Archive for December, 2008

Bowl games

December 30, 2008

At the restaurant where I had dinner last night (sushi at the bar of the Three Seasons), a football game was flickering past on television: the Valero Alamo Bowl. I was at first puzzled by the name, until I saw that it had a structure: Valero (name of the corporate sponsor, the Valero Energy Corporation) + Alamo (the “proper name” of the bowl, after the Alamo mission in San Antonio, Texas) + Bowl. (I’ve since learned that this game had a previous history as the Builders Square Alamo Bowl, the Sylvania Alamo Bowl, and the MasterCard Alamo Bowl. Bowl names change a lot; the Champs Sports Bowl — Champs Sports is a division of Foot Locker — used to be the Blockbuster Bowl and then the Tangerine Bowl.)

Announcements of other bowl games flashed past. There are a lot more bowl games than there were when I was a boy (there are 34 this season), and most of them are branded (my favorites among the three-parters are the San Diego County Credit Union Pointsettia Bowl and the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl). Even the BCS [Bowl Championship Series] National Championship Game is the FedEx BCS National Championship Game.

There are in fact three schemes for bowl names, two of them involving branding.



December 28, 2008

Jan Freeman wrote me a little while ago with an intriguing query, about Ambrose Bierce’s stern instruction in his booklet Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults (1909) not to use

Because for For. “I knew it was night, because it was dark.” “He will not go, because he is ill.”

(That’s it; that’s the whole entry.) Jan was puzzled by this (as was I). She could find no trace of it in the 19th-century advice literature, and I’ve found none (so far) in the 20th-century handbooks. Current speakers, in my experience, are mystified by Bierce’s ban: “What on earth could be wrong with the because examples?”, they ask.

Now, I can’t pretend to fathom Bierce’s thought processes, and he wasn’t very forthcoming about them (being inclined to blunt assertions about what the facts were), but I can speculate about a possible source of his eccentric opinion.


Manecdotes and brobituaries

December 27, 2008

Having stumbled into the world of playful portmanteau formation via several portmansnow words, I was reminded of quotes from and references to Daniel Maurer’s recent book Brocabulary. Back in September, Alex Beam began his Boston Globe column on the book this way:

Daniel Maurer, author of “Brocabulary: The New Man-i-festo of Dude Talk” is merchandising the words “brobituary” and “manecdote.”

“Brobituary” is the all-too-apropos term for the valedictory speeches a man hears at his wedding. Full of praise and good feeling, they signal that the portion of his life worth living has come to an end.

A manecdote is a story that emphasizes one’s manliness. Like the time I talked about repairing the garage door. Which I still haven’t done.

The HarperCollins site for the book is entertaining; it even has a video illustrating six playful portmanteau words, among them breastimate (breast + estimate), masturdate (masturbate + date), and blowjobligation (blowjob + obligation). The text even has a couple of portmanteaus that aren’t off-color (guydol = guy + idol, dudescussion = dude + discussion). But the book is mostly a frat-house riff on ostentatiously playful nonce-words for “women as objects, humorous bodily functions, and drinking with the guys” (as one reviewer put it); there is, of course, no scholarship, and not even an index.


Nuclear obama-lama-ding-dong

December 27, 2008

Zippy looks forward to the language of the next U.S. president:

A Cake Wrecks eggcorn

December 26, 2008

My posting on holiday Cake Wrecks failed to catch this excellent eggcorn in one of the comments on the Cake Wrecks site:

The “Santa Clause” one is not really a missed spelling. 

That is, missed spelling for mis-spelling / misspelling. (Hat tips to Ann Burlingham and Amanda Walker.)

It’s not in the Eggcorn Database (even in the comments section), but it seems to be moderately common.


Santa Clause is coming to town

December 25, 2008

Today’s Cake Wrecks posting (“Cake wrecks: When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong”) offers eight holiday cakes that misfired, in ways small and large:

Happy Hollday
Season Greeting
Merrychrist Mas
Happe Holiday’s
Meny [or perhaps Memy] Xmas
Let it’s snow
Santa Clause
Marry Christnos

(Hat tip to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky.)


What’s the past tense of the verb text?

December 25, 2008

A correspondent wrote:

I hear people daily refering to text messages and I have been painfully aggrivated. When referring to texting in the past tense is it grammatically correct to say, “I texted yesterday” or “I text yesterday”.  I will hate if “texted” is correct. It sounds so wrong.

I must admit I was not very supportive. The big point is that novel verbs — verbed nouns in particular — are almost invariably entirely regular in their inflection. Verbing has always weirded (not weird) language.


Jack/Mr. Spicer

December 25, 2008

Today’s NYT has a review (by Dwight Garner) of My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian; Wesleyan University Press): “Sometimes Love Lives Alongside Loneliness”. Two things: Spicer’s poetry (which will have some surprises for people who aren’t familiar with it) and the way the review refers to Spicer (and others). (more…)


December 22, 2008

The most recent Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! (NPR’s news quiz show) had the wonderful Mavis Staples as a guest, talking engagingly about her life, singing some songs, and answering quiz questions. Along the way she referred to the president-elect of the U.S. as “Barama”, but quickly corrected herself to “Barack Obama”. That was probably a telescoping of the full name. Others have made the same error, and some people have coined “Barama” intentionally. Meanwhile, the spoonerized “Oback Barama” has a life of its own, both as an error and as an intentional creation (like “one swell foop” for “one fell swoop”). (more…)

Portmansnow words

December 22, 2008

Wretched winter weather has been afflicting large areas of the northern half of the U.S. One response to extreme snow has been to coin portmanteau words for these storms. So far I’ve seen:

snowtastrophe, snowpocalypse, snowmageddon

(Hat tip to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, who recently returned to California after a holiday in the Northeast — upstate New York, New York City, Boston — with her husband and daughter, escaping just before the weather turned really ugly.)

There’s a pattern to these inventions: snow replaces the first syllable of a multi-syllable word (referring to a dire event) which has its primary accent after the first syllable (so that this word is easily identifiable). So the sources are

snow + (ca)tástrophe, (a)pócalypse, (Ar)magéddon

(and snow has a secondary accent).