Lesson 1: Be sure you’re dropping an appropriate name.
Mentioning Hakkar the Houndmaster would not have been quite so effective.
Lesson 1: Be sure you’re dropping an appropriate name.
Mentioning Hakkar the Houndmaster would not have been quite so effective.
Yes, consumers are more demanding, time-starved, informed, and choice-saturated than ever-before (we know you know). For brands to prosper, the solution is simple though: turn SERVILE. This goes far beyond offering great customer service. SERVILE means turning your brand into a lifestyle servant focused on catering to the needs, desires and whims of your customers, wherever and whenever they are.
Um, no, it does not mean that. You don’t have to believe me, but you should definitely believe Nancy Friedman:
It isn’t a neutral term meaning “of service”; rather, it means “abjectly submissive,” “slavish,” “relating to servitude or forced labor.” Its synonyms are “obsequious,” “toadyish,” “sycophantic,” and “fawning.”
Not a positive association in the bunch.
See, for instance, “Check our monthly Servile Specials.” And does “ever-before” actually require a hyphen?
(Title courtesy of Uriah Heep. No, not the band.)
I can’t say I’ve always wondered about this, but I must acknowledge the truth of the matter:
It has been noted that “Uh”s and/or “Uhm”s in linguistic, cultural and situational settings can perform varying functions not only according to their timing and their intonation, but also dependent on their position in a sentence.
Curiously, I tend to use “um” here and “uh” in fiction. I’m not quite sure why I make the distinction.
(Via the Local Malcontent.)
“[B]y dint of” — does any American speaker of English actually use that? I only know it as an “English” translation of some French construction — which I have now forgotten. But of course the English phrase sticks in my head, and even though it may be archaic, it still fits some situations, so I use it.
I duly typed “by dint of” into the Google Custom Search box over in the sidebar, restricting it to just this domain. Got 857 results. Admittedly, some of them were for the same page — this happens when you have individual, monthly and category archives — but still, that’s more than a hint of dint.
Then there’s Antarctica’s Dint Island, within a handy 7 km of Vittoria Buttress.
The sense of the word prevaricate seems to be a sequence of fact distortion moving from false to true, as investigation drags facts to light.
Maybe one of the few genuine “accomplishments” of this administration is creation of a new form of lying: postvarication, where the truth is served up for the target audience, and then a pile of hooey follows for the purported rubes. Postvarication goes from true to false.
Not that this necessarily replaces the old forms of lying, which are still getting plenty of use on both sides of the aisle, but hey — progress!
Based on a post from yesterday, Fillyjonk has come up with the term priapiumcephaly, which combines scientific lingo for “genitalia” and “head.” It’s almost a certainty that you know at least one individual who can be described in those terms. And while using seven syllables to express an idea that requires only two goes somewhat against my grain, I have to admit that the derivation of this term was sufficiently elegant to leave me with the classic coprophagic grin.
We demand an explanation, and by “we” I mean Lynn:
What makes a pro tip a pro tip, as opposed to just a plain, ordinary tip. Most of the “pro tips” I come across don’t seem to be related to any particular profession nor are they professional in any way. But of course I’m just assuming that “pro” is short for professional. Maybe it’s short for progressive? Profound? Probable? Or maybe just pro, as opposed to con?
Having seen the term inserted in front of some fairly unsanitary-sounding concepts, I can say only that I’m pretty sure it’s not short for “prophylactic.”
PROTIP is a term often used in forums and comments to preface snarky, obvious, counterintuitive, or sometimes genuine advice for the novice. Its usage is derived from the laughably obvious and even inadequate gameplay suggestions originally found in video game magazines published in the 1990s. While it implies an offer of friendly suggestion similar to FYI, “protip” is commonly used online as a false preface to obvious or sarcastic comments that are generally unhelpful.
KYM has an actual 1995 citation for the term.
Well, yeah, it’s the color of an orange; but if you’re in the business of putting together a dictionary, that definition might seem remarkably unspecific. For comparison, Kory Stamper of Merriam-Webster on “coral”:
[S]ense 3c yielded up the fresh wonder, “a strong pink that is yellower and stronger than carnation rose, bluer, stronger, and slightly lighter than rose d’Althaea, and lighter, stronger, and slightly yellower than sea pink.” Carnation rose was clearly the color of the pinkish flower on the tin of Carnation Evaporated Milk, and Rose d’Althaea was clearly Scarlett O’Hara’s flouncy cousin, but it was the last color that captivated me. “Sea pink,” I murmured, and incurred the harumphing wrath of my neighbor. As he stalked off to find a quieter corner, I wanted to stand up and shout, “I grew up 1500 miles from an ocean! I didn’t know the sea was pink!”
