What They Did II: The Movie Breakup

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I've always been fond of my 1997 Words & Stuff post What They Did: The Movie, featuring short, silly, and surreal bits of fiction and drama consisting entirely of movie titles.

Now a comedy group called POYKPAC has upped the ante with a great four-minute video, Movie Title Breakup. The dialogue consists entirely of 154 movie titles, the storyline makes significantly more sense than any of mine did, and the video helpfully shows the covers of the movies in question as they go. Very nicely done.

Back in December, linguistics grad student Gretchen McCulloch analyzed joke variants on Benedict Cumberbatch's name to see what the underlying patterns are. She gave more statistical detail in a post on her blog.

Interesting and fun discussion, but I found it odd (in the Toast article) that it took her a couple of iterations to come up with initial-syllable stress as a factor; that part seemed obvious to me. But maybe she was guiding readers through a process of figuring it out, rather than describing the actual process she went through.

I also would've liked to've seen some further discussion about whether secondary stress on the final syllable of each word is relevant, but secondary stress is tricky and might've been too much of a digression.

...I also found it interesting that some of the specific examples don't work for me; in particular, I would never have guessed that “Bombadil Rivendell” was a Cumberbatch variation. (At first I thought she was saying it was a non-valid example, but then she says it came from the generator.) I think my own personal rules for what sounds like a variant of his name are stricter than the ones implied by the name generator. Another example: “Beetlejuice Animorph” doesn't sound to me like a joke on “Benedict Cumberbatch” except in the context of discussing Cumberbatchian names.

And I think she may not go far enough in some directions. The PronunciationManual joke pronunciation video for Benedict Cumberbatch opts for “Bucket Crunderdunder,” which isn't a perfect variation but is a funny one. And I think if someone said “I'm a big fan of that actor Bucket Crunderdunder,” I would know who they were talking about. Though in large part that's because (as McCulloch mentions) if one of the names is really obvious, the other one doesn't have to be. In other words, the “Bucket” part is almost useless, but “Crunderdunder” carries the variation almost on its own.

(I think The Cumberbatch Variations would be a good Fake Ludlum Title.)

I'd also have liked to see her try to construct new variations to test her hypotheses. For example, we could start with a pair of three-syllable words with initial stress, like “Higgledy Piggledy,” and see whether transforming them in accordance with her rules produces a valid variation:

Ends in consonant: Higgledip Piggledip.

Begins with B and/or hard C sounds: Biggledip Kiggledip.

Second word ends in preferred consonant: Biggledip Kiggledish.

She said that a good variant should have at least three of the listed factors. I think this one probably works: “I'm a big fan of that actor Biggledip Kiggledish.” Probably close enough. I'll go on to add her other rules:

N or M between first two syllables: Bimmeldip Kinneldish.

Has æ in final syllable: Bimmeldip Kinneldash.

Yep, Bimmeldip Kinneldash is definitely a valid variation. (For best results, I would tweak it a bit to Bunnydip Kenneldash.) But that's also because using all five of her rules transforms any pair of dactylic words into being awfully close to the original name. So I think that part of what's going on with those rules is that they demonstrate the allowable variations for certain phonemes to “sound like” certain other phonemes to English speakers. Nasals sound similar, sibilants sound similar, etc. So if you take a word and replace the sounds in it with other ones that sound similar, then you'll get a word that sounds similar to the original.

To be clear: I'm not trying to disparage her rules! I think they're neat, and it's a good analysis, and the at-least-three part is especially interesting to me. I certainly would never have figured out most of this. So I don't intend this post as criticism; just exploring the ideas.

My favorite Unicode character name

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My favorite Unicode character name is LATIN SMALL LETTER P WITH SQUIRREL TAIL (U+A755).

The character itself is pretty cool too. If you're viewing this page in one of the few Unicode fonts that supports this character, you can see it here: ꝕ. Otherwise, follow the link for an image.

But the name is what I really love about it.

Unlubricated

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“Overhead he heard the tiny, unlubricated sound of a bat.” —Theodore Sturgeon, “Excalibur and the Atom,” 1951.

Reading these old Sturgeon stories is reminding me that prose can unashamedly use poetic metaphors. They're the kind of metaphors that never even occur to me to write, but I love reading them; maybe I should practice more.

I think of that kind of thing as having been more common in the '30s through the '50s than it is today; see also my Words & Stuff column (from 1999) on similes, featuring Leigh Brackett, Raymond Chandler, Edith Wharton, and Beryl Markham.

Unfortunate Forever Stamps

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I'm guessing most Americans know by now that the US Postal Service sells “Forever Stamps”; you buy a Forever Stamp at today's first-class one-ounce stamp price, and it will be good for the first ounce of regular first-class postage forever. And instead of a price on the face of the stamp, it says the word “forever.”

Which can result in interesting juxtapositions with the subject matter of the stamp.

Many such juxtapositions can be seen as reasonable declarations of, or hopes for, the longevity of the subject. For example, the Forever Stamp with the word “Freedom” on it seems like a reasonable thing to hope for. And the Forever Stamp with a picture of Dumbledore on it seems like a nice way to declare your interests.

But I recently got a sheet of stamps titled Made in America: Building a Nation, featuring black and white photos honoring America's industrial workers. As Lewis Hine, one of the featured photographers, wrote, “I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected[, and] I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.”

And sure, it's great to express an interest in remembering our industrial workers forever. But it nonetheless felt a little weird to me to use a stamp that showed (for example) a millinery apprentice, who I suspect did a lot of hard work for not much pay, with the word “forever” on it.

So I started wondering what more-unfortunate things stamps could show with the word “forever.”

But before I could post asking for suggestions, I came up with an answer that I think will be hard to top:

A 1984 stamp. With the words “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face.” And then the denomination “forever.”

