August 20, 2006

going on vacation

guess who's going to dog prison, eh, to the doggie hotel today?

August 16, 2006

waist management

this week's project runway episode was supposed to teach us something about waste management. however, it turned out to be a lesson on a different kind of /weist/*

who was safe, who was out, who was in the top three? let's play this game in three steps, based purely on linguistic evidence:

  1. do you recognize which comments are comments about the same dress?

  2. who made which comment?

  3. based on these comments, which dress should end up in which category (safe / out/ top)?

  • A. it was really noisy
  • B. costumy.
  • C. it's ugly-beautiful.
  • D. incredible garment. it's stunning.
  • E. hot and glamorous
  • F. an elegant joke.
  • G. looks like a straitjacket.
  • H. magic. absolutely stunning.
  • I. bizarr and artsy. it turns me on.
  • J. preposterous! a big disaster!
  • K. this was art!
  • L. she looks like a paper brioche.
  • M. an atrocious mistake
  • O. frankenstein!
  • P. she looks like fat minnie mouse.




here's the answer to question 1:
do you recognize which comments are comments about the same dress?

  • A. it was really noisy
  • B. costumy.
  • C. it's ugly-beautiful./D. incredible garment. it's stunning.
  • E. hot and glamorous
  • F. an elegant joke /G. looks like a straitjacket.
  • H. magic. absolutely stunning.
  • I. bizarr and artsy. it turns me on. /J. preposterous! a big disaster!
  • K. this was art!/ L. she looks like a paper brioche. / P. she looks like fat minnie mouse.
  • M. an atrocious mistake /O. frankenstein



and here's the answer to question 2:
who made which comment?

  • A. it was really noisy. (Tim about Robert's dress)
  • B. costumy. (Tim about Angela's dress)
  • C. it's ugly-beautiful. (Michael Kors about Jeffrey's dress.)
  • D. incredible garment. it's stunning. (Tim about Jeffrey's dress)
  • E. hot and glamorous (the judges about Michael's dress)
  • F. an elegant joke. (Laura about Laura's dress)
  • G. looks like a straitjacket.** (Robert about Laura's dress)
  • H. magic. absolutely stunning. (Tim about Uli's dress)
  • I. bizarr and artsy. it turns me on. (Vincent about Vincent's dress)
  • J. preposterous! a big disaster! (Tim about Vincent's dress)
  • K. this was art! (Tim about Alison's dress)
  • L. she looks like a paper brioche. (Michael Kors about Alison's dress)
  • M. an atrocious mistake (Kayne about Kayne's dress)
  • O. frankenstein! (Nina Garcia about Kayne's dress)
  • P. she looks like fat minnie mouse. (Heidi about Alison's dress)

finally, here's the answer to question 3:
based on these comments,
which dress is likely to end up in which category (safe / out/ top)?

based on the linguistic evidence, one would think that uli would be in the top group. she was, but, alas, the judges didn't realize it. so she was only "safe". instead, the judges praised laura's dress for its beauty and minimalism. why is it that the female designers tend to design clothes that look like what they are wearing themselves? just think about it -- angela's preference for bubble skirts, laura's addiction to plunging necklines, uli's easy-looking flowy dresses... anyway, made out of a bag for those packaging peanuts, laura's dress was a stark contrast to jeffrey's garment, a deconstructed, painted, aggressive-looking dress made of newspaper pages, with a "genius" (rachel zoe, dispensible celebrity judge) trompe l'oeil*** belt. overall, "hot and glamorous" trumps "ugly-beautiful", and so michael was declared the winner of the challenge.

judging from the linguistic evidence, one would think that kayne or vincent would have been voted off. it's better to look like "minnie mouse" than to look like "frankenstein", no? and "big disaster" sounds just a tad less promising than "this was art", or so one would think. between kayne and vincent, kayne had the advantage of at least recognizing that his creation was hideous (plus he had already shown some talent on the show), while the only redeeming quality vincent seems to have is me think about this a little.

however, and here's the real surprise, neither vincent nor kayne was "out". after a lot of talking about innovation and originality and wearability and flow of material, it all came down to the following question, asked by heidi klum:

"Would I rather look like a fat Minnie Mouse,
or would I want to look slim and long?”

so, in the end this was really about waist management. didn't they tell you that, alison? if only you were a male designer, you might have been forgiven for being "so careless with the female form".

i need a vacation. see you all back in two weeks.