Depends on how early in the morning you see it, I suspect. (Then again, I live 1500 miles from an ocean, and I sleep late when I can.)
Oh, and “orange”?
“Orange” in our Learner’s Dictionary is not a color between red and yellow, as it is in the Collegiate. It is the color of fire or carrots.
Or, presumably, carrots on fire.
(Via this Nancy Friedman tweet.)
It was hypothesized by the Public Policy Research Lab [at LSU] that the actual word “Fracking” may have a negative connotation that is separate from the environmental concerns that often accompany discussions of the process. Due to the harsh consonant sounds in the word itself, and an undeniable similarity to a certain other four letter word starting with the letter “F”, it seemed plausible that some of the negative public sentiment about “Fracking” may result from how unpleasant the word itself sounds.
In order to test this hypothesis the Public Policy Research Lab placed two randomly assigned blocks of questions into the 2012 Louisiana Survey. Half of the respondents got one block, half got the other. One block contained questions about “Fracking” and used the word “Fracking” while the other block of near-identical questions … used a description of the “Fracking” process without actually using the words “Fracking” or “Fracturing.”
Apparently using that particular F-word reduces support for the process:
Still, I can see myself adapting this research to the vernacular: “What the hell kind of fracking response (or, for that matter, non-fracking response) was that?”
(Via Language Log.)
O wicked Prescriptivist, forcing people to speak, and presumably to write, according to some moldy old rules:
For the individual looking for a higher education or trying to secure a decent job, what seems more humane: Admitting that, ugly, élitist, and unfair as it is, prescriptivism is currently the dialect of power and being able to manipulate that dialect can help you get ahead, or pretending that utopia is at hand, that everyone is a revolutionary, that linguistic anarchy will set you free? The choice to use our natural dialects whenever and wherever we please, to live in a world free of language-based racism and classism, may indeed be a worthy end for which to strive, but it’s also worth remembering that individuals don’t live in the end. They live now.
Whereas The New Yorker, which published this piece on one of their blogs, lives in whatever ancient period still demands an accent aigu on the E in “elitist.”
Maybe “prescriptive English” is how the powerful people at the New Yorker speak and write. But as far as I can tell from my sorties into other corridors of power, it sure ain’t how “the system works right now.”
You want to know how “people in power” — company presidents, board chairmen, politicians, and other members of the .01 percent — communicate? I’ll tell you. They say and write things like “between you and I” and “please circle back to Fred and myself.” They write “alot” and “alright.” They say “hearken back.” They use comma splices. They confuse your and you’re, rein and reign. They’ve never met a Business Concept that didn’t merit Promotion through Capitalization. They smiled benignly upon the 43rd president of the United States — a former person of power — when he publicly said misunderestimate and Grecians.
Or is he “a person of former power”? Someone who would insist on that construction, I aver, is in need of swift refudiation.
My usual rule for such things is “What would William Safire say?” Then again, over the years, he probably wound up eating more than his recommended daily allowance of words.
If you looked at that title and immediately thought you’d seen similar constructions before on these premises, well, let it be known that Nancy Friedman might not approve of sloppily assembled comparatives like that:
Sticking an -er or an -est on an adjective doesn’t tell me you’re creative. It’s no longer a way to stand out from the competition. All it says is that you’re too lazy to do some truly original thinking about what your brand means.
She may have me deader to rights than I anticipated.
And I must quote from her footnote about the perfectly cromulent (it’s the cromulentest!) word “embiggen”:
[Its] coinage is usually attributed to Simpsons writer Dan Greaney, who used it in a 1996 episode. In fact, the first citation for “embiggen” appeared in 1884.
Of course, she’s right:
The verb previously occurred in an 1884 edition of the British journal Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc. by C. A. Ward, in the sentence “but the people magnified them, to make great or embiggen, if we may invent an English parallel as ugly. After all, use is nearly everything.”
The idea that “use is nearly everything” is controversial to this day.
Laura Conaway at the Maddow Blog quoted Hob Bryan, a state senator from Mississippi:
What we have not done is to pass bill after bill after bill that was obviously unconstitutional just so we could all get on record one more time as casting another vote realizing that what was going to happen was someone would file suit the next day and the legislation would never take effect.
And “for the pure geek of it,” she invited Maddow readers to diagram that salamander of a sentence — which they did.
