My Pokemon Namesake

We Ochwats have an unfair advantage in the irony department. For some, it takes until graduate school in the humanities to learn about the floating signifier (i.e., the sign that doesn’t point to an actual object, or an agreed-upon meaning). In fact, we Ochwats not only float the signifier, we get it lost at sea.

For the last name Ochwat, not only is the referent sometimes lost, but the spelling is also a little free-floating. I have collected over 30 misspellings, which I grouped by relative ineptitude (bonus points, for example, went to getting more than half the letters correct).

I’ve also answered to innumerable mispronunciations, and I once even accepted an award when the emcee said “John … uh …” (Yeah, they meant me.)

Now my children get to experience the same thing, and generate new and different mismanglings of the old, venerable and difficult name. For example, one of my kids recently got Ochwutat. Would you like some Ochwutats with that hamburger? Or, Nice ink, dude. I really like your Ochwutat.

This weekend, my son was looking through a Pokemon book, and turned a page to reveal: Oshawott. No, I’m not kidding. That’s his name, and it even gets 4 out of 6 letters in the correct order (O, H, W, T), which is far more than other inept humans have managed with mine.

What is this thing? He looks like a depressed love child of a panda and an otter, cursed to wear a frilled sweater containing an extremely unfortunate illustration of a penis.

In search of answers, I consulted “Bulbpapedia,” the Pokemon encyclopedia, and found an entry for him.

Turns out Oshawott, aka ミジュマル Mijumaru, is one pathetic-sounding bulbaped, especially because his “gender ratio” is slightly hazy 87.5% male, 12.5% female, and his Breeding is “field group,” and “21 cycles (5355 minimum steps)” … which, if true, means Cosmo is going to have to come up with another 5,000 or so steps to help sad little Oshawott get it on.

There’s even a breeding chart with an entire column labeled “father,” and icons for 75 potential fathers in categories like “Night Slash,” “Brine,” and “Screech.” Well no wonder Otter Boy is looking a little down in the mouth. If you ask him “Who’s your daddy?” he needs to consult a frickin’ chart, and hope its not someone from a Pokemon biker gang.

And what’s with that doinker logo on his sweater?

Oshawott’s torso is light blue, and decorated with a pale yellow seashell feature in the center. Made out of keratin, this appendage, called a “scalchop“, can be removed and used in various ways; mainly, as a weapon.

Oh, it’s a weapon! I followed the link, and there’s Ash Oshawott, proudly displaying it:

In this image, the weapon looks a lot less inappropriate. Like a little dirigible, maybe, or a football of doom. Anyhow. The sweater is a disaster, and we’re not going anywhere near the whole oedipal/father thing, or what “12.5% female” might mean, but at least he has a little keratin weapon thingy.

And I like that expression on his face, like he’s got it out because looking to start some shit.

Alright then. He must be one of us.

Quiz: Name that Product!

Let’s play a little game. I’ll give you three product names, and you try and guess what the products are. Okay? Here are the first three:

  • Rialto
  • San Martine
  • Rosario

It’s something exotic, right? Rialto is a movie theater name, and Rosario sounds like a Brazilian soccer players. So maybe they’re European sports cars?

  • Cabernet
  • San Raphael
  • Rochelle

Okay, not sports cars. You might give a car an incomprehensible genome name (E46 E series, or the CLK320), or if you’re Volkswagen, you might use bizarre-sounding names like Tiguan and Touareg 2, but you’d never name a sports car after a type of wine. The color, certainly — champagne, burgundy — but not the car itself. (Otherwise I’d be driving a Mickey’s Malt Liquor 40 Series.)

But I digress. Still, got to be exotic, right? Do you have a guess? No? Then let’s continue.

  • Palarre
  • Pillow Talk
  • Fables and Flowers

Hmm. With Palarre, I’m really thinking exotic, since it doesn’t even mean anything. But then … pillow talk? What do the sweet nothings whispered by lovers when they’re nekkid and amorous have to do with places like San Martine, or nonsense like Palarre? Maybe it’s lingerie?

Then: Fables and Flowers? That sounds like something from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Signature line of bedding and towels. Color me baffled.

Here are the last two:

  • Prairie Flowers
  • Laureate

Prairie Flowers has to be a scent, or a fabric pattern, right? But if that’s the case, what is Laureate? It means something worthy of honor or distinction, but if it were a product, I can only imagine a leather-bound notebook, perhaps, I dunno, burgundy-colored.

So … give up? Yeah, I would have been stumped too, only I happened to see the product list. But just to help a little more, I went to the company’s website, and pulled a few more names.

  • Portrait
  • Kathryn
  • Devonshire
  • Memoirs
  • Iron Works

… that help? No? Then how about …

  • Gabrielle
  • Cimarron
  • Pinoir

Give up? Okay, here’s the answer. They’re Kohler toilet models.