* two homonyms are two words that sound alike (and often are also spelled alike) but that do not share a common root and are actually two distinct words, such as "bark" (the sound produced by a dog) and "bark" (the layer around a tree). in this case, waste and waist are really just homophones -- they sound alike, but they are not spelled alike. "waste" goes back to the latin word "vastus" (waste, desert, unoccupied), while "waist", according to the OED, is of germanic/scandinavian origin. the OED specifically notes that the spelling "waist" - with an "i" in the middle -- was rare until it was introduced by samuel johnson in his famous 1755 dictionary.

** another homonym pair: "straight" and "strait" -- the latter is of romance origin and means something like "close" or "narrow", the former is of germanic origin and is related to "stretch" (the "gh" was pronounced in old english, just as in "night" or "knight", hence the spelling). a straitjacket is a tight jacket, not one that keeps you upright, or straight.

*** on the bravo website (tim's take), somebody didn't make the effort of looking up how to spell
trompe l'oeil correctly. the word is from french, and it's literal meaning is "deceive the eye". jeff's dress had a cool painted belt, not a real fabric or leather belt.

August 12, 2006

Madonna mia!

Justice was done in episode 5 of Project Runway: Michael won with a daring, self-assured, perfectly executed hot pants suit in pink, recreating a fierce Pam Grier, and Bradley flopped with a sad, uninspired tinfoil-y outfit that did not manage to capture any of Cher's ironic, over-the-top fashion sense. Heidi Klum paid homage to her Germanic roots in some kind of dirndl-meets-puss'n'boots outfit (see Blogging Project Runway for details) -- perhaps she played truth or dare recently, who knows.

Overall, not much to complain about, so let's just talk about the linguistic basics: The designers had to modernize the look of a "fashion icon" – and if "icon" makes you think of gilded representations of saints and madonnas, you're on the right track, though the challenge was not about that kind of madonna (Italian for "my lady").

The original meaning of fashion is "shape" (first documented in the year 1300). Something that was "out of fashion" was something that was out of shape, not well made, or to use a PR term, not well executed. The word comes from Old French (facon) and ultimately from the Latin verb facere (to make). That means that fashion and fact share the same root.

Over time, many uses of the noun fashion have gone, well, out of fashion, others have emerged. The current predominant use ("conventional usage in dress, mode of life, etc., esp. as observed in the upper circles of society") is first documented in Hamlet. A recent addition to English vocabular is fashionista ("a person employed in the creation or promotion of high fashion"), which is formed with a suffix from Spanish ("-ista"), modeled after words such as Sandinista (after the Nicaraguan leader). According to the OED it has been around since 1993. It will be interesting to observe whether or not this affix will become productive in English (I've come across the word "Blairista", a negatively connotated term for supporters of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair).

Icon comes from the Greek word for "image". It used to mean "image" quite literally (16th century), and has now taken on various more specialized meanings. Among other things, an "icon" can be a representation of a saint, a small visual representation of something on a computer screen (a recent invention), and, finally "a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol, esp. of a culture or movement; a person, institution, etc., considered worthy of admiration or respect". According to the OED, the latter use can be traced back to around 1950 (the same time that "fashionista" was first used), but the fact that the OED only added the word to the dictionary in 2001 tells you that for a long time they were not sure whether or not the word would develop staying power. I just did a Google search for "fashion icon", and it came up with 339,000 hits. Looks like staying power to me.

August 03, 2006

Of squids and villains

Project Runway, Episode 4: "This is the challenge that everyone has been waiting for".

Sadly, after all the hype generated by the previews the actual episode lacked sparkle. That's what you get when you take out the dogs and let oceanless squids (Bradley about Bradley) and love-starved hyenas (Robert about I-love-color-I'm-from-the-South Kayne) roam. The challenge was quite drab (did you know that "drab" is also a color?), the designs were nothing to rave about, and the contestant who got the boot for foul play was the contestant who all along had been portrayed as not exactly being the most,er, ruthful. His expertise was "not in jersey"* – and not in playing by the rules either.