The French language has no direct equivalent for the English title “Ms.”, and rather than come up with a new word, la République has decided to get rid of one of the older ones:
Up until now French women have been asked to identify themselves on administrative forms either as a married “madame”, or a “mademoiselle” — a term used for unmarried young women.
Having to make that choice is deemed sexist by many because men are always referred to as “monsieur”, whether they are married or not.
The Prime Minister’s office has now instructed authorities to only use the term “madame” in a move Solidarity Minister Roselyne Bachelot said would “end a form of discrimination”.
In other news, France has a Solidarity Minister.
Still, I find it hard to disagree with Mme Bachelot: it’s not like they’re going to make up a new term for unmarried men.
Actual certified bona fide lexicographer Kory Stamper sends up a tweet:
“Irregardless” is the top look-up today, from a widely shared FB post which states it isn’t a word. Except it is and has been for 100 yrs.
She didn’t say it was an acceptable word, mind you: only that it was a word, and, by implication, that she’s seen citations that go back that far. Just the same, all hell, or at least a substantial portion of hell, broke loose:
I hit “post,” left my desk to refill my water glass, and less than two minutes later came back to a bunch of responses that essentially all read “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU, MORON?!?” Sighing, I looked out the window. The birds, sensing trouble, had buggered off. My eyes lingered on the sky; perhaps a satellite would fall out of it and crush me. A slip of paper caught my eye; it was a little inscription I came up with about a year ago and had presciently stuck on the window sash. It reads Aliqua non possunt quin merdam moveare, and it is Latin for “There are those who cannot help but stir the turd.”
There are times when everything looks like, or acts like, a spoon.
A nutty snack company in Australia has won the right to call itself Nuckin Futs, despite an official ruling that it was offensive.
The Trade Marks Examiner had ruled a year ago that Nuckin Futs had to be rejected because it was scandalous and offensive.
The company appealed the ruling:
A solicitor representing the Gold Coast company argued that the name was not offensive because the words it suggested were commonplace in everyday Australian language.
Whereupon the Examiner, I imagine, went out and got totally fit-shaced.
(Via Language Log.)
Jason Cammisa writes in the February Automobile:
BMW makes an even-more M3-y version of the M3, the GTS. It’s not available in North America, but it’s even faster, quicker, and more precise than the regular M3. AMG is now making a more AMG-y version of the [Mercedes-Benz] C63 that is even more berserk.
Admittedly, that -y suffix looks a trifle weird, but it does the job. A car described as M3-esque — or worse, M3-ish — sounds like it wouldn’t even approach the standard of comparison, let alone exceed it.
Disclosure: I once described an Ides of March record as “Byrds-y,” which proves — well, nothing, really.
I am not one to object to expanding the ol’ vocabulary, generally, but I usually don’t expect to get examples out of my spam bucket.
An item in yesterday’s email began this way:
Since 1992, we have helped financial professionals use drip marketing the right way in their business…
I looked at that and thought Geez, is that like the Chinese water torture?
Drip marketing is a communication strategy that sends, or “drips,” a pre-written set of messages to customers or prospects over time. These messages often take the form of email marketing, although other media can also be used. Drip marketing is distinct from other database marketing in two ways: (1) the timing of the messages follow a pre-determined course; (2) the messages are dripped in a series applicable to a specific behavior or status of the recipient.
Incidentally, the Chinese water torture seems to have originated in Italy.
For one thing, there’s that whole business about how “glamour” seems to lose its U when the “-ous” suffix is hung on it. And remarkably, this is not the stuff of daydreams:
Let’s be perfectly clear here: all the glamour and intrigue that most people attach to lexicography is a fiction. Samuel Johnson, in his great dictionary of 1755, defined “lexicographer” as “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge,” and he is not lying. My day consists of sifting through citations of words in context and puzzling over how to succinctly describe the glob of dust and crud that makes up a dust bunny. (I settled on “aggregate.”) Lexicographers do not sit in sleek conference rooms and make your language. That’s what you — the reading, writing, speaking public — do. Language is democratic, not oligarchic. That’s where the real glamour is.
L’Académie Française might beg to differ, but unlike the sons and daughters of Webster, they actually seek to make the language. Sometimes they even succeed.
(Via this tweet by the authoritatively glamorous [or was that “glamorously authoritative”?] Nancy Friedman.)
Automobile reports that the two “most overused words in our car reviews” in 2011 were “gorgeous” and “badass.”
The question of whether these two qualities overlap to any great extent is left as an exercise for the student.
