The famed San Francisco columnist Herb Caen had a regular feature called “Namephreaks”, which featured people whose names are related to their occupations. Well, meet Carla J. Dove, director of the Feather Identification Lab in the National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Dove is in charge of identifying the birds that hit US Airways Flight 1549 and forced it to crash-land in the Hudson River.
Jan 23 2009
Sarah Lyall of The New York Times has just published an article about places in the UK with… unfortunate names. One such place is Crapstone, Devon. One of its residents has taken to telling people that “It’s spelled ‘crap,’ as in crap.” And pity the people who live in Butt Hole Road, South Yorkshire: pizza companies hang up when they say their address, thinking it’s a prank call.
Ever methodical, the Gray Lady included a map of some of these spots. It would make for a great road trip in England! After gazing at the historical colleges of Cambridge, why not take a side trip to nearby Titty Ho?
Americans might now be chuckling about those quaint Brits with their funny names. They should look closer to home, such as at Bald Knob, Arkansas or Hicksville, Ohio. (Thanks to the good people at Squidoo for collecting all too many such place names.)
My favorite poorly-named town would have to be Hell, Michigan, because I lived 15 miles away, at Ann Arbor, for 3 years.
Jan 17 2009
A snowclone is a sentence template that can be used to construct many similar phrases. For example, the snowclone “X is the new Y” has been used extensively, e.g.: “White is the new black”, “40 is the new 30″, and “Snowclone is the new Cliché”.
My favorite snowclone is “In Soviet Russia, X Y’s You”. I find these jokes endlessly amusing, and it is my earnest belief that everyone else does, too. For example:
My mom: I’m going to program the VCR to record the news.
Me: In Soviet Russia, VCRs program you!
Neighbor: This bag? It’s dog food.
Me: In Soviet Russia, dogs feed you!
Coworker: Oren, can you help me debug this program? Something’s not right.
Me: In Soviet Russia, programs debug you!
Coworker: Never mind, I’ll ask Larry.
A snowclone is born
Here in Israel a new snowclone was recently coined, courtesy of our upcoming elections. Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, is one of the contenders in the elections but trails behind two more popular politicians. Barak is considered smart and capable, but he’s also viewed as calculating and aloof, and he has a reputation for discarding his allies when he doesn’t need them anymore. Barak’s campaign managers decided to tackle this reputation with a series of ads that, unusually for Israeli politicians, poke fun at the candidate.
The ad campaign began with huge outdoor signs that listed Barak’s well-known flaws: “Not a pal”, “Not trendy”, “Not nice”.
After a few days the signs were replaced. In the new signs, the snowclone was completed: “Not a pal. A leader”.
The snowclone spreads
The ad campaign was wildly successful in capturing the public’s attention. Political analysts self-importantly explained how the ads were either clever, or self-defeating. Advertising executives debated whether mentioning a product’s negative attributes is a good idea. Satiric shows riffed on the ad campaign with glee. But the meme didn’t remain confined to the context of Ehud Barak’s election campaign. The phrase “Not X. Y” became instantly recognizable and was adapted to every possible context.
One internet poster, in a forum for copywriters, said that the ad campaign makes Ehud Barak seem like a historical figure that was also known for being a strong leader:
Predictably, sports editors were quick to seize on the snowclone to spice up their stories. For example, one article described a basketball team’s new and tough-minded coach as “Not a pal. A coach”:
World-affairs stories were next. This story describes Putin’s foray into painting, which contrasts with his well-known tough image. The title is “Not a hunter, a painter: Vladimir Putin’s gentle side”.
Yesterday the snowclone scored a major coupe, which cements its leading position in Israeli culture. Here is the front page of yesterday’s Yedioth Ahronoth, the most widely-read newspaper in Israel. It prominently displays a teaser for an interview with Gabi Ashkenazi, the current CJCS (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), with the following title: “Not a pal. CJCS.”
In the same issue of Yedioth Ahronoth, there was a story in the entertainment section about the difficulty of having famous actors portray characters that are different from their well-known public image. The story mentioned Brad Pitt’s performance in his new movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where he portrays an old man for a large part of the movie. The accompanying photo had the following caption: “Not an icon. An actor.”
Two mentions in one issue, including on the front page. Truly, the snowclone has arrived.
The snowclone has also spread to informal communications. The residents of one apartment building had a problem: people were putting trash in a decorative column near the building’s entrance. So they put up a sign: “Not an ashtray. Not a trash can.” Some wit added in handwriting: “A leader”.
Jan 17 2009
One of my favorite utilities is Steve Miller’s PureText. It lets you copy-and-paste text while removing all of the formatting. This is extremely useful; in fact, I used it twice just while writing this blog post.
For example, I often want to copy code snippets from my IDE, Eclipse, into Microsoft Word. Here’s what the code looks like in Eclipse:
And here’s what it looks like after pasting into Word:
I blame Bill Gates.
However, with PureText, I simply paste using a different shortcut (Windows+V), and get only the text, without any of the formatting:
(By the way, Microsoft Word allows you to remove formatting from pasted text, but only after you paste it. Using PureText is faster, and it works with all applications; not just Word.)