...Still, I welcome other suggestions. And while I'm here, I may as well link to my similarly-themed license-plate-slogan challenge from 1997.

Death Metal English

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The editor of the heavy metal website Invisible Oranges provides a guide to Death Metal English.

A couple of sample translations from the article:

Normal English: “Commuting to work”
Death Metal English: “TRANSPORTATION OF THE WAGEBOUND UNTO THE NEXUS OF PERPETUAL QUOTIDIAN ENSLAVEMENT”
Normal English: “Thanks for explaining the train schedule”
Death Metal English: “PROFFERING GRATITUDE UPON THE CHRONOCRATION OF THE JUGGERNAUTS OF RETICULATED METALS AND FIRE”

because

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Half the people on my Facebook friends list have linked to an article by Megan Garber in the Atlantic titled “English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet,” about the growing use of the word because in the structure “because noun,” as in “because Internet” or “because FEELINGS” or “because Science!”

That article draws on a bunch of other recent articles from the linguistoblogosphere, including one by Stan Carey that goes into more detail and provides more links. The Atlantic also provides a cute followup by Alexis Madrigal categorizing becauses, which roundaboutly reminds me of an old column of mine, “Matt Brocchini Explains It All to You”; also of Jay and Elliott's Universal Explainer.

Anyway, I think the linguists' observations about because+noun are interesting (let's not call it “because-noun,” because confusing!), but so far I haven't seen anyone talk about it specifically as a shortening of the phrase “because of,” which seems to me to be the most likely derivation. It's expanded beyond that by now; in some contexts it can be thought of as short for “because that is” or “because I like” or all sorts of other things. But I think it's closer in structure to a shortened form of “because of” than to (for example) a shortened version of “because, hey,” which was one linguist's suggestion for an earlier similar construction.

Fake Ludlum titles

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Nice list of winners of Slate's 2012 Fake Robert Ludlum Title contest, along with notes on Salman Rushdie's Ludlumization of Shakespeare plays.

Some puns

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Uncle Dobe passed along a list of puns, many of which (to my surprise) I hadn't seen before, and some of which made me laugh out loud. Here's an abridged version of the list:

  • I tried to catch some fog. I mist.
  • When chemists die, they barium.
  • I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.
  • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
  • This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.
  • I'm reading a book about antigravity. I can't put it down.
  • I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.
  • The letter from the blood bank told me I had type A blood, but it was a type-O.
  • Class trip to the Coca-Cola factory—I hope there's no pop quiz.
  • The Energizer bunny has been arrested and charged with battery.
  • The old man didn't like his beard at first. Then it grew on him.
  • What does a clock do when it's hungry? It goes back four seconds.
  • I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
  • All the toilets in New York's police stations have been stolen. Police have nothing to go on.
  • Cartoonist found dead in home. Details are sketchy.
  • I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me!

Heh—some of these would make good secret yets.

Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony

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Someone mentioned the Emmy Awards the other day, and I realized I wasn't sure why they were called that. I figured they must have been named after some famous person named Emmy.

Turns out not:

[Television Academy] founder Syd Cassyd suggested “Ike,” the nickname for the television iconoscope tube. But with a national war hero named Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, Academy members thought they needed a less well-known name. Harry Lubcke, a pioneer television engineer and the third Academy president, suggested “Immy,” a term commonly used for the early image orthicon camera. The name stuck and was later modified to Emmy, which members thought was more appropriate for a female symbol.

So the Emmy awards are named after the image orthicon camera. I'm tickled by that—to me, that sounds like a newspaper award being called the Linies, for a linotype machine (or possible the Typos?), or a book award being named the Offies, for offset printing. Or even the Movies, for movable type. I wonder if there was ever a fanzine award called the Mimmies. Or Mimsies. Or Mimis.

Anyway, so it seemed amusing and unlikely to me that a major American entertainment award would be named after a piece of technology that was once used in its production or consumption. Until I remembered that the Grammy Award is named after the gramophone.

One might think, given this trend, that the Tony awards were maybe named after the Microtone, a clip-on microphone (that I just made up) first used on Broadway in 1932 (in my imagination), or the ToneTest, a clever little device for doing sound checks (that I also just made up). But no; the Tonys are named after Antoinette Perry, co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, the organization that gives the award. So much for the named-after-technology trend.

The other major award in this category, of course, is the Oscar. I figured that would be straightforward too, named after some then-famous film guy named Oscar, but it turns out the name's origins are mired in obscurity. Some of the claims:

  • Bette Davis named it after Harmon Oscar Nelson, her first husband.
  • Margaret Herrick (librarian for, and later executive director of, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) named it after her cousin Oscar Pierce.
  • Columnist Sidney Skolsky named it after a vaudeville joke.

Wikipedia also currently says it might've been named after Oscar Wilde, but the link to the alleged source for that claim is broken, and I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else. I was going to add “and it seems unlikely to me anyway,” but then it occurred to me that all of the other award-name origins listed in this entry also seemed unlikely to me, so apparently I'm not a good judge of these things.

sismance?

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Jackie pointed out (I'm paraphrasing) that we're now seeing bromance storylines with female characters. I did a quick Google for [female bromance], and found the following suggested terms:

  • womance (pronounced to rhyme with “romance”)
  • sismance
  • romansis
  • sistaffection

I don't like any of those terms, so I'm hoping that y'all can come up with something better. Any thoughts?

(Then again, I initially hated the term "bromance," but it's grown on me. (See also Jude Law on bromance.) So maybe I'll like these terms more when I'm more used to them.)

homophene

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Everyone knows about homophones. But I only just learned about homophenes: different words that look the same to a lip-reader.

See also A Lip Reader Deciphers The Umpire-Manager Arguments Of 2012.

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