Archive for August, 2010

Short shot #53: /b/ing there

August 24, 2010

Recently I mentioned San Francisco Blow Buddies in passing. It’s a place for safe sex for gay and bisexual men, a No Fuck zone in nice surroundings.

A few years ago, a gay friend of mine was visiting in San Francisco and several of the locals gathered to spend some time with him. He’s an incredibly enthusiastic guy. On this occasion he was bubbling over with a report of going to the “Beer Bust at Blow Buddies”. He said it over and over, just to enjoy the sounds. All those /b/’s, all those bilabial stops in happy alliteration! You’ve got to work both lips just to say it!

Beer Bust at Blow Buddies! Be there!

[This message has been brought to you by the Committee for Ludic Locales.]

Writing like a fag

August 24, 2010

… or, more genteelly, using a distinctly gay male writing style. Or more allusively, writing with a lavender quill.

This has come up in passing in my mention of “embeddedness”, in a thicket of parentheses here, and I’m going to return to the topic soon in a piece on Jeremy Denk’s blogging style, so here’s some background: a section from my 1997 article “Two lavender issues for linguists”, in Kira Hall & Anna Livia (eds.), Queerly Phrased (Oxford Univ. Press), 21-34.

From p. 28:

Discourse and pragmatics.

Let me briefly traverse the middle ground between grammar and rhetoric.  Staying close to home, I inventory some of the discourse-organizing and pragmatic strategies that have been suggested (in one place or another in the literature or by colleagues) as characteristic of gay male talk and writing:

  • subjective stance;
  • irony, sarcasm (distancing, saying and not saying, “not taking seriously”);
  • resistance, subversiveness;
  • double/triple/etc. vision, metacommentary;
  • embeddedness, discursiveness;
  • open aggression;
  • seductiveness;
  • reversal, inversion.

Some of these are stereotypically “feminine” (subjective stance, resistance and subversiveness, seductiveness), some stereotypically “masculine” (distancing, open aggression).  Some–resistance and subversiveness, multiple vision, reversal–are associated with powerlessness and marginality.  Some–resistance and subversiveness–hint at hidden or stigmatized identities.5 Many are simply the common coin of postmodern discourse–most of the characteristics in the list above are to be found in the writing of Donald Barthelme, for instance, as well as in the writing of Robert Glück–and are scarcely to be directly connected to gender, sexuality, marginality, or stigma. [for those of you who don’t keep track of these things: Barthelme straight, Glück gay gay gay]

Again, there is much of interest here, and linguistics can certainly provide indispensable conceptual tools for analysis, but as in poetics (Zwicky 1986) the methods that linguists use in their ordinary practice will not provide an analysis of the phenomena.  Subjectivity, reversal, multiple vision, etc. are realized (in part) in speech and writing, but they are not themselves properties of speech or writing, in the way that having only front vowels and being an instance of the agentless passive construction and containing a cataphoric pronoun and presupposing the truth of some proposition are.

Footnote 5 is on p. 32:

Here is a typical observation, by Morris Dickstein, writing in a New York Times Book Review (23 July 1995, p. 6) review of Edmund White’s Skinned Alive:  “Before the 1970’s , when direct professions of homosexuality were taboo, writers from Oscar Wilde to Cocteau to Genet made their mark with works that were often theatrical, oblique, florid and artificial.  The strategies of concealment many gay people used in their lives were turned into richly layered artistic strategies by gifted writers, choreographers, directors and set designers.  For the writers, wit and paradox became more important than sincerity, since sincerity meant self-acceptance (which could be difficult) and self-exposure (which could be dangerous); style, baroque fantasy and sensuous detail were disguises that suited them far better than verisimilitude or realism.”

Zwicky (1986) is my 1986 article “Linguistics and the study of folk poetry”, in Peter Bjarkman & Victor Raskin (eds.),  The Real-World Linguist: Linguistic Applications in the 1980s, Ablex, 57-73. Not yet available on-line, alas.

[But that was last week, and now (9/2) it’s on my Stanford website, here.]

Stowbody Gillingwater

August 24, 2010

And Doofus.

Bill Griffith delights in the names he gives his Dingburger characters; he seeks out names with satisfying phonological properties (tapping into the vein of phonesthemic associations in English), semantic associations (usually, like the phonological effects, subliminal and indefinite, rather than straightforwardly meaningful), and sociocultural connections. (Some discussion of Zippylicious names here.)

This time Zippy takes us to the family names Stowbody and Gillingwater (I like to think of them combined into a single name, with the last name Stowbody made into a patrician first name: Stowbody Gillingwater, called Stow for short), and the personal name Doofus:

As so often happens with Zippyesque names, the name Stowbody seemed hauntingly familiar to me. And, in fact, Ezra Stowbody is the (grumpy) president of Ionic Bank in Gopher Prairie MN, the setting of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street (this seems to be Main Street Week on this blog; see the McCall illustration here), and he has a daughter Ella. (The name Ezra Stowbody reminded me — prosodically and at several other levels — of the wonderfully named Jonas Starkadder in Stella Gibbons’s wickedly parodic Cold Comfort Farm, set in the village of Howling SX.)

