Risible (faux-)commercial name

From a posting by Randy Murray to the Facebook page‎ “THE ERRORIST MOVEMENT – Correct grammar, with humour”, where he comments, “apostrophes mean so much”:


At first glance, this ad would seem to fall into four big topic areas on this blog: dubious commercial names; It’s All Grammar; vulgar slang; and phallic play (in particular, word play). To which I add: the conventions on the form of hashtags, e-mail addresses, and web addresses (URLs). But first, I have to tell you that this particular Dick’s Pizza is a fabrication.

(Hat tip to Michael Palmer.)

dickspizza.ca. It’s in Toronto ON, but it’s not an actual functioning pizza parlor. From Adweek on 8/18/16, “SiriusXM Created a Restaurant Called Dick’s Pizza Just to Make Tons and Tons of Penis Jokes: Fake ad and storefront promote comedy contest” by Patrick Coffee:

“Nothing livens up a party quite like a big serving of Dick’s.”

At least that’s the promise of Dick’s Pizza, an unfortunately named and even more unfortunately fictional restaurant created by agency Taxi Toronto for internet radio service SiriusXM.

It almost feels like the brief for this viral play was, “How many penile jokes can you make in one minute?” And the answer is “a great many,” because the resulting ad [viewable on the Adweek site] is bulging with innuendo

There’s more to it than a series of juvenile jokes from a man named Richard Long. In fact, Taxi created the campaign to promote the client’s second annual Top Comic, a contest in which would-be Canadian standup stars compete to win $25,000 and a chance to perform at the Top Comic Finale in September.

Dubious commercial names. A compendium of examples in a 3/22/16 posting, noting

dubious commercial names, ranging from the flagrantly transgressive to the winkingly suggestive to the possibly innocent in intent.

(There’s an inventory of postings, with links, in a 6/10/16 posting.)

The Dick’s / Dicks / dicks in #1 lies squarely in the flagrantly transgressive camp, thanks in part to the lack of apostrophes in all but the logo and the uniformity of case everywhere — either all upper-case or all lower-case — so that the sexual slang dick and the male proper name Dick aren’t distinguished in print (as they are not in speech).

Though men with the nickname (or legal personal name) Dick suffer from a certain amount of joking about their name (see the phallic play section below), and a few insist on being called Richard, Rich, Rick, Richie, or Ricky, most just sail on in life under the name Dick and everyone gets used to it. Some of these men have pizza parlors named after them, and that doesn’t seem to be an issue. A few examples from various parts of the US: Papa Dick’s Pizza in Horseshoe Bend AR, Dick’s Pizza and Pleasure in Milwaukee WI. Dick’s Pizza Palace in Muncie IN, Mountain Dick’s Pizza in Jay VT.

But if you say “Dick’s Pizza” in a jokey voice and with a smirk, then we’re into dick talk.

It’s All Grammar. The Errorist FB page proclaims that it’s all about finding and correcting errors in grammar, but as usual, there’s some question about what counts as grammar for him. People who write two dick’s (with an apostrophic Pl) or his dicks size (with an anapostrophic Poss) surely don’t think that the numeral two requires a Poss form for its head noun — instead, it requires a Pl form — or that a determiner NP (like his dick) has to be in its Pl form — instead, it has to be in its Poss form.

No one’s unclear about the relevant principles of English grammar here. But lots of people are sometimes confused about how to spell the Pl and Poss forms, or (quite often) hold erroneous beliefs about how these forms are to be spelled. There are errors here, sometimes iadvertent, sometimes advertent, but they are spelling errors, akin to spelling definate rather than definite, or seperate rather than separate.

So the question is: Does Randy Murray think that spelling errors count as errors in grammar? If not, then #1 doesn’t belong on the ERRORIST page, but on a page devoted to spelling mistakes (surely there are many of these). If so, then he’s just another one of the It’s All Grammar crowd.

From a 7/10/04 posting of mine to Language Log:

To PITS, People In The Street, “grammar” embraces pretty much everything having to do with language, spoken or written, so long as it’s regulated in some way: syntax, morphology, word choice, pronunciation, politeness, discourse organization, clarity and effectiveness, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, bibliographic style, whatever.

— an idea pursued futher in a 2/22/12 posting “It’s All Grammar” on this blog:

why do people think of such a diverse collection of phenomena … as constituting a natural category?

The short answer: they all involve aspects of language or language use that (some) people object to and so would (literally) regulate; they are domains of linguistic peeve-triggers. But otherwise there’s no common thread, and it’s a serious confusion to treat them as deeply similar. Meanwhile, there is a place for a term denoting ‘the system of regularities connecting the phonetics and semantics of a (variety of a) language’ [this is what linguists call a grammar]. If you really have to have a term for the great grab-bag of linguistic peeve-triggers taken together, I suggest garmmra.

Garmmra is a giant complaint space, not itself a system of regularities.

Here I lapse into Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Episode 29, even though it’s not strictly relevant:

Man: (… sees a door marked complaints; he goes in) I want to complain.

Man in charge: You want to complain … look at these shoes … I’ve only had them three weeks and the heels are worn right through.

Man: No, I want to complain about …

Man in charge: If you complain nothing happens … you might just as well not bother. My back hurts and … (the man exits, walks down the corridor and enters a room)

Man: I want to complain. (‘Spreaders’, who is just inside the door, hits man on the head with a mallet) Ooh!

