Xy McXface

« previous post | next post »

Yesterday Google announced the open-source release of SyntaxNet,

an open-source neural network framework implemented in TensorFlow that provides a foundation for Natural Language Understanding (NLU) systems. Our release includes all the code needed to train new SyntaxNet models on your own data, as well as Parsey McParseface, an English parser that we have trained for you and that you can use to analyze English text.

I'll have more to say later about the framework, the English parser, and its results.

But for today I wanted to ask about the English parser's name, Parsey McParseface. This choice echoes Boaty McBoatface, the winner of the British government's online "Name Our Ship" campaign to choose the name for a new research vessel. The responsible Science Minister was Not Amused by the poll's result, and intervened to choose the fourth-place entry "RRS Sir David Attenborough" instead.

Perhaps the good people at Google meant their choice as a comment on this anti-democratic action. Or maybe they were just responding to the same memetic currents as the participants in the "Name Our Ship" poll.

But what interests me is when, where, and how the pattern Xy McXface emerged. I don't have time this morning to look into it, so I'm appealing to our readers to supply the answer.

Update — Apparently someone claiming the name of "Racist McShootface" has entered a bid of $65M for George Zimmerman's gun…

Update #2 — It's worth noting that the OED gives sense 2.f. of face:

With preceding nouns and adjectives designating types of faces; also applied to people regarded as having such faces (sometimes as terms of endearment, abuse, etc.): angel, baby, brass-, doll's, fat-, funny-, hatchet-face, etc.; (with the names of animals) dog's, fish-, frog-, hog's, kitten, monkey face, etc. Sometimes informally designating medical (esp. skin) conditions, as copper-, fiery-, frog-, moon-face, etc.; occasionally characterized by a day or month, as February, Friday-face.


  1. Matthew E said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 8:57 am

    I see this as an example of a general method of constructing names based on words, and the names don't have to be of exactly this format. The example I have in mind is an episode of Roseanne in which Martin Mull's character says to Roseanne that he's worried he's not really gay (maybe it's the episode where that character was marrying his longtime boyfriend?), and Roseanne answers, "You couldn't be any gayer if your name was Gay Gayerson!" I don't think that that was where this started, but I do think it was a relatively early example.

  2. Ginger Yellow said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 9:06 am

    Yes, there's definitely a long tradition of the form Expletive McExpletivesuffix, with face being one of the common suffixes, that the boat naming thing was likely riffing on.

  3. B said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 9:09 am

    I remember using a similar construction as a kid, Xy McZ, with X having one syllable and Z two, which entered in my family's lexicon after I complained about another parent in our carpool group being a "Speedy McLeadfoot." I think the construction came from "The Simpsons," but I can't remember what their phrase was.

  4. Matthew E said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 9:12 am

    B: I wonder if it was from the name of the faux-Irish chain restaurant "Tipsy McStagger's", a takeoff of the real-life "Philthy McNasty's".

  5. SamC said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 9:17 am

    I'm definitely more familiar with Xy McXerson – which has already been covered on Language Log in 2006:

    Or there's Xy McXX, like "Fatty McFatFat"

    I think it's combining that construction with the Xface one (eg "stupidface"). But I have no empirical evidence myself.

  6. GH said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 9:23 am

    The -face ending is also from playground insults ("buttface" etc.). I think the first version of the full form I heard was "Stupid McStupidface", which Google has a 2012 hit for: http://blogs.theprovince.com/2012/09/15/nfl-survivor-pool-game-of-the-week-cowboys-vs-seahawks-week-2/

  7. Ken S said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 9:25 am

    This reminds me of Jon Stewart's nickname for Donald Trump – "FuckFace Von ClownStick", which was on the Daily Show a few years ago and just mentioned in a recent interview with Stewart and David Axelrod.

    There's a bunch of examples of calling someone a word and dressing it up (with "Mc", "von", etc) to look like a name.

    [(myl) Going back 200 years, we find "Querkopf von Klubstick, Grammarian" in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 1817 Biographia Literaria…]

  8. Sawney said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 9:47 am

    There's a possible origin for the pattern (with the Gaelic patronymic prefix) in a Blackadder episode from1986 where Edmund talks about his Scottish cousin, MacAdder: "He's madder than Mad Jack McMad, the winner of last year's Mr Madman competition".

  9. Jim W said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 10:20 am

    The recent spate of these seems to date from this example ('Hooty McOwlface') from about three or four years ago that did the rounds extensively:


    I agree that the humour is quite reminiscent of Curtis/Elton era Blackadder…

  10. Guy said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 10:22 am

    I think this is a recent spike. In a recent competition to rename a school the joke name "Schooly McSchoolface" was suggested.

  11. Adam said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 10:34 am

    I don't know where it actually *originated* – clearly Boaty McBoatface wasn't the first thing to be named that way. But it's equally clear that Boaty McBoatface was absolutely the reason you're seeing so many things named that exact way – just in the past month, I've seen "Schoolie McSchoolface", "Trainy McTrainface", and now this.