Then there’s Gillingwater. Probaby an allusion to Claude Gillingwater, a Hollywood actor who played cranky skinflints and irascible old men all his life.

Finally Doofus, one of those generic-fool common nouns often made into a nonce proper name (“Don’t give it to Doofus here; he’ll just drop it”). Here’s the complete OED draft entry of June 2010:

slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.).

[Origin uncertain: perhaps an alteration of GOOFUS n.1 Perhaps compare German doof stupid, dopey (early 20th cent.; < German regional (Low German) doof in this sense, spec. use of doof deaf: see DEAF adj.).]

A. adj. Characteristic of a stupid or foolish person; dumb, dopey. Cf. GOOFUS adj.

1967 C. L. COOPER Farm I. iii. 27 Miss Ann..smiling a greatbig [sic] stupid doofus grin. 1985 Campus Voice Apr. 22 He speaks in his best dufus voice. 2000 Sunday Herald (Glasgow) (Electronic ed.) 20 Feb., He’s a cartoon character in human form, what with those lanky doofus locks, those boggly eyes.

B. n. A foolish or stupid person, an idiot; also as a general term of contempt. Cf. GOOFUS n.1

[1955 J. LARDNER in N.Y. Times Mag. 25 Dec. 10/1 Doofus lost every round from the third, but they give him the duke!] 1977 Amer. Speech 1975 50 58 Don’t bother to see Dean Fairchild; he’ll do his best to make you feel like a doofus. 1989 L. MOORE in New Yorker 13 Nov. 53/2 We’re in our forties here. You can’t use words like ‘dork’ anymore… He’s not a dork. He’s a dufus. Maybe. Maybe a doink. 2001 L. BLOCK Hit List 203, I feel sorry for Mapes, but he’s sort of a doofus, isn’t he?

(The OED here sticks to its long-established practice of labeling attributive nouns, as in doofus grin, as adjectives.)

As is typical of nouns of disparagement, doofus has a bunch of sound-symbolic elements: the /d/ of deaf, dumb, dope, etc.; the /u/ and /f/ of fool and goof/goofy/goofus; the /u/ of puke, mook, etc.; the /f/ of fag, fop, fuck, etc.

Data points: sentential portmanteaus 8/23/10

August 23, 2010

It came up while I was looking for something entirely different: the hybrid title of a 2006 play by Neil Renken at the No Shame Theatre in Cedar Falls IA, a theater group with only three rules (pieces must be original; under 5 minutes long; and can’t harm the theater space or its occupants):

Are You Happy to See Me or Are You Eating a Banana?

That’s a portmanteau of two smart-assed question formulas, both disjunctive in form and with a banana in the second disjunct:

Are you happy to see me, or is that a banana in your pocket?
Is that your nose, or are you eating a banana?

Conveying, very roughly, ‘you are visibly aroused, I can see your hard-on in your pants’ (or as some anti-nudity laws have it, you are “discernibly turgid”; I’ll post about the legal expression eventually) and ‘your nose is huge’, respectively.

It’s the banana that makes the portmanteau work. Bananas are versatile.

For example, here’s a G-rated collage with a seriously phallic banana, and several other bits of phallicity:

Firefighters have all the fun.

Failure to fact-check

August 23, 2010

In my posting yesterday on “infinitesimally small values of huge” in a Multiverse strip, I also picked up on the compound sausage party, referring to a gathering that was mostly or entirely male (with a number of further connotations), and I showed an altered logo depicting a man eating sausages:


The only thing that’s been altered is the text, which was originally the name, in German, of the sausage company that commissioned the ad and then failed to see how it was likely to be taken.

Well, the background color has also been altered: the version I saw a few years ago (in a collection of unintentionally hilarious, mostly phallic, logos), which turns out to be the original, has a red background rather than a black one. And so has the framing, which was a black-edged or borderless red diamond in that version, and is a black-red-black-edged yellow circle in this one.

And the text has indeed been changed, but not from a German company name.


Dating by cliché

August 23, 2010

Today’s Bizarro:

Dan Piraro has chosen to have all four clichés attributed to both parties in the event. Maybe we’re supposed to see the exchange as alternating between the man and the woman, or maybe we can mix and match.

[Bonus observation: the synthetic compound speed-dating (however punctuated) has of course given rise to a two-part back-formed verb speed-date. Lots of hits for to speed-date and speed-dated, both intransitive and transitive.]

for Mod values of Adj

August 22, 2010

At the last minute, a weekend cartoon. From Scenes from a Multiverse:

Two points. First, “for infinitesimally small values of huge”. (Later, “sausage party”.)


