The root is the Old English word flītan meaning quarrel (from Old Norse word flyta meaning provocation). Examples of flyting are found throughout Norse, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval literature involving both historical and mythological figures. The exchanges would become extremely provocative, often involving accusations of cowardice or sexual perversion.
There was a flurry of flyting after the real-estate heir and presidential aspirant Donald J. Trump posted a blustery tweet on Friday, the morning after the UK’s historic (and potentially calamitous) vote to leave the European Union, aka “Brexit”:
Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!
In point of fact, while UK voters overall chose the “Leave” option, a resounding majority of Scots voters – 62 percent – opted to “Remain.” And many UK residents, Scots and Brits alike, were quick to set the record straight, tweet-showering Trump with florid epithets.
Good news for liberal-arts majors: “Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.” (“The Next Hot Job in Silicon Valley Is for Poets,” Washington Post.)
Thyristor: A A four-layered semiconductor rectifier in which the flow of current between two electrodes is triggered by a signal at a third electrode. (Source: Oxford Dictionaries.) Coined in the 1950s from thyratron, a kind of thermionic tube (from Greek thura, “gate” or “door”) and transistor. Pronounced THIGH-wrist-er.
Drought-shaming: Calling public attention to the wasteful use of water during a drought.
Drought-shaming gained currency in 2015, as California’s dire lack of rainfall reached crisis proportions. But the concept emerged in 2014, when the state emergency was first declared. “Californians Keep Up with the Joneses’ Water Use,” tsk-tsked a headline in the New York Times on July 4, 2014:
Some drought-conscious Californians have turned not only to tattling, but also to an age-old strategy to persuade friends and neighbors to cut back: shaming. On Twitter, radio shows and elsewhere, Californians are indulging in such sports as shower-shaming (trying to embarrass a neighbor or relative who takes a leisurely wash), car-wash-shaming and lawn-shaming.
Later that month, the community-reporting app Vizsafe (which is based in Rhode Island) added a drought-shaming feature that, according to an NBC News story, “allows people to share reports of water waste with their neighborhood. Users can anonymously take photos of the waste and map the location, for all to see, including law enforcement.”
In some cases, drought-shaming seems to be a downright civil response to drought deniers. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle’s op-ed pages on April 21, 2015, Laguna Niguel (Orange County) resident Jeff Pearlman confessed that he sometimes feels like “strangling my neighbors” when he sees them blithely over-watering their lush lawns:
I’ve given this much thought over the past few months, and I’ve come up with the only realistic solution. One that, I’m quite convinced, will work. Simply put, we need to go Justin Bieber on these fools and turn to the tried-and-true tactic of public humiliation.
I know ... I know. It’s harsh. And maybe even a bit babyish. But if green grass and reluctance to change is about status, what better approach than to knock down one’s status a few pegs? So, the next time my neighbor’s hosing down his BMW for the 17th time this week, I’ll walk past and loudly scream into my iPhone, “Yup, he’s watering his car again — WHILE MY KIDS AREN’T ALLOWED THE FLUSH THE TOILET!”
Shame in general is enjoying a moment in the spotlight. We’ve seen slut-shaming(“the act of making someone, especially a woman or girl, feel guilty for certain sexual behaviors”) for several years; recently tax-shaming was proposed, in the New York Times’s op-ed page, as a means of forcing tax delinquents to settle their debts:
Public shaming is already used throughout the world to collect taxes. The city of Bangalore, India, hires drummers as tax collectors to visit the homes of tax evaders and to literally bang the drum if they don’t pay. In England, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs publishes details of deliberate tax defaulters. Argentine local governments are also adopting shaming lists. … Social media offers an even greater opportunity for shaming. Tax agencies could use targeted online advertisements on social networks to raise awareness among the social contacts of delinquents.
Two new books offer different perspectives on shaming on the 21st century. In Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, the environmental social scientist Jennifer Jacquet argues that shame can “improve behavior”; unlike guilt, which “operates entirely within individual psychology,” shame “can scale,” Jacquet toldThe Guardian (UK). “It can work against entire countries and can be used by the weak against the strong.” Jon Ronson, a Welsh journalist, takes a more jaundiced view. In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson looks into the cases of people who have been shamed on social media and finds that publicly shamed men often bounce right back, while women—both the shamed and the shamers—are much more likely to lose their jobs and their reputations.
For many of my naming clients, the definition of “an available name” has expanded beyond trademark and domain to include a wide range of social media—not just Twitter and Facebook but also, in some cases, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, and other platforms. Checking each service was a chore until I discovered Namecheckr, which instantly screens for name availability across 18 platforms, including a few I’d never heard of (Papaly, IFTTT, Dribbble). If your first choice isn’t available everywhere you’d like it to be, try adding a word (go, shop, mobile, or whatever’s appropriate).
Consistency across all platforms should be your goal. When it isn’t achievable—if, say, you can claim ExcitingNewCo everywhere except on Facebook—I recommend modifying the brand name. Just don’t change the name for every platform. If all your modifications keep showing up as taken, it’s time to rethink your naming strategy and develop some claimable alternatives.
