Syntacticians' hotels and bars

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A little while ago I posted here about the NP Hotel in Seattle, which inspired readers to suggest other syntactic establishments.

For instance, there's the Doctor Syntax Hotel (and bar) in Sandy Bay, Tasmania (suggested by Alan Walker and depicted below).

I haven't been able to find out where the name comes from, but I'm still looking. The hotel has no e-mail address, and I'm not willing to phone Australia, so it might be a while before I get the information by ordinary mail.

Then there are various X bars (or XBARs, or X-Bars). There's an upscale X bar in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. Its publicity describes it as "refreshing, delicious, and saucy" and offers you an opportunity to "recline under the stars in a canopied daybed", suggesting that the X in the name is supposed to suggest sexiness.

One Language Log reader sent me a photo of an X bar in the Bronx (off I-87), but it was taken on a cellphone through a bus window, and its quality is decidedly subpar, though the name of the bar is clear enough. It looks like there are, or have been, more than one dance club called "X bar" in the Bronx.

The connection to linguistics is through what's called "X-bar syntax" or "X-bar theory" (Wikipedia page here). (As an aside: the functions of the letter X in English expressions are extraordinarily multifarious.)

[Outside the world of linguistic terminology: Jonathan Lundell wrote to savor the name of a hotel in Oakland when he lived there, some years ago: the Hotel Coit (now the Davis-Coit Apartments), with a good Bay Area name (on Lillie Hitchcock Coit, see here) that is, however, sexually suggestive (as is, famously, Coit Tower). There's a Coit Tower Hotel in San Francisco, close to the tower, but somehow "Hotel Coit" sounds better than "Coit Hotel".]


  1. Jan Freeman said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 1:23 pm

    Hi Arnold,
    Mark Liberman posted about Doctor Syntax a while back; I have a picture of Doctor Syntax from the same series he shows. Look it up at the old Language Log site — sorry I don't have time to link right now!

    [(myl) "The discovery of Dr. Syntax", 4/11/2008. ]

  2. Dan T. said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

    There's a "Coit Rd." in Dallas, heading a long distance into the northern suburbs.

  3. Tom said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

    There is a pub in my wife's home town (Prudhoe, Northumberland) called the Doctor Syntax. I was told this was named after a famous local racehorse, something borne out by this site: which casts a little doubt as to whether the cartoon character mentioned in the previous article was named after the horse (from the 1820s) or the other way round.

    [(myl) Since Rowlandson and Combe's The Tour of Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque was published in Ackerman's Political Magazine between 1809 and 1811, and in book form in 1812, a horse from the 1820s must have been named after the character. ]

  4. Ron said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

    Turning from linguistics to physics: the Physics-Astronomy Building at the University of Washington (in Seattle) has a small cafe called the "h-bar".

  5. mgh said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

    And while in Australia, don't forget to stay at the Grammar View Motor Inn, in lovely downtown Toowoomba. The perfect place to rest your head after a night at Doctor Syntax.

  6. Estel said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

    And for the phonetics/phonology people, there's a restaurant called "Palatal" in Calgary – the sign amuses me, though I can't find a good online picture of it.

  7. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

    To Jan Freeman and Mark Liberman: I had this nagging feeling that I'd heard about Dr. Syntax before. So I allowed comments, to good advantage, as it turns out.

    A somewhat longer version of the story, from David Denison:

    From Coates, Richard. 2006. Names. In Richard M. Hogg & David Denison (eds.), A history of the English language, 312-51. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.316:

    "Some particular name may be traditionally associated with one category of things. But it would be simplistic to regard a name-form as in itself (e.g.) a personal name. Dr Syntax was a character invented by the writer William Combe. His versified exploits were very popular in the early 1800s and a famous racehorse, twice winner of the Preston Gold Cup, was named after him. A pub in Preston bears the name of the horse."

    As I wrote to Richard when the book was being put together, "There is or was a pub in Oldham called 'Dr. Syntax'. Certain friends never tired of pointing it out to me as somewhere I ought to go for a drink. (I never did.)"

    I have a copy of the book (The Tour of Doctor Syntax in search of the picturesque – a poem), complete with coloured illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson. Also a couple of cuttings from our local Oldham paper about the pub.

  8. D.O. said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 5:53 pm

    In Richland, WA there is a street named Log Lane. It is spelled on signs and maps as Log Ln. If you look at the names of streets nearby the pun is quite intended.

