Archive for November, 2009

Short shot #24: douchefag

November 30, 2009

A recent Language Log posting of mine on the rise of douche as an insult (directed at people) elicited a number of comments on the older, longer insult douchebag. And now (I suppose predictably) we have the portmanteau douchefag, which I came across in a feature in the December 2009 issue of Details magazine but which seems to have been around for a while.

(Details is aimed at cool guys, both straight and gay.)

The piece is entitled “The Rise of the Douchefag” — announced on the cover as “Introducing the G-Bag: A Guide to the Gay Douchebag” and summarized inside this way:

The fist-bumping, Bluetooth-wearing dude’s dude isn’t the only tool in the box. Meet the douchefag–a plucked, preened party boy who’s taken being gay to new depths of tackiness.

After that it’s a side-by-side snarky comparison between Gay and Gay Douchebag, with items like:

Bleaches teeth VS. Bleaches anus

Dead lifts to shape his butt VS. Buys shapewear to dead lift his butt

Buys a Beckham jersey on eBay VS. Buys Beckham’s underwear on eBay

Posts sleeveless pictures on Connexion VS. Posts pantsless pictures on Manhunt

It goes on and on.

On the noun watch

November 30, 2009

A nouning, open (in a cold open), and a mass-to-count conversion, a slang ‘a slang word/expression’, that recently came to my attention, plus a digression on the nouning reveal and a bonus find of new uses of lingo.


The Komodo Dragon

November 30, 2009

The November 29 New York Times Magazine has a piece (“Hand-Me-Down Humor”) by Ed Zuckerman on the Elliott family of comic actors (Bob, his son Chris, and Chris’s daughter Abby) — which immediately reminded me of some of my favorite Bob and Ray routines, in particular the Komodo Dragon interview.

Ray Goulding is interviewing the alliterative Dr. Darryl Dexter, the great expert on the Komodo Dragon (played by Bob Elliott), who begins by sketching (in a deadpan voice) the basic facts about the creature: “The Komodo Dragon is the world’s  largest living lizard …”  More alliteration.

The interview then runs through several exchanges in which Goulding asks about facts he’s just been given by Elliott, who struggles to paraphrase and expand on what he’s just said. Each expansion leads to another pointless question from Goulding. (The routine, which Bob and Ray did again and again over the years, is available on-line in a number of versions.)

Bob and Ray often portrayed inept radio announcers, interviewers, and reporters, not to mention frustrating interviewees (the spokesman for the Slow Talkers of America, for instance). And they did many parodies of radio shows and personalities — among them, Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife (Mary Noble, Backstage Wife), Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons (Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons), with transpositions in the titles.

A huge body of their material is available, for sheer enjoyment and as a source of data on discourse organization (and how it can go awry) and on language play.

Hybrid underwear

November 27, 2009

As we enter into the High Shopping Season, I return to the vocabulary and semiotics of men’s underwear, using material from catalogs aimed primarily at gay men (Undergear and 10Percent, on-line as and (See earlier discussions here and here, with links to earlier postings.)

These catalogs perform a double function: as enticements to buy (the men viewing the photos should want to be like the models) and as soft porn (these men should desire the models). As I sometimes put it, gay men are supposed to want to be the guy in the photo and also to want to do the guy.

Towards the second goal, the garments are designed to display the desirable features of the male body, in particular, dick, balls, and ass, and the models often appear in sexualized poses and with facial expressions that are intended to be seductive. (There will be examples.)

The basic category distinctions include the following:

boxers, or boxer shorts
trunks, or trunk briefs
jocks, or jockstraps

A number of these come in subtypes. There are fly-front briefs and bikini briefs, but for the gay-oriented underwear catalogs, briefs is essentially just a truncation of bikini briefs, fly-front briefs being extraordinarily rare in these catalogs. And briefs range from very low-rise briefs (which from the front look like thongs, but have a back panel) to full-rise briefs.

Each style has its virtues, both for the way they feel to the wearer and for the appeal they have to the viewer. Particular styles often appeal to certain men for their associations and connotations: jockstraps with athletes, athletics, and locker rooms, for instance.

In addition to these basic styles, there are hybrid styles, which are apparently intended to combine the virtues of the basic styles. You might think of trunk briefs this way, as combining the virtues of briefs and swimming trunks. Then there are boxer briefs (some looser, some tighter, and some very close to trunk briefs) and jock briefs, of two types. Your basic jockstrap has three components: an elastic waistband, a pouch in front, and two straps in the back. You can then add features of briefs by adding either a back panel or a front panel.

In another set of variants, sheer fabrics or loose mesh are used, so as to reveal as much as they conceal.

In still another set of variants, the underwear can be designed so as to exaggerate the wearer’s equipment, in “shock jocks” and “enhancement briefs” and the like (one step above stuffing a sock in your underwear, and roughly analogous to push-up bras).

