberal Czech foreign minister Jan Masaryk, was in 1948. (Masaryk’s death was officially ruled a suicide, but its circumstances remain suspicious. As the bitter joke had it: “Jan Masaryk was a very tidy man. He was such a tidy man that when he jumped he shut the window after himself.”)
For more than three hundred years, defenestration was reserved for historical discussions and the odd open-window murder. Then, around 1955, defenestration began to be used figuratively, much like dethrone, to describe “the dismissal or removal of a person from a position of power or authority” (OED again). And that – with one striking exception – is how we’ve been seeing it during the last month or so.
“I see that the word ‘duffer’ is defined as ‘a person inexperienced at something, especially at playing golf,’” illustrator Barry Blitt told Françoise Mouly, the art editor at The New Yorker, about his cover for the magazine’s April 10 issue. “That’s the word that comes to mind as I watch President Trump plowing one drive after another through the glass windows of American politics.”
That’s where the image came from. But where does duffer come from?
What if business jargon were made literal and tangible? Artists Isabel + Helen take on that challenge with A Load of Jargon, an installation opening tomorrow at The Conran Shop in London’s Chelsea district. The exhibit turns five buzzwords – “thinking cap,” “big idea,” “next steps,” “easy win,” and “going viral” into visual puns. There’s a public-health imperative behind the humor, notes FastCo Design in a story about the show: “[C]orporate speak isn't just funny sounding (and fuzzy in meaning)—it actually can make you less intelligent.” (Hat tip: Silicon Valley Speak.)
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.