I’ve started listening to the “Tech Won’t Save Us” podcast, expertly hosted by Canadian tech critic Paris Marx, who’s joined each week by an expert who critically examines “the tech industry, the powerful people who helm it, and the products and services it unleashes on the world.” Separating tech from politics, says Marx, “has consequences for us all, especially the most vulnerable.” I’m looking forward to reading books by two recent guests, Malcolm Harris (Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World), andEdward Niedermeyer (Ludicrous: The Unvarnished History of Tesla Motors). Niedermeyer introduced me to the useful word autonowashing, “the practice of making unverified or misleading claims which misrepresent the appropriate level of human supervision required by a partially or semi-autonomous product, service or technology.” (More -washing compounds here.)
I’ve read more books about Trump, Trumpism, and What It All Means than is probably healthy for me, but until I read Thank You for Your Servitude, by Mark Leibovich (Penguin Random House, 2022), I’d never laughed my way through a Trump book. Leibovich, a veteran Washington correspondent (New York Times, The Atlantic), focuses not on “your favorite president” but on the lickspittles and soul-sellers who sought relevance through their obeisance to him, most notably Senators Rubio (R-FL), Cruz (R-TX), and Graham (R-SC), all of whom had been loudly contemptuous about TFG before he became the nominee and they made the bread-butter connection. Leibovich is the rare insider with an outsider’s sense of irony, and he’s a master of the snappy sentence. Here’s one example, about former Republican National Committee Reince Priebus, who became 45’s much-put-upon first chief of staff: “No matter how much Trump had roiled the Republican water, it remained Priebus’s job to carry it.”
Years ago, when “having your colors done” was trendy, I thought there might be a story in it, so in the interest of research I sought out a color consultant and handed over my money. There were a lot of charlatans and opportunists in this field, but I lucked out: The color analyst I found was John Kitchener, who had an art-history background and an unerring eye. (He’s still in business, but has relocated from the Bay Area to the Atlanta area.)
For what I remember as a not-inconsequential (but worth it) fee, John gave me palette of fabric swatches that suited my eye and skin colors. He also gave me something equally valuable: a lesson in what he calls “style essences” and what other image consultants sometimes call “style personalities” or “style profiles.”
Color Me Beautiful (1981), an early and influential guidebook. Not John Kitchener’s system.
Knowing my style essence—which shapes and textures harmonize with my overall look, which styles to avoid—greatly simplified my wardrobe choices and gave me an objective assessment that my mirror never quite delivered. (After the consultation, it dawned on me that even when I was 4 years old I looked and felt terrible in “youthful” clothes.)
Style essences continue to interest me, and when I read a post on the subject by style blogger Susan of Une Femme d’un Certain Age, I realized that there was a lot of overlap between the fashion-y side of style profiling and the brand-y side that I do. When you’re building a brand—starting with the name and tagline—you first need to identify your brand’s personality: its style essence. As with personal style, brand style is often a blend of two or more traits: dramatic, classic, romantic, nerdy (that’s my term; style consultants don’t use it!), playful, and so on.
Want to know more about how brand personality can influence your choice of a brand name? Read my new story on Medium, and let me know in a comment about your own style-personality and brand-naming experiences.
My March column for the Visual Thesaurus is something a little different: a review of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, by Benjamin Dreyer. Dreyer is managing editor and copy chief at Random House, and a witty dispenser of advice and stories. (If you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be.) The book was a joy to read and great fun to review. Good news for all my stingy thrifty readers: There’s no paywall on this column, so dive right in (and share).
The author and the authored
Here’s an excerpt:
Dreyer's English is several things at once: a description and dissection of the art of copyediting, a set of tips and guidelines, and a memoir of a working life spent with some of the best writers of our era (to name a few: Elizabeth Strout, Michael Chabon, E.L. Doctorow, and, posthumously, Shirley Jackson). It’s the tips and guidelines that I’m guessing most readers will zoom in on, because who among us, no matter how experienced or widely published, doesn’t feel just a little bit uncertain about comma placement and possessive apostrophes and the correct spelling of “leprechaun”?
Benjamin Dreyer is happy to oblige. He’s firm about the series or Oxford comma (not “serial,” comma, he writes, because “for me ‘serial’ evokes ‘killer’”) — the second comma in “lettuce, turnips, and peas”: “Whatever you want to call it: Use it. I don't want to belabor the point; neither am I willing to negotiate it.” All well and good for him, because, as he tells us, the use of the series comma is the only hard-and-fast style rule applied to all Random House books. If you’re a newspaper copy editor in the United States, though, you’ll follow a different standard: Associated Press style, which frowns on series commas. (In an interview, Dreyer admitted that until a few years ago he hadn’t heard of AP style. Copyediting is a multifarious profession.)