Finally, all of these items can be produced in a palette of colors (pale pink briefs!) and a variety of patterns. The catalogs are very heavy in such extravagances.

Now for a few examples, chosen from many.


Short shot #23: community standards

November 27, 2009

Alessandra Stanley’s “The TV Watch” column (“Community Standard or Double Standard?”), in the November 26 New York Times Arts section, begins:

It wasn’t really the man-on-man kiss or the simulated oral sex that marked [American Idol contestant] Adam Lambert‘s performance on the American Music Awards on Sunday as shocking. Mostly it was ABC’s reaction. By rescinding Mr. Lambert’s invitation to sing on “Good Morning America,” ABC self-protectively drew a line that networks usually prefer to keep blurred.

… There is a lot of very adult material on television all the time, and mostly it flows unchecked and unpunished, except when it comes as a surprise and hits a nerve. Community standards are mutable and vague; lots of people don’t know obscenity until someone else sees it. [emphasis mine]

… Mr. Lambert … startled viewers because he did things akin to what outré rappers and female pop stars have performed onstage to get attention, only he did it as a gay man.

ABC brought on “squeaky clean Donny Osmond” instead of Lambert, and Lambert went on “The Early Show” to complain about double standards. Stanley concluded:

[Lambert’s singing on the American Music Awards] wasn’t the best musical performance by any means, but it wasn’t the worst display of sexual debauchery either. Mostly it was a reminder of television’s policy regarding gay men: Do tell, just don’t show.


Demotic speech

November 26, 2009

From A. G. Sulzberger’s “City Room” column (“Sewer Alligators? A Legend’s Roots”) in the New York Times of November 24:

There was Teddy May, the colorful former superintendent of city sewers, working a mouthful of tobacco with what teeth he had left while spinning his implausible story.

And with him was Robert Daley, the writer, asking the questions that would give new life — and credibility — to one of the great city legends.

“I says to myself, ‘Them guys been drinking.'” Mr. May began.

“I’ll go down there,” he continued, “and prove to youse guys that there ain’t no alligators in my sewers.”

That conversation, on a Hell’s Kitchen stoop, about where giant reptiles patrolled the city sewers was made public 50 years ago in Mr. Daley’s 1959 book, “The World Beneath the City,” …

Daley reported May as having found “alligators averaging two feet long paddling serenely around the city’s sewers”. And so began the great Sewer Alligators urban legend. Who’dathunkit: fifty years already.

What’s linguistically interesting here is the representation of May’s demotic speech, Damon-Runyon-fashion. It sounds so New York. But in fact it’s not uniquely New Yorkish; the features represented here are almost all general demotic American, common to working-class speakers across a wide geographical and ethnic/racial expanse and enduring, at least in broad outlines, over fairly long periods of time.


The glut of names

November 24, 2009

William Haefeli in the November 9 New Yorker:

Caption: “Will Kristen, Kirsten, and Kiersten please choose new names?”

What, no Kristin?

Gender troubles 2: emeriti faculty

November 23, 2009

Item 2 from Chris Laning, who came across the following in a piece of “bureaucratic prose describing the benefits of being a faculty member emeritus”. (It’s in a draft text, so I’m concealing the name of the university in question.)

As a [University X] emeriti faculty, you are eligible for …

Laning saw this, probably correctly, as an attempt to achieve a sex-neutral term, choosing neither emeritus nor emerita. But it clanged in her ear.


Gender troubles 1: Latin@s

November 22, 2009

Chris Laning wrote me yesterday about some attempts to deal with reflections, in texts in English, of grammatical gender distinctions in other languages. The first of these has to do with the Latino/Latina and Chicano/Chicana distinctions in Spanish.

In working on a Chicano/Latino History website, Laning came across the usage Chican@-Latin@ — an attempt to orthographically package together the gender-marked Spanish nouns (as well as using both the Chican- and the Latin- labels). The spellings with @ were new to Laning, and in fact they seem to be a fairly recent innovation.



November 20, 2009

Ann Burlingham has written to report on a conversation with a co-worker who asked about sauced meaning ‘drunk’. When Ann told him that the word was soused, he maintained that he’d never heard that word (or the noun souse) in his 32 years of life.

But sauced ‘drunk’ is all over the net, though not in OED2 (which has only the sense ‘seasoned, flavored’) or NOAD2 or AHD4. It is in the Random House Dictionary (2009) and at least one slang dictionary, Spears’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions (4th ed., 2007).

Given the noun sauce ‘alcoholic liquor’ (slang, originally U.S., attested in OED2 from 1940 on), occurring in idioms like on the sauce and hit the sauce, sauced meaning ‘drunk’ makes a lot of sense. In fact, it could arise in two different ways.