Still, for some reason I’ve been targeted on New Twitter by a promotion for Bushmills USA, the Jersey City arm of Old Bushmills Distillery of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. And the ad has been breaking my head.
Yes, it’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. on November 24. And it’s GivingTuesday—”a global generosity movement unleashing the power of radical generosity”—on November 29. But I haven’t accidentally dropped Thanks or Tuesday. I’m talking instead about “It’s giving [X],” a linguistic happening of its own.
Happy Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us! When you’ve completed the traditional Feats of Strength you may feel like you deserve a celebratory quaff. There are several Festivus beers and ales; here’s one from Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland. They registered the trademark in October 2015.
There’s also a Festivus Maximus sparkling wine, but it’s only tangentially about the made-up December 23 holiday and “Seinfeld.” It’s actually a Baltimore Ravens story: “Festivus Maximus” was coach Brian Billick’s substitute phrase for “playoffs,” a word he superstitiously wouldn’t allow players to utter in the runup to the 2000 Super Bowl (which Baltimore would go on to win).
And now—drumroll, please—it’s time for the traditional Airing of Grievances. In order from serious to frivolous:
Once again, as in days of yore, I turn to this peerless portmanteau to evoke the spirit of the season: eager anticipation followed by crushing disappointment. This winter it’s not just about boring parties and less-than-satisfying gifts but also about dashed pandemic hopes. (Vaccines—yay! Omicron—oy vey!)
I originally wrote about anticipointment in December 2006. I revisited the word in December 2011, and included a link to an article published on June 6, 1988: the earliest documented citation for the word. I’m still searching for an earlier citation. (I had once heard that the word was invented by an ad agency in the 1960s and used on that agency’s holiday cards.)
Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and happy fourth week of November to everyone else.
My book recommendation this month is The Confidence Men, by Margalit Fox, the riveting true story of two British officers’ escape from an “escape-proof” Turkish POW camp—“the Alcatraz of its day,” Fox writes—toward the end of World War I. What makes their story amazing is how they did it: no tunnels, no violence, no weapons except for a homemade Ouija board and the two men’s skill at psychological manipulation.
I love a prison-escape story, and Fox tells this tale expertly, and Richard Elfyn, the narrator of the audiobook I listened to, rises to the occasion, switching between accents and occasionally reading passages in Welsh. But just as interesting as the escape itself are the conditions that enabled it. In his paywalled review for the New York Review of Books, Neal Ascherson writes:
Persuading people to like something is a trade. Persuading them to change their minds and like something else is a skill. But inducing them to believe in something that their senses and experience tell them is plainly unreal or untrue—unicorns, papal infallibility, Trump’s assertions, ghosts—requires art and almost manic self-confidence. The “confidence men” of Margalit Fox’s title, two British prisoners of war who planned the most eccentric and devious of all escapes, had plenty of both. But Fox puts their story into a broad historical setting, using it to illustrate the ways in which scientific inventions made possible not only empowerment but also credulity and manipulation.
Tomorrow, July 20, has been deemed National Lollipop Day, probably by the confectionery-industrial complex. No one seems to know when this faux-liday first appeared on calendars, which is fitting, because no one is quite sure where the word lollipop comes from, either, or whether it’s spelled with an I or a Y.
See’s Candies, which celebrates its centenary this year, has it both ways: lollypop in promotions for its “sweet-stakes,” lollipop in the sweet-stakes URL.
This is a big week in the altered-consciousness universe. Tuesday, April 20, is, of course, 4/20, the date “cherished by pot smokers around the world as a reason to toke up with friends and massive crowds each year,” as a 2019 Vox article put it. The holiday pays tribute to the afternoon hour, 4:20 p.m., when a group of stoners at San Rafael High School, in the San Francisco Bay Area, would gather in the early 1970s to get high. (The shift from time of day to calendar date works only in the U.S.; everywhere else in the world April 20 is 20 April. But I haven’t heard of anyone trying to make “204” work.)
I’d known (and written about) “420” for years. But until very recently I hadn’t known about the week’s other big event: April 19, Bicycle Day. It commemorates the day in 1943 that the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann took some LSD and then rode his bicycle home from the Sandoz laboratory in Basel, where he was employed.
Next Sunday, February 14, is Valentine’s Day, a date that honors the third-century Christian martyr who is the patron saint of epilepsy. In the Middle Ages, St. Valentine also became associated with courtly love; by the 18th century, February 14 had turned into the holiday amorous couples still celebrate with greeting cards, roses, candy, and expensive restaurant meals.
It’s a high-pressure occasion, which may explain why, in late January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the reopening of limited indoor dining in New York City restaurants. “This is the city’s second flirtation with a return to dining in” since the onset of the pandemic, wrote Helen Rosner in the New Yorker on February 5, employing a noun with meaningful V-Day overtones and shadings of deception and caprice.
“Is Tinsel Canceled?” asks a headline in the December 19 New York Times Style section. The verdict: “Glitter, tinsel and shiny wrapping paper are now signs of the apocalypse, judging by the #zerowasteholidays and similar hashtags that are blooming on Instagram.”
That may be an overstatement: Tinsel tours and tinsel trailsstill thrive in various US municipalities, and mirror-bright strips adorn plenty of wreaths and trees. So let’s table the eco-arguments aside and get to the question at hand: What is this stuff called tinsel, and where does that word come from?