May 25, 2009

dark side of the moon

The NYT reports that due to tongue-in-cheek reviews on, a slightly esoteric T-shirt became a bestseller.

Employing the snarky spirit of online humor, the review began: “This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that’s when the magic happened.” ... Like the butterfly wings creating the tornado, Mr. Govern inadvertently helped set off an almost impossible marketing bonanza and pop-culture craze: The shirt has been Amazon's top-selling item of apparel every day since May 19, and it has morphed into one of those instant icons of Internet culture.

Brian Govern, the law student who wrote the review, realizes that "it’s sad, but this is probably the most impact I’ll have on the world in my life."

The best thing about this story? It's this linguistic twist:

A competing T-shirt seller,, has already jumped in, promising a classy wolf shirt for refined tastes: “Have your wolf and eat it too with this modern take on a classic garment.” On an understated black background, it reads:

Three Wolves

Howling At

The Moon.

May 17, 2009

easy come, easy go

Much has been written about how fads emerge. A new study by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and Stanford University looks at how quickly American culture gains and loses its taste for things and why the two may be related. The starkest example, based on 120 years of census data, is baby names: The faster they come to prominence, the faster their use declines.

The graphs come out as a little small, click on the picture or look at the original here.

Among the names that fall into the "easy come, easy go" category are Betty (1930s), Debra (1950s), and Amy (1980s). Names without a lot of ups and downs include Ellen, Caroline, and Katherine. Recent fads among boys' names all seem to rhyme: Jayden, Jaden, Caden, Kaden, Aiden.  Exciting, eh?

Don't buy a puppy on impulse

It's Farmers' Market season again. You expect to see tomatoes, tulips, asparagus, morels. You don't expect to see this:

This is terrible. Selling a puppy as if it were a sack of potatoes. To anyone who's willing to pay $45 for a dog he/she doesn't know anything about from a person he/she doesn't know anything about and all that on a whim.

If you're thinking of buying a puppy (rather than adopting an older dog from a rescue or a shelter), please read these notes by the Humane Society.

May 15, 2009

veni, vidi, exii (?)

When I wrote my dissertation in English linguistics, the regulations of the Graduate School stated explicitly that it could be written in Latin. We also had to document that we had studied Latin for at least 5 years. But at least our diplomas were not in Latin. Others are, even at universities that do not require any knowledge of Latin at all. What's the point?

CONGRATULATIONS. You are graduating this month with a Baccalaureatus Scientiae in Compertis ad Salutem Pertinentibus Administrandis. It sounds impressive, but what does it have to do with your degree in health information management? Almost no one knows, and that’s why the Latin diploma needs to go.

Latin is a beautiful language and a relief from the incessant novelty and informality of the modern age. But when it’s used on diplomas, the effect is to obfuscate, not edify; its function is to overawe, not delight. The goal of education is the creation and transmission of knowledge — not the creation and transmission of prestige. Why, then, celebrate that education with a document that prizes grandiosity over communication?

Read the whole piece, written by a classics professor, here.

May 12, 2009

a better day is possiblé

Have you seen the new commercials for McDonald's "McCafé"? They're very accent-rich. Which, according to Marlena Peleo-Lazar, McDonald's chief creative officer, shows that there is "a wit and charm to the brand, and to the products and to McDonald's." Just in case you didn't know that.

May 11, 2009

stress relievers

It's exam week. Our College Library tries hard to cheer students up. It offers free coffee doughnuts, organizes visits by the university mascot, and links to workshops on breathing techniques and relaxation exercises. However, without a doubt, the best stress-relieving technique it offers is inviting dogs into the library: Dogs on call teams normally visit children in hospital or elderly people in nursing homes, or they participate in the R.E.A.D. program, but today they paid a visit to the College Library and gave studens a break from studying. I wish they would come every week!

May 06, 2009

baby names regularized

This may strike some people as typically German, 

In a split decision on Tuesday, the German Constitutional Court upheld a ban on married people combining already-hyphenated names, forbidding last names of three parts or more. [...] Germany takes a highly regimented approach to naming. Children’s names must be approved by local authorities, and there is a reference work, the International Handbook of Forenames, to guide them. 

...but it's actually a good measure to avoid names like these:
What is a nature realated name for a boy? I am pregnant with a boy and I already have four girls. My girls are Summer SkiesAutumn NightApril Shower, and Spring Flower. Please help I am due in November.