  9. Joe said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 6:06 pm

    Next time you're in Erice, Sicily, try the pastries at Pasticieria Maria Grammatica!

  10. Aaron Davies said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 7:03 pm

    when the columbia school of engineering naming rights were purchased by the fu foundation, i kept expecting someone to open a fu bar. so, tho, not that i know of.

    [(myl) It may comfort you to know that there are apparently Fu Bars in Auckland, Paris, Leicester, Los Angeles — and Manhattan.]

  11. Anonymous Coward said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 10:34 pm

    Ummm… SInce the turn of THIS century, phoning has generally been cheaper than a stamp. It hasn't been the Syntax for the last five months, and the person answering the phone doesn't know the origin. (Yes, phones do reach Tasmania, as long as the string doesn't get tangled)

    Doctor Syntax Hotel
    (03) 6223 6258
    139 Sandy Bay Rd
    Sandy Bay TAS 7005

  12. Simon Musgrave said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

    The building which house Computer Science at the University of Melbourne has a notice in its lifts which always tickles my linguist's fancy. There is an Upper Ground floor in this building, but the notice tells you: "UG -Access Restricted".

  13. Chris Allen said,

    May 3, 2009 @ 11:17 pm

    Oh that old NP Hotel? I gave them ten cents once. I got "Colorless green ideas" in return. Technically it is a noun phrase, but I still felt like I had been ripped off. Needless to say, I slept furiously that night.

  14. Matt Pearson said,

    May 4, 2009 @ 2:02 am

    Not a business, but… Portland, Oregon, has a Ross Island. The island is in the Willamette river, which flows through Portland. It is accessible only by boat, making ownership of a canoe an important Ross Island Constraint.

    When the LSA Annual Meeting is held in Portland a couple years from now, perhaps I'll organize an expedition of syntacticians to Ross Island so that we can determine whether it's a strong island or a weak island. (Either way, no adjunct faculty will be allowed on the expedition, since adjuncts can't escape islands.)

  15. Alice said,

    May 4, 2009 @ 2:04 am

    There's an upscale restaurant named Schwa in Chicago, for the phonologists in the group. Too bad it's too pricey for our lab dinners…

  16. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 4, 2009 @ 5:14 am

    To Alice: At first I wondered if the restaurant was connected to the (fictitious) Schwa Corporation, some information about which is available here. But apparently not:

    A schwa is an unstressed vowel. Some, like Michael Carlson, embrace it as a way of life. "'Schwa': I used it as a teenager-even younger than that. It was slang for relaxed," Carlson explains. Today he also uses it to describe his restaurant. (link)

  17. Ray Girvan said,

    May 4, 2009 @ 9:54 am

    I haven't been able to find out where the name comes from

    It's certainly old enough to have been directly inspired by the 19th century Doctor Syntax or the horse of that name.

    In Sandy Bay are the Clarendon Hotel, the Travellers' Rest, the River View Hotel, and the Doctor Syntax

    Bailliere's Tasmanian gazetteer and road guide, Robert Percy Whitworth, F F Bailliere, Published by F.F. Bailliere, 1877

    News items – see Australian Newspapers – show it to have had that name in the 1840s.

  18. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 4, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

    You'd think there must be a racehorse or a pub somewhere called Accidence, but I haven't been able to find one.

  19. Ray Girvan said,

    May 4, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

    On closer observation, I'd strongly suspect the Sandy Bay name to have a horse-racing origin, given it being until 2008 a Tasmanian TOTE outlet.

  20. Alex said,

    May 4, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

    If you use Skype, phoning Australia is much cheaper than sending a letter.

  21. Gerald Kelly said,

    May 5, 2009 @ 4:18 am

    Doctor Syntax is also the name of an album by Scottish singer Edwyn Collins….

    The cover of the album depicts Russian romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov

  22. Julia Williams said,

    May 19, 2009 @ 4:52 am

    There is a scruffy block of housing units near my house in Auckland called "Syntax Court". I've often wondered what judicial facilities it offered.

    Here clearly visible on Google street view:,174.844666&spn=0,359.965968&z=15&layer=c&cbll=-36.908949,174.839927&panoid=IpNj4b7DUVqrMZBTfs7xPA&cbp=12,18.57,,0,5

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