Language play log

Three items with language play in them that came by me recently, in the order of their appearance: (1) the Mental Floss list of their ten best-selling t-shirts; (2) an Ian Shoales piece rushing through “The Catchphrase History of the World”; and (3) some porn flick titles.

Mental Floss. Lots of language play in these t-shirt slogans, some of it already commented on in this blog:

1 – My patronus is a bookworm
2 – Heavy Metals [Pb and Zn]
3 – Dodgeball: America’s twist on stoning
4 – Ambiguity: What happens in Vagueness stays in Vagueness
5 – Hokey pokey anonymous: A place to turn yourself around
6 – I’m no rocket surgeon
7 – Pluto 1930-2004: Revolve in peace
8 – grammar police
9 – Hyperbole is the best thing ever!
10 – The Constitution: Read it for the articles

This might be a genuine tally, or just a scheme for selling t-shirts. But it might be read as information on the tastes of the slice of the internet public (tilted strongly towards geeks, I think) that checks out Mental Floss.

Ian ShoalesShoales, the alter ego of writer and performer Merle Kessler, has been entertaining audiences with his wry comedy for decades. He has a gig at the moment on KQED-FM in San Francisco, at 5:35 a.m. on Saturdays (!), but I was up to catch him this morning, when he was playing an old routine that’s a favorite of mine, an avalanche of formulaic expressions of all sorts that makes a kind of memic social history: the “Catchphrase History of the Western World” (available on the 1997 audio CD I Gotta Go (and on a tape before that), but not (so far as I can see) in any on-line form, even as a transcript (and I’ve shrunk from the task of making my own transcript). Some scraps from the piece that will give you its flavor:

… happy to do it – no problem – slices and dices in seconds …

… only the names have been changed – it ain’t rocket science – it ain’t brain surgery [see #6 in the Mental Floss list] …

… where’s the beef? – voodoo economics – the Evil Empire …

He’s dead, Jim. (Yes, that’s in there somewhere.)

Porn titles. Periodically I’ve posted on Language Log or this blog on the titles of porn flicks (both straight and gay, but I’m most familiar with the gay data), which serve, along with several other textual locations, as what I’ve called a ludic locale, a place of language play, where alliteration, rhyme and half-rhyme (Young, Hung, and Full of Cum), spoonerisms, punning and other playful variants of formulas, etc. abound. Some of the titles are crudely direct (Young Oriental Studs, Raw Cock Riders), but most are more inventive, and they track recent popular culture (two fairly recent titles: Jersey Score, based on Jersey Shore; Dick-fill-A, a complex play on Chick-fil-A).

As it happens, I’ve been collecting material on Falcon Studio porn stars and their films, for three interlocking purposes: as raw material for my collages; as data for a study of the way men’s bodies and their sexual relationships are configured in Gayland, the fantasy world depicted in material, verbal and visual, intended for consumption by gay men; and as illustrations of sexual acts between men and demands these acts make on the bodies of the participants (out of interest in acts that are challenging or out of bounds for men with various disabilities — like a recent hip replacement!). Three installments of this material on AZBlogX so far:

12/6/12: “Trent Reed” (link)

12/7/12: “Falcon Models” (link), on three models, Nicholas Clay, Jeff Palmer, and Jeremy Penn

12/10/12: “Billy Brandt” (link)

The current installment is “The Falcons of Fallingwater”, on (so far) six Falcon models in collages incorporating architectural design motifs from Frank Lloyd Wright.

I am of course a consumer and user of gay porn as well as a scholar of it, and I have my own personal reponses to the pornstars. In this set, one — Jordan Young — stood out as enormously attractive to me (Max Vasilatos, who sent me the postcards that made the basis for the project, says she was sure that I’d go for Young over all the rest; she understands my tastes remarkably well). So I went to the TLA Video site to check out films that Young had appeared in and found two compendia of scenes in which he was featured:

Bottom Boy Bonanza, with its across-the-board alliteration; and

Touched by an Anal, a play on a formula (in this case, the title of the tv series Touched by an Angel)

(In his porn career, Young was mostly a bottom, and an enthusiastic one.) Yes, I’ve gotten back to language play.

Touched by an Anal is phonologically very close to the model, but syntactically and semantically it’s something of a mess; the adjective anal has indeed been nouned (as the frame touched by a ___ would require), and in a sexual sense — consider things like I love oral, but I don’t do anal, with nouning by truncation — but it’s hard to work this sense (which involves a mass use) into the frame (which requires a count N). On the other hand, the title does provide truth in advertising; you get a good idea about what the compendium depicts.


2 Responses to “Language play log”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    On the physical challenges of sex, on AZBlogX today, “Fuck for sale at Xmas“.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    And on the back cover of Touched by an Anal, the slogan “Spread Your wings / And open your butt” — continuing the angelic figure by alluding to the bottom’s spreading his legs in face-to-face fucking, to make his hole available to and open for the top.

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