Three bulletins

From the annals of naming, a probably inevitable name for a wine blend. From the cartoon files, a recent SMBC with a classic grammar peeve that is newly relevant. And from the news for penises, the image of a bicycle turned into a penis.

Forward, silky, soft, and approachable. Their words, not mine. Not a slut of either sex, but a wine, from a winery in St. Helena:

Ménage à Trois California Red Wine: Fresh, ripe, jamlike fruit that is the calling card of California wine. Forward, silky, soft, and approachable. A delightful blend based on three varietals — Zinfandel [48%], Merlot [37%] and Cabernet Sauvignon [15%].

Yes, there was bound to be a three-varietal blend called Ménage à Trois:


On the parent company, with its own remarkable name (from Wikipedia)

Folie à Deux is a California winery in the Napa Valley that is part of the Trinchero Family Estates. One of its wines, the red blend Ménage à Trois, is the best-selling red wine in the United States and was named the “Wine Brand of the Year” for 2009.

Folie à Deux was founded in 1981 by two psychiatrists, who took the name from a psychiatric term for a fantasy or delusion shared by two people. In 2004 they sold the winery to the Trinchero Family Estates, a Napa Valley wine company owned and operated by the Trinchero family.

SMBC “They”. A recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon, on a matter that’s become freshly topical:


(In what follows, I’m going to be painfully careful about terminology, because otherwise things get totally balled up. Bear with me.)

First, on so-called “singular they” — the personal pronoun they used to refer to an individual rather than to a multiplicity, so perhaps better labeled as something like inviduating they. Individuating they belongs, however, to the grammatical category I label PL (vs. SG) — the labels PL and SG are not abbreviations for anything, much less definitions of the categories, but are only meant to allude to the fact that the categories are default-associated with multiplicative (vs. individuating) reference. I stress that PL and SG are morphosyntactic categories, playing important roles in mophology and syntax, especially in various “agreement” phenomena in syntax: for example, in English, verbs in finite clauses agree in the properties SG/PL with their subjects, and this is true of PL subjects whether those subjects have multiplicative reference or individuating reference:

Two people are at the door. They are angry. (multiplicative-reference PL subject they, PL-agreeing verb are)

Someone is at the door. They are angry. (individuating-reference PL subject they, PL-agreeing verb are)

IRPL (individuating-reference PL) they (also them, their, theirs, themselves) has been with us in English for hundreds of years, but only in certain contexts, especially in sex-general uses, where the sex of the referent is unknown or unimportant; in such contexts, IRPL they is the natural alternative to the awkward he or she or he/she or (s)he or to he used as a sexually generic pronoun.

But of course some people go bonkers over IRPLs, which they see as by definition impossible (because “contradictory”).

In the SMBC cartoon, that’s where things stand, with the added sting of the (equally pointless) fuss over data used as M(ass) SG rather than C(ount) PL.

What’s been added to this is the desire of some genderqueer people to adopt IRPL they as their pronoun of choice for self-reference. The referent is a specific human being (in contrast to the generic-indefinite uses of IRPL they above), someone you can look at and point to:

A: I am angry.

B (observing A, talking about A to someone else): They are angry.

As observers of the changing pronoun scene (recently, Kory Stamper and John McWhorter, in sources I have no easy access to) have pointed out, using IRPL they this way takes a bit of practice, but if that’s what people want, we can learn to do it.

(In an attempt to be friendly, you might call me Arnie, but I just hate that address term, so if you respect my wishes, you’ll call me Arnold instead. C’mon, you can learn to do it.)

The news for penises: on a hillside in Devon. (Hat tip to Kim Darnell.) From the BBC news on 9/4/18, “Capstone Hill Tour of Britain bike turned into penis”:


Pranksters have turned a giant bicycle created to celebrate the Tour of Britain into a giant penis.

Locals in Ilfracombe, Devon, got a “rude awakening” when they spotted the naughty artwork on the side of Capstone Hill on Tuesday morning.

The bike, made out of cardboard and reclaimed plastic, was commissioned by a local environment initiative.

[The rearrangement] appeared during the second stage of the cycling race, which ran from Cranbrook to Barnstaple.

A rudimentary penis, but a penis nonetheless.


4 Responses to “Three bulletins”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    When I worked for the Harris Poll, way way back in the dark 1970’s and 80’s, Lou Harris (relatively recently deceased) was just past his prime, as he’d sold the company to an accounting firm, bought it back, then sold it again to a large publishing conglomerate. However, there was one thing that he insisted on (and it was important to us in the typing pool): that the word “data” was plural. No “data is” was allowed to sully his reports. I suspect that today his successors in the business are less dogmatic.

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    Interesting choice of adjectives by the wine people. I would expect a blend of those three varietals to be fairly assertive.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Indeed, especially since Zinfandel is the largest contributor. The wine is, in fact, assertive. And, as the ad copy says, jamlike (though without the sweetness of jam or the sexual undertones in the word jam).

  3. Briefly: the mouse that peeved | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] on some points and viciously peeving on others, as in this SMBC cartoon in the second bulletin of my 9/6/18 posting “Three […]

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