Fear the beard

Here in the Bay Area we are gripped by Beard Fever. It’s all about the San Francisco Giants. (For readers outside the U.S., that’s the San Francisco baseball team, now in the World Series against the Texas Rangers.) Spotted in Palo Alto: a car with Fear the Beard painted on it. Up in the City, everything’s gone orange for the team (including, on occasion, even the mayor), and at AT&T Park and thereabouts faux-beards abound.

From the Bay Citizen section of the area’s edition of the NYT, this delightful story (on-line on October 28, in hard copy on the 29th) about the beard madness: “Razors? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Razors” by Reyhan Harmanci, with photos:


Inspired by the play of a hirsute Brian Wilson, top left, and Cody Ross, top center, San Francisco Giants fans have created beard mania at AT&T Park and beyond for the World Series

From the story, a digression into pop and gay culture:

Wilson’s beard is a singular affair, but its crossover appeal taps into deeper cultural trends. As Allan Peterkin, author of “One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair,” said, “People project onto a bearded face — both good and bad associations.”

Mr. Peterkin said the post-World War II era in the United States focused on a clean-shaven look, with notable countercultural exceptions — beatniks in the 1950s and hippies in the ’60s. The popularity of facial hair tends to wax and wane, but the 21st century has seen a resurrection of the beard, a surge in facial styles not seen since the Victorian era.

Ticking off a number of beard types — the hipster beard, the unemployment beard, the break-up beard, the bear beard — Mr. Peterkin defined the current beard era as one of “playful rebellion.”

Todd Barket, owner of the menswear boutique Unionmade in the Castro, said much of the beard craze of the past five years could be credited to the bear community, a subculture of gay men who emerged in the 1970s sporting heavy facial hair, thick bodies and a general burly aesthetic as a counterpoint to the more manicured mainstream gay “twink” look.

“I see it as a big return to naturalness,” said Mr. Barket, himself bearded.

These days, with young men wearing work boots, buffalo plaid and all manner of facial hair, it is often difficult to tell the difference between a bear and a Mission hipster. The beard itself, Mr. Barket said, seems to be “gentrified.”

With his rugged frame, Wilson could pass for a bear cub, as young men in the bear community are called. “I could absolutely picture him on the cover,” said Steven Wolfe, editor in chief of Bear magazine.

The entire Giants bullpen appears to have grown “September beards,” a nod to the playoff beard phenomenon in hockey, when players ritually forgo shaving until they either win the Stanley Cup or exit trying. But Wilson’s beard predates playoff games.

The history of beards in baseball itself is recent. Barry Petchesky of the sports blog Deadspin said that he saw more beards in baseball than in other sports — citing twin factors of superstition and free time — but America’s pastime was overwhelmingly clean-shaven until the Oakland Athletics’ Reggie Jackson showed up at training camp in 1972 sporting a long mustache and promising to grow a matching beard. The whole team followed suit.

Almost as popular as Wilson’s beard is the chant accompanying its appearance and the thousands of “Fear the Beard” signs. It is also the name of a Bay Area sports blog founded by Daniel Turman, Guthrie Dolin, Matthew Meschery and Michael Marshall. Mr. Turman, whose blog takes some credit for the current ubiquity of the “Fear the Beard” phrase, said he had been following the progress of Wilson’s beard for months.

“He started growing it in the middle of the season,” Mr. Turman said. “At first, I didn’t pay much attention, but when it got longer and he started dying it black, it sort of jumped out of the screen at you.”

To celebrate the beard’s entrance into the World Series, Mr. Turman is taking a step beyond his previous fan offerings: dying his own facial hair on the day of the first game. It’s important, he said, to “beard up.”

On the bear phenomenon, see the posting “Waltzing with bears” in this blog, with some follow-up in the posting “Bear music” and, on AZBlogX, “Hairy in Gayland”, here.

Back to the slogan “Fear the beard”. Wonderful use of half-rhyme in fear … beard, of the type I called subsequence rhyme in my article “This rock and roll has got to stop” (here). “Fear the beer” (or “Fear the queer” or “Fear the peer” etc.) would be full rhyme, with /ir/ matched with /ir/, but in “Fear the beard”, /ir/ is matched with /ird/ (or /iə/ with /iəd/ in non-rhotic varieties). This kind of half-rhyme can be very effective, and some people find it subtler and more interesting than full rhyme.

Then there’s the matching of onsets, /f/ in fear with /b/ in beard — two labials. And for rhotic varieties, the “snarly” quality of American English approximant /r/ contributes to the aggressive character of the slogan, reinforcing the semantics of fear and the masculinity of beards. That’s a lot packed into a three-syllable slogan.

On to game 4 tonight.


3 Responses to “Fear the beard”

  1. On the insult patrol « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] On the insult patrol By arnold zwicky Jeff Danziger’s take on the World Series: […]

  2. Spear/Smear the Queer « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] My posting on “Fear the beard” got me into phonological association mode, and I pulled up the name of a kids’ game called variously Spear the Queer or Smear the Queer. […]

  3. thnidu Says:

    Oh phooey, old typewriting too hard for me to read at this hour.

    I’d rather spell it “sub-sequence”; I first read it as /’sʌbsɨkwɛns/, an abstract nominalization of “subsequent”.

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