Sidetracking the golden goose

August 22, 2010

From James Gavin’s 8/8/10 review of Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter (by Randy L. Schmidt), NYT Book Review:

Each of her love affairs foundered, and someone [notably her brother or her mother] was always there to discourage any relationship that might sidetrack the golden goose.

The Golden Goose is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, in which the goose in question has feathers of pure gold, and anyone who tries to pluck one is instantly stuck to the bird (further complications ensue, and there’s a backstory).

It’s hard to see Karen Carpenter as metaphorically such a golden goose, though she could undoubtedly have been described as a (metaphorical) cash cow, or as a goose (or hen) who regularly laid a (metaphorical) golden egg (as in the Aesop fable), through her singing.

That is, you could sidetrack a golden-egg-laying goose (divert it from performing its valuable function), most spectacularly by killing it, in the hope of getting at its presumed internal store of gold. Of course you could also kill a golden goose in the hope of getting its golden feathers, but sidetracking or diversion wouldn’t keep it from having golden feathers or cause it to lose them.

Still, the two formulaic expressions are similar enough that they can be blended, to yield kill the golden goose, which is a good deal shorter than kill the goose that laid/lays the golden egg(s). Or kill the golden goose could be seen not as formal blending or a shortening of the longer formula by displacement of the word golden, but as a conceptual displacement of the property of goldenness from the goose’s eggs to the goose itself (a kind of hypallage).

In any case, though it’s not in OED2, the shorter version seems to have gained currency in English, as in this quote (one out of a large number), where the connection to the golden-egg-laying goose is explicit:

Don’t Kill the Golden Goose!
It’s a well known fact that dead geese cannot lay golden eggs! (link)

No doubt there are people out there complaining about such usages as misquotations. And probably people who visualize the goose that laid the golden eggs as itself golden (well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?).

Return to rainbow flagwear

August 21, 2010

A little while back, I looked at some rainbow flags, specifically gay rainbow flags.

(Rainbow images are, of course, used in many different contexts to convey many different messages, often of inclusiveness, sometimes delight or joy, and much more. Like linguistic features, visual symbols are “just stuff”, without a single intrinsic social meaning, and are capable of being used for any number of sociocultural purposes, some of them with “natural” associations to the stuff, some of them with conventional associations set up by accidents of history, many with a bit of each in their past — points I’ll return to when I finally get to writing up my thoughts on “gay colors”.)

You can be “flying the gay flag” by wearing underwear in a rainbow pattern (stripes reproducing those on the gay flag), dressing your teddy bear in a rainbow sweater, sporting buttons or displaying stickers with rainbow stripes on them, and so on.

But it turns out there are several versions of the gay rainbow, in rainbow flags and objects that allude to these flags, differing (at least) in how many discrete stripes there are (the actual rainbow is continuous, but cultural objects with “rainbows” on them have distinct stripes, arranged in some kind of pattern), what the colors of the stripes are, what pattern they’re arranged in (parallel strips arranged horizontally or vertically, in arcs, or in circles, or strips in fans), and what sequence the strips come in: going top to bottom, left to right, outside in, which colors — the “hot” ones like red and orange, or the “cool” ones like blue and purple — come first. (As far as I know, the sequencing of the strips is always one that accords with a natural ordering, by frequency or wavelength, though “mixed” orderings are in principle possible.) For stripes arranged vertically, as in actual rainbow flags, or in arcs or circles, the custom is very heavily to go from hot to cool, but stripes arranged horizontally, as in parallel strips or fans, can go either way.

In any case, all of this started here with a set of ad shots for FreeMen rainbow underwear in an Undergear catalog.


Exuberant morphology

August 20, 2010

After I posted a link to Gay Pimp’s (Jonny McGovern‘s) “Soccer Practice” video on my X blog (here; note that this is X-rated territory), an appreciative friend sent along a link to Cazwell’s video “Ice Cream Truck” (Luke Cazwell, né Lucas Cazuela). Two outrageous fags doing white rap in a street-black style to a gay-disco beat. Tremendously unsubtle, campy, and also gay-affirming and often joyous.

Cazwell managed to get one of his videos (available for viewing here, with music that is, like McGovern’s, easily available on CD), “All Over Your Face” — yes, it means just what you think it does — banned from the LOGO channel. It has the memorable lyrics:

I masturbated till my K-Y faded [unnh] … I’m exhausticated

Exhausticated is the point at hand — a piece of “exuberant morphology”, playing on exhausted and exploiting that extra morphological material to go beyond it (as well as to make the line scan): if you’re exhausticated, you’re thoroughly exhausted.