I bought a replacement flapper for my toilet. This is the package. Who woulda thunk?

Franglais of the Day

My sons go to a French immersion school, and from time to time that leads to some odd side-effects. But it also leads to curious dialogue.

This morning my little guy was coming to breakfast after working on a Lego creation. He said, “Moi, je fini de gas station.”

My older little guy, who was helping me set the kitchen table, said, “Well now you besoin de clean up.”

Eat Healthy the Good Language Way

If you’re wearing your grammar picky-pants, you know that “eat healthy” isn’t actually “good language” — It should be “eat healthily,” using an adverb. But I’ll rant about the decline of the adverb at some indefinite point in the future, when my picky-pants are back from the cleaners.

Today’s rant (Bonjour, Bonjour, c’est le rant du jour!) is brought to you by the good folks at Our Nation’s Fine Restaurants, and courtesy of Yahoo Health, which is writing about America’s Worst Breakfast Foods.

The worst kids’ meal (though Yahoo says “worst kids meal” — must we lament the decline of the proper use of the possessive as well?!) is the Denny’s Big Dipper French Toastix, with a whopping 770 calories and 71 g of fat. Holy childhood obesity, Batman!

The worst breakfast sandwich has 710 calories, 51 grams of fat, 2,250 mg of sodium — that’s congestive heart failure in one handy hockey puck!

Hardee's Monster Biscuit. It's what's for heart disease!

Hardee's Monster Biscuit: It's what's for heart disease!

The worst smoothie is the Smoothie King Grape Expectations II (40 oz.). Now, if you’re going to drink 40 ounces of anything other than water, it had better be malt liquor. But just in case you want to flood your guts with grape, it’ll come with 1,102 calories and 256 grams of sugar (same as 12 Haagen-Dazs bars). I gotta give props to our Yahoo nutrition expert for the apt description here: “this ‘drink’ should be renamed ‘diabetes in a glass.’ “

The worst omelet is the IHOP Big Steak Omelet (1,490 calories), and the worst breakfast in America is the Bob Evans Stacked and Stuffed Caramel Banana Pecan Hotcakes (“This bad boy packs in more than 75 percent of your calories for the day, along with more sugar and fat than nine glazed Dunkin’ Donuts, and nearly as much sodium as five Bloody Marys.”

Calories, fat, sodium, sugar — these have the whole smorgasbord. But they also have something else: bad names.

I mean, would you eat something called a “monster biscuit”? or a 40-oz. grape smoothie? Or “Toastix”? (“Made with genuine Foodex™ food-like products!”). Or think anything named “Big Steak” could be good for you?

Or for that matter, would anyone with a few grams of self-dignity order “Bob Evans Stacked and Stuffed Caramel Banana Pecan Hotcakes”? Bob Evans makes sausage. And these pancakes are stuffed. With caramel. Here’s a tip: if it takes nine damned words to describe a plate of pancakes, they’re pretty much gonna kill you.

And this is my point. In most cases*, you don’t need nutritional labels to know what to eat. If the language sounds bad, the food is practically assured to be. About to smack your lips on a Cinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll? God help you. Or if you still find the connection vague, just find some heavy person at the mall, follow them around for a while, and repeat after me: cinnabon … cinnabon … cinnabon

* That said, one  healthier alternative is a “Croissan’wich” (a name that gives me the heebie-jeebies), and another is “Kid’s D-Zone Smiley Alien Hotcakes.” But it gets murky here, because it’s not obvious that smiley aliens are WAY healthier than Big Dipper French. But look again: It’s the Kid’s D-Zone Smiley Alien Hotcakes. See that proper apostrophe use? It’s like a secret grammar/health code for fast-food dining cognoscenti.

Unless, of course, it was just dumb luck.

Twice a Week, or Twice a Month?

That’s the (ahem) eye-grabbing graphic for our company newsletter. While the name is unimaginative, it’s been around for a long, long time. We have a whip-smart marketer who hasn’t been around a long time, and she recently sent me an e-mail:

Doesn’t this [newsletter] come out bimonthly (twice a month)?

Speaking of being around for a while, English (it would seem) would have evolved a logical method of dealing with this. Then again, since the opiate-addled writers and performance artists have shown so convincingly, language is a virus from outer space, perhaps not. Here’s what one dictionary has to say about biweekly:

biweekly
(bī-wēk’lē) pronunciation

adj.
1. Happening every two weeks.
2. Happening twice a week; semiweekly.

A publication issued every two weeks.

adv.

1. Every two weeks.
2. Twice a week; semiweekly.

Great! In other words, it’s every two weeks — unless it’s every two months. Good thing your bus and train schedules are more precise than that, eh? So perhaps said marketer is right, and we should change it to “bimonthly.” Should we?

bimonthly
(bī-mŭnth’lē) pronunciation

adj.

