Archive for September, 2019

What was We thinking?

September 30, 2019

The header is the beginning of a piece in the NYT Opinion section on-line on 9/25/19 (in print 9/26), “Open Offices Are a Capitalist Dead End: One story from WeWork’s inevitable blow-up: Our offices offer few spaces for deep work” by Farhad Manjoo. The first two paragraphs:

What was We thinking? That’s the only question worth asking now about the clowncar start-up known as The We Company, the money-burning, co-working behemoth whose best-known brand is WeWork.

What’s a WeWork? What WeWork works on is work. The We Company takes out long-term leases on in-demand office buildings in more than 100 cities across the globe (lately, it’s even been buying its own buildings). Then We redesigns, furnishes and variously modularizes the digs, aiming to profitably sublease small and large chunks of office space to start-ups and even big companies. Well, profitable in theory: The We Company lost $1.7 billion last year.

The business story is remarkable — you don’t see expressions like clowncar start-up in the pages of the NYT very often — but my point here is a narrow linguistic one and (at first glance) an extremely simple one, which is that

Names Is Names (NIN): A proper name is a name.

Which is to say:

A proper name is a (meaningful) expression, and not merely a form. So that, in general, a proper name has the morphosyntax appropriate to any expression with the referent of that name.

/wi/ (conventionally spelled We) is the name of a company and consequently has the morphosyntax of such a name: 3sg verb agreement (We is ambitious), possessive /wiz/ (We’s business model), etc.  — like /ǽpǝl/ (conventionally spelled Apple): Apple is ambitious, Apple’s business model. The fact that English also has a 1pl pronoun /wi/ (conventionally spelled we) — (we are ambitious, our business model) — is entertaining, but essentially irrelevant, even though the name of the company was chosen with the pronoun in mind. The name was a little joke, a pun on the slant, and now Farhad Manjoo for the NYT has wielded it for a bigger joke, salting his article with instances of conspicuously 3sg (rather than 1pl) We.

Well, I will say a bit about the business story, because it’s funny-awful all on its own, and I’ll say a little more about NIN, both when it’s sturdy and straightforward (as here) and when it’s entangled in complexities.

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The sea eagle

September 30, 2019

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine (in print) was “The Voyages Issue: Photographic dispatches from the extremities of the earth”, with one report from remote parts of Norway: “Majesty on the Wing: Enormous and indefatigable, sea eagles turn their daily hunt into a thrilling display of aerial dominance”. The introductory photo:


(#1) (photographs by Paolo Pellgrin, text by Helen Macdonald)

Notable to me because the sea eagle, or ern(e), is my onomastic totem animal, Arnold being etymologically the ‘eagle’ stem arn-/ern- + a variant of the ‘adult, strong’ stem alt-/ald-. I am eagle-strong (you may snicker at this; most people do). (In defense of my parents, Arnold is a common Swiss-German name; probably no one in the family had any idea of its etymology.)

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Quid pro Joe

September 30, 2019

From the Washington Examiner, “[REDACTED] campaign calls Biden ‘Quid Pro Joe’ and says whistleblower is ‘in favor of one of the corrupt 2020 Democrats’” by Mike Brest on 9/29/19:

The [Helmet Grabpussy] campaign flipped the script on allegations of a “quid pro quo” between President [Grabpussy] and Ukraine, instead labeling former Vice President Joe Biden as “Quid Pro Joe” and alleging the whistleblower is politically motivated.

Ah, a political pun, based on what was once a Latin term mostly from the legal and political worlds, but is now a more generally used plain English noun /kwɪdprokwó/ (with a regular plural, /kwɪdprokwóz/.

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Musclemen from Mars

September 29, 2019

(There will be rampant male shirtlessness. Just a friendly warning, or an invitation, depending on your tastes.)

It’s a Zippy strip (today’s!). It’s another gender note (about masculinity). It’s yet another shirtless posting (shirtlessness as a prime masculinity display, in fact.) It’s about umliterature (physique magazines, in particular). And about camp (Flash Gordon). And of course, since the arousing shirtless campy musclemen are from Mars (or possibly Mongo), about SF. And finally, tucked in there inconspicuously in the last panel is an antique Griffithian self-referential surprise (from 1973):

(#1)

Male superheroes are extravagant embodiments of masculinity: they are, to start with, embodiments of great human power (conventionally associated with men), and then they have superhuman powers beyond that; their costumes are designed to encase their bodies, but tightly, so as to suggest, reveal, or exaggerate every bit of gendered anatomy (the broad shoulders, the musculature of the arms, torso, and thighs, and the genital package). (Beyond the powers and the costumes, there are the conventionally hyper-masculine faces.)

The strip begins with superheroes on this planet, but it ends, in the lower right corner, with (hunky) superheroes in space — “Musclemen from Mars” is what the Dingburgers are reading — and it turns out that space-traveling superheroes (as exemplified by Flash Gordon) are given to frequent bouts of shirtlessness (mostly while performing their feats of manly derring-do, but sometimes during the virtually obligatory shirtless torture scenes).

