I’ll get to the regularly scheduled links in a bit, but I wanted to lead off with some recommendations from my 2019 media diet (a term I’ve borrowed from Jason Kottke, whose blog always makes for tasty consumption).
I’m stepping away from my desk until the middle of next week, so I’ll leave you with links to some of my recent (and in the case of the Visual Thesaurus, not-so-recent but finally un-paywalled) writing.
When I’m asked to rename a brand, it’s usually for one of two reasons: a legal challenge (someone has a prior claim to the name) or a major shift in the organization’s direction (we used to sell housewares; now we sell jewelry).
Neither of those scenarios applied to Resourceful HR, a 10-year-old Seattle human-resources consultancy that approached me last autumn about a name change. The company was thriving. It had successfully registered RESOURCEFUL as a trademark. And its business plan involved a refinement, not a revolution.
Still, company founder and CEO Jennifer Olsen told me with a sigh, it was probably time to change the name. For starters, her graphic designer had “taken the brand imagery as far as it could go.” And the brand strategist she’d hired, Catherine Carr of Vitamin C Creative, had done some interviews and concluded that “what she was hearing from us was more exciting than what she was seeing in our materials.”
The 2019 Deadspin Name of the Year is down to the Elite Eight. Vote for your favorites in a field that includes Pope Thrower, Pretzel Monteclaro, and Jizyah Shorts. Yes, they’re all real names. (Deadspin) For background, see my 2018 Visual Thesaurus column about the tournament.
How great writing begins: an analysis of the opening paragraphs of “the 94 most compelling articles” in The Atlantic, Fast Company, and the New York Times op-ed section. (Better Humans)
In English, it’s “Once upon a time.” How do other cultures and languages begin their classic tales? (Chitra Soundar)
Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana—the youngest and gayest candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination (so far)—also has the coolest campaign logos. (Note: Not a political endorsement.) (Brand New)
Curious about the origins of the “__ Nation” formula—Live Nation, Pantsuit Nation, Side Hustle Nation? I dig deep (and explore the side routes of national and nationalism) in my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “A Nation of ‘Nations‘.” Full access is restricted to subscribers; here’s an excerpt:
The political sense of nation—an organized community sharing a defined territory and government—emerged around 1400 and gradually predominated, although the earlier meaning survives in the use, since the 1640s, of nation to describe indigenous American peoples: Choctaw Nation, Cherokee Nation. (The specifically Canadian “First Nations” began to be used in the 1970s; it applies to indigenous peoples south of the Arctic Circle and replaces “Indian,” which is both inaccurate and, according to some people, offensive.)
Nation didn’t turn into the adjective national until the 1590s (“the nationall assemblie”); the noun sense of national—a citizen or subject of a specified state—emerged in the mid-19th century. (Then there’s the Grand National, which is a horse race if you’re English, Irish, or Scottish, and a rodeo if you’re Californian.) Nationalism, defined as “advocacy or support of the interests of one’s own nation, usually to the detriment or exclusion of any other nation’s interests”) is a little older: The OED’s earliest citation is from 1798. An 1844 citation from Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country declares that “Nationalism is another word for egotism.”
Z Nation is an American action/horror/comedy-drama/post-apocalyptic television series that aired from 2014 to 2018 on the SyFy network. The Z stands for “zombie.”
You’re probably heard of babies named after brands: Porsche, Chanel, Armani, and, lest we forget, Tiffany. Now the Baby Name Wizard blog tells us about three baby names from the 1980s and 1990s that were inspired by TV advertising.
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)
A century ago, dozens of American girls were named Milady because of the success of a new product: the Milady Décolleté Gillette safety razor, developed to remove underarm hair. (And did you know that “underarm” was coined as a euphemism for “armpit”?) (Baby Name Wizard)
The names of some of the world’s most successful brands – from Accenture to Zantac – were widely ridiculed when they were first announced. In my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “Why Do We Hate New Names?”, I look at the causes of name aversion and the reason we eventually change our minds. (Hint: Zajonc effect.)
Access to the article is restricted to subscribers (pleasesubscribe!). Here’s an excerpt:
Why do we tend to react strongly and negatively to unfamiliar words, which, after all, have no power to physically harm us? Probably because humans are wired to reject novelty. In our prehistory, any mysterious plant might have been toxic; any strange person could have posed a threat. We favor familiarity in our environments – and our words. “It is common to bat away linguistic novelty – ‘It won't catch on’,” wrote the language expert Henry Hitchings in 2011. “Such disdain is tinged with anxiety, and to speak of ‘our’ language is to identify the source of this fear. For while no one truly owns English or any other natural language, we feel proprietorial about the language that we speak and write. As a result we are apt to look on linguistic changes – including new words – as personal affronts.”
Two hundred fifty years ago, Hitchings adds, the lexicographer Samuel Johnson disparaged the noun finesse as “an unnecessary word which is creeping into the language.” I’d add that a century ago, the writer and language-advice-giver Ambrose Bierce told Americans to avoid the adjective talented because “there was never the verb ‘to talent’.” In the same vein, a lot of people hated lunch, jeopardize, and the verb to contact – that last usage until as recently as the 1960s. We know how those controversies ended.
Elsewhere on the web, I’ve written a few posts for Strong Language, the sweary blog about swearing, that I’ve neglected to flog here. Earlier this month, I wrote about “AF,” the sweary acronym that’s made a commercial debut in New York subway ads for FoodKick, a meal- and booze-delivery service. I also took a figurative bite out of the idiom “shit sandwich,” and rounded up a bunch of sweary-yet-edifying links. While you’re over at Strong Language, check out my collaborators’ posts, too, and leave a comment or a “like” to give us a reason to keep on keeping on.