Spreaders: No, no, no, hold your head like this, and then go ‘waaagh’! Try it again. (he hits him again)

Man: Waaghh!

Spreaders: Better. Better. But ‘waaaaaghh’! ‘Waaaagh’! Hold your hands here …

Man: No!

Spreaders: Now. (hits him)

Man: Waagh!

Spreaders: That’s it. That’s it. Good.

Man: Stop hitting me!

Spreaders: What?

Man: Stop hitting me.

Spreaders: Stop hitting you?

Man: Yes.

Spreaders: What did you come in here for then?

Man: I came here to complain.

Spreaders: Oh I’m sorry, that’s next door. It’s being hit on the head lessons in here.

Man: What a stupid concept.

Vulgar slang. This is the usage label NOAD2 gives for dick ‘penis’. As I’ve posted elsewhere, I think this label is no longer accurate: dick and cock are simply informal slang terms for the penis, everyday alternatives to the medical/technical label penis and the literary-toned phallus (and an assortment of euphemisms and playful synonyms).

On the other hand, in collocations with other bits of sexual slang, dick can certainly be vulgar — and eat dick ‘fellate’ (which figures prominently in #1)  is one such collocation. So #1 manages to talk dirty by pretending to be merely erroneous spelling.

Phallic word play. The great vehicle for word play on the name Dick was Richard Milhous Nixon, Tricky Dick, who was, among other things, a notable dick / dickhead ‘a stupid, irritating, or ridiculous person, particularly a man’ (NOAD2) — specifically, an irritating, meanspirited paranoid. If you disliked Nixon, you used his name against him; if you supported him, you used his name against his opponents, as in these (unofficial) campaign buttons from his 1972 presidential campaign against George McGovern (for the presidential term that was cut short by Watergate):


(Apparently, similar buttons were created for Nixon’s unsuccessful 1960 campaign against John F. Kennedy.)

And then, eventually, came the 1999 comedy movie Dick, discussed on this blog on 7/21/15. About Tricky Dick, played by Dan Hedaya (scruff-jowled, scowling) in an inspired piece of casting.

Meanwhile, there’s the sperm whale Moby-Dick of Melville’s novel. The novel was written well before dick ‘penis’ became current, but sperm whales do have huge (retractable) penises, about 2m (6.5ft) long, and whale penises do get some coverage in the book, so Moby-Dick and his penis have become subjects for cartoonists. Two items (whose sources I haven’t tracked down):



On the sperm whale, from Wikipedia:

The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), or cachalot, is the largest of the toothed whales and the largest toothed predator.

… From the early eighteenth century through the late 20th, the species was a prime target of whalers. The head of the whale contains a liquid wax called spermaceti, from which the whale derives its name. Spermaceti was used in lubricants, oil lamps, and candles. Ambergris, a waste product from its digestive system, is still used as a fixative in perfumes.

On-line conventions: hashtags, e-mail addresses, web addresses. The image in #1 contains both the hashtag #dickspizza and the abbreviated web address (URL) dickspizza.ca. Either one gets you to Dick’s Pizza, the Top Comic site on Sirius XM. Now, hashtags, e-mail addresss, and web addresses are allowed to have (some) parts with characters other than plain Latin letters (lower-case a-z, upper-case A-Z) and digits (0-9) and to distinguish case, but some systems don ‘t tolerate much beyond the basic characters and are insensitive to case (though hashtags begin with #, domain names (after the @) in e-mail addresses can have a hyphen in addition to letters and digits, and path names in URLs will have a period), so the custom has grown up for actual usage to revert to the plainest possible styles: all lower-case, with no special ASCII characters — in particular, no apostrophes — and no spaces.

The hashtags #Dick’s Pizza, #Dick’sPizza, #DicksPizza, and #dickspizza will (in principle) all get you to the racy Dick’s Pizza Twitter page, but usual practice is to go for the last, because it’s the simplest to type — a practice that eliminates the distinction between the common noun dick and the proper name Dick and the distinction between Pl and Poss forms of these nouns. (Similarly, #Je Suis Charlie, #JeSuisCharlie, and #jesuischarlie will, in principle, all get you to the Charlie Hebdo Twitter page, but amost everyone uses the last.) This custom has nothing to do with ordinary spelling; it’s all about on-line conventions. But it helps to set up the Dick’s Pizza joke.

There are similar restrictions (in many systems) on the names of image files. Here’s a full view of the Toronto storefront (note the bonus sexual word plays in DICK’S COMING SOON and DING DONG! WE DELIVER):


The name of the image file is DicksStorefront.jpg. On my system, the apostrophic Dick’sStorefront.jpg is unacceptable, as is a version with a space: Dicks Storefront.jpg. On the other hand, the system is case-sensitive: DicksStorefront.jpg, Dicksstorefront.jpg, dicksStorefront.jpg, and dicksstorefront.jpg are not equivalent.

4 Responses to “Risible (faux-)commercial name”

  1. Bigmacbear Says:

    Here in Seattle we have Dick’s Drive-in, which specializes in hamburgers, fries, and ice cream treats. Because most of the food is served in white paper bags, a number of Seattlites have remarked that “eat a bag of Dick’s” is not an insult here. 😉

  2. chrishansenhome Says:

    The one Nixon joke I recall vividly from his third Presidential campaign was a couplet: “Why change dicks in the middle of a screw?/Vote for Dick in ’72!”

  3. Ellen Says:

    That second cartoon looks very much like Phil Foglio’s style.

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