1. Happening every two months.
2. Happening twice a month; semimonthly.

adv.

1. Once every two months.
2. Twice a month; semimonthly.

A bimonthly publication.

Hmm. Same problem. Thus and so, since our bulletin appears every two weeks and (in a long month) could appear three times, biweekly is more accurate. Or rather, less misleading. But only just. Semimonthly actually refers to the half-month, but the Semimonthly Sentinel just ain’t gonna fly.

The problem isn’t “weekly” or “monthly,” but “bi.” See, bi being bi (perhaps bi qua bi), it wants to have it both ways — that is, unless it doesn’t. A bisexual, after all, is interested in sex with both genders, not in sex with half of one. Then again, to bifurcate something is to separate it. To make it two, and to make it into half of one. Damned English.

But back to our Biweekly Bulletin conundrum. The most accurate adjective would be “forthnightly,” but I just can’t see anyone saying, “Hey folks, read the Fortnightly Flyer!”

Maybe it should be the Payday Post. Or maybe we should just say the hell with it and leave it as it is. After all, it’s still a lot less misleading than “Fox News.”

FaceBook’s Pronoun Confusion

FaceBook confronted me with this pop pronoun quiz today. His profile? Or her profile?

Ixnay on the oicechay, aceBookFay. I’m opting for (c): “John edited their profile.” (Though I like the absurdity of “John’s profile was edited by John.”)

WTF you say?

Here’s the rub. First, as William S. Burroughs said and Laurie Anderson sang, language is a virus from out of space. (This is apropos of not very much, but it sets the discussion on the right scientific footing, don’t you think?)

Second, as a page deep in the subdirectories of Washington State University so nicely puts it, “Using the plural pronoun (i.e, they) to refer to a single person of unspecified gender (i.e., him or her) is an old and honorable pattern in English, not a newfangled bit of degeneracy or a politically correct plot to avoid sexism.”

Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, the King James Bible, Lord Byron, and even the persnickety George Orwell all went pleural-gender-neutral instead of the clunky his-or-her. So take that, dreary pedants who insist on enforcing that bone-headed belief.

Now on FaceBook, anyone in their right mind (Oops! I meant his or her right mind) would just pick their his or her preferred gender, and let the massive FaceBook database ensure, that from this day on, that their his or her MiniFeed was never again confusing. Of course this too is absurd. How many of my friends won’t know my gender?

But there’s the point: it’s not about clearing up the confusion for my friends. It’s about clearing up the confusion for FaceBook.

True, by opting for the nonexistent (c), “John edited their profile” sounds like I edited a group’s profile, not a person’s. Like, I dunno, the group “When I was your age, Pluto was a planet.” Or, “I Use my Cell Phone to See in the Dark.” Or, “Enough with the Poking, Lets Just Have Sex.” Better yet, I should start a new FaceBook group, “I choose a gender-neutral Mini-Feed.”

Meantime, if FaceBook can’t make an educated guess at my gender, and is too timid to risk offending me by getting it wrong, well too bad. I’m just going abstain — at least, until I get lucky on the “Enough with the Poking” site.

Lastest Salvos from the Jargon Front

I was at a conference last week, which is a great opportunity to cope with jet lag. It’s also a fun way to hear the newest, latest in consulting jargon.

1) Single-Point Sensitive

What if you have a task or duty in your organization that’s single-point sensitive? Wow, that sounds bad … like you need a consultant, right? Actually, it means you only got one frickin’ guy to do the job. But should I ever get extruded from middle to upper management, I’m making a mental note not to say, “See, the problem is that we only got one frickin’ guy to do the job.”

Instead I’m going to say, “The problem is that the task is single-point sensitive.”

And all those junior middle managers are going to crap their pants extrude fecal matter in awe of my business acumen.

2) Boil the Ocean

I rather like this one. It has a verb in it, it’s punchy Anglo-Saxon instead of abstract Latin (see no. 10), and it’s even metaphoric. The super-smart consultant speaking used it like this: “you don’t want to turn all these features on at once and try to please everyone in the whole enterprise. Instead of trying to boil the ocean, you want to concentrate on a few features at a time.”

What’s funny, though, is that I heard it for the first time last Thursday, from said Australian consultant, in Florida. Then, only six days later, I heard an American executive use the same phrase at a software seminar. In Portland.

This too is going in my semisecret future-upper-management vocabulary.

3) Generate Some Verbiage

While toiling in middle management this week, I got an e-mail from one of the vendors I deal with who used this phrase. I love it! Instead of “write some copy,” or “add a comment” or something that’s the slightest bit … I dunno, clear, he used “generate some verbiage.” (Can you get any more Latin or meaningless than that? Did you catch that slight whiff of pejorative resemblance to a phrase like “excrete some feces”?)

Future middle managers take note: If you give me a report, and I thank you for generating verbiage, I might be damning you with faint praise.