A word-usage note from Patrick at Popehat, derived from his reading of Melville’s Moby-Dick:
I still don’t understand how, in the English language, “blast” became a euphemism for “damn,” a reference that struck me on my second reading. Moby-Dick, as do many others written before the 1960s, contains a wealth of “blasted” people, “blasted” ships, “blasted” storms, and “blasted” whales.
But, blast it all, while the people, the ships, the storms may be damned, the whales technically weren’t: they acquired their blastedness in a different manner altogether. Quoting Melville:
As we glided nearer, the stranger showed French colors from his peak; and by the eddying cloud of vulture sea-fowl that circled, and hovered, and swooped around him, it was plain that the whale alongside must be what the fishermen call a blasted whale, that is, a whale that has died unmolested on the sea, and so floated an unappropriated corpse. It may well be conceived, what an unsavory odor such a mass must exhale; worse than an Assyrian city in the plague, when the living are incompetent to bury the departed.
Then again, should you introduce some form of ignition to the gases rising from such an ex-whale, you’ll see all the damned blasts you could possibly want.
As to how “damned” and “blasted” became sort of synonyms, this is, I suspect, an artifact of shifting levels of word acceptability: one commenter cites “bloody,” a term once thought blasphemous in Britain, now almost innocuous, and wonders if the F-word will some day be similarly laundered.
Ben Zimmer reviews the fifth-edition American Heritage Dictionary, which may or may not be the Last Print Dictionary Ever, but which, like its predecessors, is informed by a Usage Panel, people outside lexicography who work with words for a living. The panel doesn’t overrule the editors, but its members always have something to say. This time:
The often conservative pronouncements of the Usage Panel have never greatly interfered with the descriptive work of AHD’s lexicographers — who, after all, were the first to include the full panoply of vulgar four-letter words in 1969 (complete with careful etymological notes). Over the years, however, the panelists have grown less reactionary, and the notes derived from their opinions are more accepting of informal, not-quite-standard styles.
The new chair of the Usage Panel, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, observes in his introductory essay that “resistance is melting” to formerly nettlesome usage points involving such words as “comprise,” “decimate,” “graduate,” “moot,” and “quote.” Pinker examined the survey responses to one item of particular interest to him: the rise of the irregular past-tense verb “snuck” at the expense of the regular “sneaked,” as discussed in his 1999 book, Words and Rules. He found that the shift has been precipitated not so much by a mellowing of the panelists as they grow older but by “an increasing number of younger panelists who have no problem with ‘snuck’.” Thus are innovations snuck into the language.
As for “moot,” it seems to have drifted from “open to debate” to “of no consequence,” nearly a reversal of its original meaning: after all, if it’s of no consequence, it’s barely worth debating, amirite? (And what are the chances that “amirite” merits an entry in AHD 5?) “Moot” isn’t the first word that’s gone that way, either: when I see “peruse” these days, it’s more likely to indicate “glance at perfunctorily” rather than its original “study in great detail.” Explaining how that snuck in is definitely above my pay grade.
I don’t expect AHD 5 to be quite as controversial as Webster’s Third New International, arguably the least-prescriptive dictionary on earth and reviled in some circles for abandoning that responsibility, but I have to figure that someone will find a reason to dislike it. Someone always does.
(Via Language Log.)
hypodrachmaphobia (n.) The fear that somebody else might be making more money than you, triggering a strong urge to covet, followed next by hate and then a compelling need to get a tax law passed that will help redistribute some of that bad, bad capital your way.
This is, I suspect, even more widely distributed than hypochondria (q.v.), and with generally comparable results.
Deprived of context, the phrase “contradictory affirmative” will elicit something like “Yeah, right” from me. But it’s a handy little idiom, which English unfortunately lacks:
Even those of us who don’t know French all know that “oui” means “yes.” But French actually has two words for yes; oui gets used most of the time, but there is also si which you use when answering yes to a negative question.
So if the question was “do you want cake?” you would just say “oui” — but if the question was “don’t you want cake?” you would reply with “si.” I guess it has something of a tone of “well, actually, yes I do want cake!” But it’s all summed up in one little word! It’s not really formal language, but it’s used a lot in spoken French.
I wonder if the French have a comeback for “the cake is a lie.”
(Tweeted, and suggested, by Nancy Friedman.)
Daily Writing Tips has a list of 50 redundant and/or superfluous phrases to avoid, as, for example, “as for example”:
“As” implies that an example is being provided, so omit “an example.”
I demur in one instance — “false pretenses” — on the basis that it has a specific legal definition, redundancy notwithstanding. Then again, the United Kingdom abandoned “false pretences” in favor of the simpler “deception,” which was later replaced by “fraud”.