Namecheckr also screens for domain availability in four extensions: .com, .net, .org, and .io. That’s helpful, but it isn’t the end of the story. Many “taken” domains are in fact up for sale on the aftermarket; you’ll need to do a little extra digging into WhoIs,or query a domain broker, to learn who owns the domain and how much they’re asking. (Remember to negotiate!)There are also many options beyond the four primary domain extensions, including .co and .biz—often a good fit for smaller businesses—as well as country codes (.is, .ee, .la, .re, etc.) and newer extensions such as .moe, .pizza, .surf, and .tax. Here’s a complete list.
Namecheckr is not a substitute for comprehensive legal screening, which should be done by an experienced and savvy trademark lawyer before you embark on website development or any other brand activity. Twitter handles are free and domains are cheap, but a trademark lawsuit can be very, very expensive.
I’m marching to the beat of the Strong Language drummer, with a new post about naughty-sounding brand names with innocent meanings. It may be the only post you’ll read today that has the tags appliances, beverages, pee, and smegma.
Also: March 4 is National Grammar Day, an occasion for remembering what grammar is and is not. (It’s not spelling and punctuation, for starters.) Here are some good places to start:
“Do not aspire to be a grammar Nazi, and don’t indulge people who use the term. Nazis are not funny unless you are Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks. You are not Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks.” – John McIntyre, “Prepare Yourself for National Grammar Day”
Under the capable leadership of Mark Allen, ace copy editor, I was one of the judges in this year’s National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest. (The job was my reward/penance for having won the contest last year.) I am pleased to report that we have selected our winners. Congratulations to first-place poet Adriana Cloudand all the other contestants! Enjoy their haiku, and don’t let any dangling modifiers hit you on your way out.
Sad Internet: “A place full of unwatched videos, unliked photographs, unheard music, tweets that no one cared about, and crowdfunding projects that nobody backed.” – Rob Walker.
In an article for Yahoo! Tech published last week, Rob Walker takes a mournful look at websites that fit neither of the Internet’s dominant tropes: Happy (“delightful and hilarious memes and GIFs and videos made by GoPro-wearing puppies”) and Angry (“nasty troll attacks, flame wars, and outrage galore”). “Some manifestations of the Sad Internet,” Walker writes, “make a mockery of the pervasive cliché of the magical technology that connects us all, builds community, and generally permits the ‘crowd’ to find and reward the wonderful.”
Among those manifestations (with my naming notes):
Forgotify:Walker writes that this site “plumbs Spotify’s unheard depths to present you with a random m selection from the zero-listen archives.” The -ify name, overplayed as it is, seems perfectly ironic here. And I appreciate the rhyme with Spotify.
No Likes Yet: “All the photos on Instagram with no likes yet.” I agree with Walker about the agreeable “note of optimism, or at least yearning” in that Yet. But the name suffers a little for not riffing more directly on Instagram. (Instagrump? Un-stagram? Disinstergram?)
Sad Tweets: “Connect the application to your Twitter account, and it presents you with a lowlights reel of your attempts at ‘sharing’ that attracted no likes, and no retweets.” Another brutally descriptive name, which probably is as it should be.
Kickended: What happens to Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns that don’t raise a single dime? Kickended happens. Walker: “It’s a useful, albeit bleak, reality check. Yes, the Internet makes magic and wondrous and unprecedented things occur. But only sometimes, and not for everyone.” The name falls short of its goal, too: Kicked to the Curb is more to the point.
When I was a kid we called them “thongs” or “zoris.”
What exactly can you expect when you commission a $5 logo from Fiverr? To find out, Sacha Greif invented a company (“SkyStats”) and tested the waters. Among his conclusions: “Fiverr apparently sees nothing wrong with designers appropriating other people’s work. And not only do they tolerate it, they even directly profit from it since they feature these fake work samples prominently.”
Cherevin may be the evil aggressors of economic warfare, but I’d love to have them as a client. They could teach me about propping up housing markets, and I might be able to offer them a nugget or two about reducing security breaches through better interaction design. Plus, I bet it’s fun to get a project brief with the objective of ‘instilling fear and obedience.’
UPDATE: This morning (June 18), the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, an independent tribunal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, recommended that the federal registrations for “Redskins” trademarks be cancelled. Read the TTAB fact sheet.
Power Vocab Tweet was invented by the creator of Everyword, which recently completed its mission to tweet every word in the English language. From the blog:
On the surface, Power Vocab Tweet is a parody of “word-of-the-day”blogs and Twitteraccounts. My real inspiration, though, comes from the novel Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin. In that book, a group of underground linguists invent a language (Láadan) that “encodes” in its lexicon concepts that aren’t otherwise assigned to words in human languages. …
The definitions are generated via Markov chain from the definition database in WordNet. The words themselves are generated from a simple “portmanteau” algorithm; each word is a combination of two “real” English words of the appropriate part of speech. (The forms of the words and text used to generate the associated definition aren’t related.)