Name aversion

It starts with ISIS or Isis as a name for the Sunni jihadist group, inadvertently echoing the name of a goddess of ancient Egypt; the name of the good-guy organization on the tv show Archer; and the name of a non-standard construction in English. The tv show is going to phase out the ISIS name, but I’m sticking with the English usage name ISIS / Isis.

In passing: the Egyptian goddess:

Now, the jihadists, from Wikipedia:

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL /ˈaɪsəl/), also translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS /ˈaɪsɪs/; ad-Dawlah al-Islāmīyah fīl-ʻIraq wa ash-Shām), also known by the Arabic acronym Daʿish and self-proclaimed as the Islamic State (IS), is a Sunni, extremist, jihadist group, unrecognized state and self-proclaimed caliphate based in Iraq and Syria in the Middle East.

And the tv show, from CNN on-line, in ” ‘Archer’ dropping the ISIS name” by Lisa Respers France, on October 13th:

The show “Archer” has decided to use some levity to deal with a name that is far from funny these days.

The adult animated FX series focuses on operative Sterling Malory Archer (voiced by actor H. Jon Benjamin), who works for the New York-based International Secret Intelligence Service, or ISIS. Given the negative connotation now attached to the name, the Daily Beast reports that it will be phased out when the show returns in January.

On to English usage. The crucial source here is the handout for my 2007 Stanford Semantics Fest talk, “Extris, extris”, on “extra is” constructions in English, which has more information on the topic than you might want, with links to all sorts of sources up to that point. The lead-in:

For at least 35 years (Dwight Bolinger’s first example is from 1971), English speakers have been producing sentences with an occurrence of a form of BE that is not licensed in standard English (SE) and is not a disfluency – what I’ll call Extris (“extra is”). There are many subtypes

The Isis (“is is”, “double is’, etc.) subtype has gotten much attention … as a variant of SE “thingy”-N-subject … or pseudocleft (PC) sentences … :

[N-type Isis] The thing that’s most interesting about the film is is that it’s…

[PC-type Isis] Basically, what they were trying to tell me was, is that whatever Federal Prison Industries was doing was more important…

On the naming, from my 2007 posting, “Labels Are Not Definitions”:

Early on in our investigations of the phenomenon, the Stanford/Colorado research group began to use the label Isis or ISIS (pronounced /ájsIs/), just to get away from the possibly misleading “is is” etc. stuff.  The label is suggestive, but doesn’t look like a characterization or description of the phenomenon.  (This tactic doesn’t always work, but we still think it’s better than the alternatives.)

In any case, people come to us with examples of both of the types we try so carefully to exclude.

… If you take the name “double be” to be not just a label, but actually a definition, you’ll be tempted into seeing repetition disfluencies and entirely standard pseudocleft sentences to be instances of the phenomenon.  But, to hammer it home again: Labels Are Not Definitions (Or Descriptions)

The Isis label is suggestive, short, and memorable, and I’m going to stick with it. It has nothing to do with any organization, especially an intelligence or other political organization, so I can’t see any reason to avoid the name — unless you’re the sort of person who insisted on avoiding French fries (in favor of the ridiculous freedom fries) out of displeasure with the French.

My 2007 SemFest handout has a very considerable bibliography on Extris constructions, including Isis, up to that time. Some postings since then:

ML, 8/13/11: Xtreme Isisism:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3361
with links to LLog postings and to some handouts, abstracts, papers, etc.

BZ, 9/25/11: The elusive triple “is”:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3452

BZ, 10/23/12: Obama’s “is is”:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4269

ML, 11/24/12: Isis (& Wasis) rising:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4338

AZBlog, 9/19/13: Miscellany for 9/19/13:
https://arnoldzwicky.org/2013/09/19/miscellany-for-91913/
including a link to a discussion of ISIS on Slate (item #8)

One Response to “Name aversion”

  1. Mark Says:

    What upsets me the most is that Isis is the name of the journal of the prestigious History of Science Society.

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