(After bouncing around the Twitterverse, this item got to me via this Nancy Friedman tweet.)
“As it turned out, Lou Gehrig died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. What are the chances of that?”
This one-liner has been kicking around in the back of my head for several decades now. I seem to remember hearing it in George Carlin’s voice. Then again, “Weird Al” Yankovic has warned against misattribution of this sort, so I’m not going to declare it a Carlinism.
And I wouldn’t bring it up here except for Lynn’s piece about Nellie Melba:
She was highly regarded in her day and now she’s only remembered as the name of a dessert, and hardly anyone knows why it’s named that. But, on the other hand, there are worse ways that one’s name can go down in history. As the name of a deadly disease, is the first thing that comes to mind.
John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich, was not available for comment; I suspect he may have been out to lunch.
And besides, there’s at least the possibility that Lou Gehrig might actually have died of something else, though there’s really no way to know for sure.
Me, I consider that a selling point.
Now that I think of it, is there such a thing as a multiphile?
A friend sent me this picture; I tracked it to Zazzle, which vends this very shirt.
Next: to determine whether the late Cleveland Amory qualified as a polymath.
Something I found rather amusing, from Roy Blount Jr.’s amazing wordfest Alphabetter Juice: or, The Joy of Text (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011):
Gnu is probably from the Hottentot. But then Hottentot is considered (OED) “both archaic and offensive: the word Khoekhoe is now usually used in its place.” Hottentot may have come from a Dutch word meaning stammerer, stutterer — typical imperialistic insensitivity. To be fair, that can work both ways. According to Dennis Tedlock, editor of 2000 Years of Mayan Literature, the name Yucatán came about when a Spanish explorer asked some locals what the name of that area was, and he misheard what he took to be their reply. “What they actually said was k’iu’tan, which means ‘The way he talks is funny’.”
But the niftiest aspect of this paragraph? It falls in the middle of an exploration of the word knee. And I thought I went off on odd tangents from time to time.
There’s a letter to Vanity Fair this month taking James Wolcott to task for trotting out the old, deprecated “nudist colony” nomenclature:
The word “colony” is perhaps just a little too bacterial and leprous.
I might not have noticed this — usually the sight of the name “Wolcott” causeth mine eyes to glaze over — but it was signed by someone named Vixii Pendragon, and I have to admit, there’s something to love about a world where someone can be named Vixii Pendragon. (And by the way, Jimbo, it’s “resorts” and/or “communities.”)
There’s been a little bit of carping lately regarding the transmogrification of The Arena Formerly Known As The Ford Center. The objections vary, but they tend to fall into two general areas: (1) Cheasapeake Energy’s chairman, Aubrey McClendon, is a founding partner of the Oklahoma City Thunder and owns a portion of the team, and he shouldn’t be committing corporate funds to something that might conceivably accrue to his personal benefit; (2) the city of Oklahoma City, which owns the facility, isn’t making all that much from the sale of the naming rights to CHK.
The latter point is pretty irrelevant, since the city’s lease to the team specifies exactly who gets to sell the naming rights — the team — and the amount of the city’s cut of the proceeds. As for the former, well, the idea is to raise Cheaspeake’s profile, not McClendon’s, and frankly, Aubrey’s probably anxious for a little more anonymity.
Marginally more interesting than the objections, at least to me, was the actual price of those rights:
The 12-year naming rights agreement has an initial annual cost of $3.0 million with a 3.0% annual escalation.
So we’re talking close to $40 million in one of the smaller NBA markets. Compare that to what is paid in the Bigger Leagues:
The Oakland Coliseum, home stadium of the Raiders and the A’s, will be renamed Overstock.com Coliseum. The six-year naming-rights deal will cost the Utah-based e-tailer “a modest $7.2 million,” reports the New York Times baseball blog, Bats.
Oh, and there’s this one minor detail:
Overstock is rebranding itself as O.co (.co is a top-level domain that’s become a popular alternative to .com), and the company retains the right to rename the Coliseum.
Which they did, in June. Locals, unsurprisingly, still call it simply the Coliseum; they weren’t impressed by all the nomenclature adjustments across the bay at Candle3Monsterstick Park. This may or may not explain the bargain price paid by the yocos at O.co.
And just yesterday, Nancy Friedman, from whom I borrowed that Oakland story, tweeted this:
I hope they remodel Oakland’s O.co Coliseum. Then it could be a rococo O.coCo.
Suddenly all the upcoming ‘Peake jokes don’t seem so horrible.