"I always break the rules a tiny bit because I think I'm right".

Ah well, sometimes a rose is just a rose, and a villain** just a villain (sorry, Keith, that's a competition you can't win - everybody's favorite villain is Severus Snape, and he still has the chance to redeem itself). Tim Gunn was concerned that he had been ostracized*** by the other constestants, but he soon learned that there was a reason. When confronted by Tim about the design books he kept in his room (and supposedly took into the shower at night), Keith looked a bit like a deer caught in headlights and put up no fight. He left. He's not really that much of a good story teller after all.

The challenge was to design a three-piece outfit that's "ageless" and at the same time "on the edge", plus it must be "ready for Macy's". Tricky****, eh? One good thing about it: finally, we'd get to see some pants.

Bonnie, self-declared designer for the masses, who thought her design was "a little bit fashionable, a little bit safe" found out that it was neither, and was "out". You know you are in real trouble if the judges use the kiss-of-death adjective "dowdy" and if Heidi Klum points out that your design looks "cheap, no?". She likes her plants shiny. Go Heidi!

Ms. Bubble Skirt, Angela, who wisely changed her opinion about not doing sketches, was first selected as a team leader and later declared the winner. The inspiration for her outfit – now for sale at Macy's – was a sunrise over the Empire State Building, in case you didn't notice right away. (There's something that tells me that – unlike Jay McCarroll's Chrysler Building dressAngela's garment will forever be known as the Macy outfit with the rosettes rather than the "Empire State Building suit".) Heidi was very pleased that the outfit looked expensive. However, her judgment may have been impaired – clearly she was under some sort of bubble skirt spell of her own, or, judging from her culottes - if that's what they were -, she came to the show straight from her audition for the part of Romeo in an all-female post-modern Renaissance production.

Runner-up was Keith's truncated team, Jeffrey and Allison. They produced a garment with an upside down tank top, which reminded me of a fencing jacket, strap and all. It was pronounced sexy, beautiful, active, and hip.***** To everybody's surprise and disappointment, Team Robert's outfit was rather uncharming, with a skirt showing altogether too much tootie, sorry, wrong season, the judges criticized the split skirt for going "up her fanny".*****

I hope next week everybody will be back in the ocean, and that includes the sorely missed Big Orange Shark.


* Jersey (the material) is named after Jersey (the Channel island), known for its knitting industry.

**I see the word villain misspelled all over the Internet. Perhaps it helps to know that the word is actually related to villa. According to the OED, a villain originally was "a low-born base-minded rustic" – based on villa, which originally referred to a "country mansion or residence, together with a farm, farm-buildings".

*** The origin of the verb to ostracize is a custom in Ancient Greek whereby a citizen who was deemed dangerous to the community had to leave the city. A vote was held and the name of the person to be banished was written on tiles. The Greek word for tiles is ostracon.

****Tricky is related to treachery, but that's just an aside. Oh, just let me add that challenge "is originally the same word as calumny" ("False and malicious misrepresentation of the words or actions of others, calculated to injure their reputation; libellous detraction, slander"). Not to imply anything.

*****So when and how did "hip" become an adjective? Both OED and Webster consider "hip" a variant of "hep" ("well-informed, knowledgeable, ‘wise to’, up-to-date; smart, stylish"). The word and has been around since the early 20th century, but its exact origin is not known. One attempt to explain it runs as follows: "'Tis said that back in the 1890's Joe hep ran a saloon in Chicago...Although he never quite understood what was going on, he thought he did...Hence his name entered the argot as an ironic appellation for anyone who thought they knew but didn't. The ironic sense has now largely disappeared" (1941, from the linguistic journal American Speech, via OED).

*****Neither OED nor Webster list "tootie", but you can go to to look it up. Regarding fanny, one should note that in American English, it's used mainly to refer to someone's backside, while in British English it has, er, gender-specific meaning. This can account for embarrassing misunderstandings, as in the line "And three small boys on three bicycles smacked her young fanny in passing" (by Ezra Pound, via OED).