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Gender notes: the pinup push

September 28, 2019

(Dense with references to buttocks and their possible sexual portents, so not to everyone’s taste.)

From The Mary Sue site, “We’re All Kinds Of Obsessed With Nicola Scott’s Nightwing Drawing Highlighting His Assets: Gotham’s ass indeed”, by Kate Gardner on 9/20/19:


(#1) Dick Grayson evolves into pinup-push Nightwing (hat tip to Kim Darnell)

The title says it all. In her latest art depicting DC characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman throughout the years, comics artist Nicola Scott drew the evolution of Nightwing, a.k.a. Dick Grayson, ending with art of him in a pose usually reserved for male artists drawing female characters, and we’re totally obsessed with it. It’s about damn time that men had to push their tush out alongside their female counterparts.

A pose signifying (women’s) sexual availability, with a long history, but especially as made famous by movie star Betty Grable in 1943:

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Gender notes: transgender fashion models

September 28, 2019

From the attitude (UK) site on 9/11/18, “Underwear brand Marco Marco features all trans models at New York Fashion Week: The groundbreaking runway show featured some of our favourite transgender stars”:


(#1) Marco and the boys

A complex presentation. Male fashion models are typically presented as ideals of conventional masculinity, with the facial features, musculature, and gait and gestures of young but mature, very fit, straight men of good class and conventional lives. Transgender men, however, often aim for more machismo markers than is customary in fashion models: facial hair and bodybuilder musculature, in particular. Neither of these is modal or classy, but they do visibly perform the masculine gender role, so that they’re of considerable symbolic value.

Transgender men are then doing two things, in different contexts: sometimes they want to present themselves simply as men — to just be, unremarkably, guys. Sometimes there are practical reasons for men to reveal their trans status, but occasionally they want to display it as an accomplishment, as here; they did, after all, put a lot of effort into achieving this concordance between their sense of identity and their appearance.

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Present at the creation: the weaponization of sarcasm

September 25, 2019

A Mick Stevens Caveman cartoon in the 9/30/19 New Yorker (about to arrive in the mail), memorializing a signal moment in the cartoon Stone Age:


(#1) The weaponization of sarcasm in prehistoric times

The later history of weaponized sarcasm is vast, but certainly reaches one of its high points in 1970 in the career of British gangster Doug Piranha. During a period of perhaps 70 years sarcasm has spread to become, in the view of some cultural critics, absolutely pervasive in modern society, at least in the Anglophone world.

Meanwhile, the idea that elements of culture can be weaponized — used like bludgeons not just against individuals, but also to aggressively serve social or political purposes — has recently become fashionable.

(And then, of course, there’s the question of the semantic work that the derivational suffix –ize does in converting various groups of lexical items to verbs (as in N weapon > V weaponize).)

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In the cowboys’ locker room

September 24, 2019

In today’s mail, a wonderful conjunction of two images: a vintage ad for Spangles (a classic British sweet, or candy), subject (in modern eyes) to an entire constellation of giggly racy interpretations; and a Daily Jocks ad (quite fairly labeled NSFW) for an item of fetishwear, a Locker Gear jockstrap with an open pouch for easy access. As it happens — surprise! — Spangles bring with them allusions to the adventures of the American screen cowboy Hopalong Cassidy and his young sidekick Lucky Jenkins.

You can see where this is going when all three elements are set in motion.

I’ll start with the Spangles ad, with its unintentional silly sexiness, and then (after a page break) go on to a male couple experiencing raw mutual enjoyment of the Locker Gear jock; the image and my accompanying caption are not suitable for kids or the sexually modest. (It’s the most sexually explicit, and dramatically hot, underwear ad I’ve come across so far.)

But first (hat tip to Tim Evanson): “Handily packed, delicious to eat, SPANGLES are the fruitiest sweet!”:

(#1)

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A new address

September 22, 2019

noun address: 1 the particulars of the place where someone lives or an organization is situated: they exchanged addresses and agreed to keep in touch. … (NOAD, with some degree of vagueness)

No, not for me, for my department, and in fact for the whole university. From the Stanford Report on 9/18/19:

(#1)

Serra Mall will be renamed Jane Stanford Way and become the university’s official address on Oct. 7, honoring the university’s co-founder and implementing a proposal that came out of a review of campus historical names.

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Chocolate-covered amidst the statuary

September 21, 2019

Today’s Zippy takes us to the shore of Lake Erie, in the roadside realm of Dolly Dimples (but, startlingly, it will end with the minstrel-show character Rastus and the Cream of Wheat box; you never know where things will go these days):

(#1)

DD is actually selling chocolates, statuary, and tchotchkes, not hamburgers. Her head is indeed unrealistically gigantic, but even with this selling point she’s probably not going to leave Silver Lake NY to pursue a failed movie career in L.A. (note the whimsical tense-aspect-mood semantics of intending to pursue a failed career).

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