The leaves of Citrus hystrix are used in many South and Southeast Asian cuisines; they’re sometimes called by their Thai name, makrut, but in many English-speaking countries they’ve long been called kaffir lime.That’s changing thanks to a protest “against the racial and religious slur of ‘kaffir’,” writes Tiffany Do in SF Weekly(“Citrus-Based Racism Leads Market to Change Product Names”). “Kaffir,” which comes from an Arabic word meaning “unbeliever,” was appropriated by English colonizers in South Africa, where it was used as a slur and a term of abuse against blacks. “What’s most surprising in this whole controversy is that the issue hasn't been addressed – and remedied – before now,” writes SF Weekly’s Do. Most markets are switching to the neutral “lime leaves.”
Who decides what makes a word “real”? Anne Curzan, a language historian and member of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel, explains why she finds language change “not worrisome but fun and fascinating.” (TEDxUofM talk; video and transcript.)
We say: meet (not ‘meet with’),consult (not ‘consult with’), talk to (not ‘talk with’), protest against a decision (not ‘protest a decision’), appeal against a verdict (not ‘appeal a verdict’).
And, n.b., the BBC does not punctuate the abbreviations i.e. or e.g.
In the early to mid-1960s, Mad magazine carried on a “glorious” and “fearless” anti-smoking campaign through parody ads that “closely resembled the real ones that ran on television and in magazines,” writes David Margolick in the New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog. The ads attacked tobacco companies, ad agencies, and smokers with equal-opportunity opprobrium. Mad has always been ad-free, and—unusual for the 1960s—its offices were “largely smoke free” as well: the magazine’s publisher, William Gaines, “was fanatically opposed to the habit,” writes Margolick.
It’s not every day that a name developer has the chance to name a radically new technology. Anthony Shore had such a chance when the makers of a “cinematic virtual reality” device hired him. Read about how Jaunt got its name.
“Machines don't need names, but we feel the need to name them,” writes Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic (“Why People Give Human Names to Machines”). The urge has long been with us, or at least some of us: a siege engine was named “Domina Gunilda” (“Lady Gunild”) in an Anglo-Norman document of 1330-1.
(My favorite submission comes from Erica Friedman, who once worked for an ad agency whose conference rooms were named Ideation, Creation, Dream, Coopetition [sic], and Resonate. “It was horrible and miserable and it still makes me shudder,” she writes. Erica and I are not related, but we are definitely soulmates.)
Leave it to the inventive and enterprising Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, to turn language peeves (“literally,” “could care less,” “very unique,” et al.) into a card game in which the object is “to annoy your opponent to death.” She’s raising money for Peeve Wars through Fund Anything; contribute now to claim your own card set or another nifty reward.
Some people peeve about new, “unnecessary” words. But language blogger Stan Carey defends them: “Avoiding new and ‘needless’ words in formal contexts is all well and good, but what’s wrong with a grand superfluity elsewhere? Will the language look untidy if words float around not filling vital gaps? Will they gum up the works?”
“We think first / Of vague words that are synonyms for progress / And pair them with footage of a high-speed train.” This Is a Generic Brand Video, from McSweeney’s, of course.
Orenitram, a drug for pulmonary arterial hypertension, is an ananym: The name was created by reverse-spelling the first eight letters of the name of the drug company’s CEO, Martine Rothblatt. But that’s just the beginning of a truly remarkable name story, reported by Catchword.
The new BuzzFeed style guide answers the really tough spelling and usage questions: Is bitchface one word or two? (One.) Is there an E in chocolaty? (No.) What’s the proper abbreviation of douchebag? (d-bag.) What’s the difference between wack and whack? (Look it up; it’s in there.) And, FYI, the word is spelled whoa. Don’t make us repeat ourselves.
“Writing and editing are linked but distinct enterprises, and distinct temperaments are involved. Very few people can move smoothly from the one enterprise to the other.” – John McIntyre, one of the few.
Who names the color of the year? Professional namers, that’s who. The Boston Globe interviewed Bay Area name developer Anthony Shore for his insights into color naming; the article is headlined—care to guess?—“What’s in a Name?” (I tackled the subject of color names myself for a 2011 Visual Thesaurus column.)