  12. Adam said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 10:36 am

    edit: I forgot, also "Horsey McHorseface", and apparently Aer Lingus is actually talking about naming one of their planes "Planey McPlaneface". https://twitter.com/AerLingus/status/722162956319002625/photo/1

  13. EK said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 10:45 am

    The Simpsons quote I remember is Homer suggesting lewd names for Marge, one of which was "Hooty McBoob". There was also the popular viral image of an owl which had been named "Hooty McOwlface", which can be found here: https://img.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeed-static/static/2013-10/enhanced/webdr03/8/5/enhanced-buzz-823-1381225321-10.jpg

    It's definitely older than those examples, though, as other commenters have noted.

  14. EK said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 10:46 am

    (Apologies to Jim W, I hadn't seen his comment about Hooty McOwlface.)

  15. ngage92 said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 12:08 pm

    Jon Stewart was a big fan of the "Von" construction, with classic characters such as Doodle von Taintstain and Toppington von Monocle.

  16. Ernie in Berkeley said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 12:13 pm

    A variant on this: there are restaurants/clubs named "Filthy McNasty's" that go back to the '60s. One of them was started in Los Angeles in 1969, and the owner used that name for himself (he apparently died last month). Google shows others in Reno, NV, Belfast and London.

  17. Ernie in Berkeley said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 12:22 pm

    (I see that someone above posted "Philthy McNasty's)

  18. Shawn Maeder said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 2:13 pm

    In the ESL program at UMass, Boston we use McSampleson, Sample as the demo name on the forms we use for reporting student progress.

  19. Robot Therapist said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 4:38 pm


  20. Richard said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

    Fifteen years ago, David Rakoff said that people usually stereotyped him as either Jewy McHebrew or Fudgy McPacker.

  21. Chris C. said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 6:59 pm


    Obviously a bogus "Scottish" clan named for some bastard Sassanach forebear.

  22. Rubrick said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 7:45 pm

    While I'm saddened by the Science Minister's spineless choice, it would be worth it if there were a clean swap and Sir David changed his name to Boaty McBoatface. Or even Nature McNaturface.

  23. flipsockgrrl said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 7:59 pm

    I've been calling my (slightly myopic) cat Squinty McSquinterson for around 9-10 years; fairly certain I picked up the XX-y Mc-XX-son construction from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  24. lateposter mcslow said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 8:00 pm


    Including Charlie Brooker's famous Shouty McHeadwoundman among others

  25. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 8:37 pm

    Going back to 1953, we have "Too Many Daves" in The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss, featuring a long list of humorous name including Marvin O'Gravel Balloonface and Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate.

  26. Theophylact said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 9:20 pm

    Then today one "Racist McShootface" bid $65 million for George Zimmerman's gun (the one he used to kill Trayvon Martin).

  27. Taylor said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 10:04 pm

    Putting a date on it I knew Horace Silver recorded Filthy McNasty in 1960. Google books puts a mention of that name at 1916:


    Tits McGee does not show up in google books, surprisingly.

  28. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 13, 2016 @ 10:16 pm

    Katy Waldman's Slate piece in March, when Boaty McBoatface first made the news, is fairly comprehensive. Katy quotes me on the earlier "Xy McXerson" form, which I've dated to 2001.

  29. Bloix said,

    May 16, 2016 @ 8:16 am

    Twenty years ago or so, a character on the PBS kids' show "Arthur" yelled at another kid, "You're just a lie-y liar, you big lying lieface!" So the "face" thing at least has been around for a while.

  30. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 16, 2016 @ 8:25 am

    I'm belatedly pointing that when this subject came up at alt.usage.english, R H Draney added some references to Friends. An episode from season 6 has Sleepy Sleeperson, Smelly von Brown Shirt, and Cutie McPretty. Other episodes have Smokey Smokerson, Pervie Perverson, and Lovey Loverson.

  31. Richard Dunham said,

    May 16, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

    Simpson's Treehouse of Horror X, broadcast October 31, 1999 has "Shiney McShine."


    This was the inspiration our software development team naming the build machine "Buildy McBuild."

  32. Chandra said,

    May 16, 2016 @ 1:27 pm

    Another suffix I've often heard used this way, especially with pets or as a term of endearment, is -pants: Nuzzly McFluffypants, etc.

  33. Wendy M. Grossman said,

    May 17, 2016 @ 5:23 am

    I thought the "Mc" came from McDonald's because there was quite a vogue at one time for sticking "Mc" in front of things to indicate they were mass-produced imitations of the "real thing": McMansion, for example.


  34. Bill Steele said,

    May 17, 2016 @ 10:22 am

    I'm flashing back to Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip, which often used descriptive names. There was Sarcophagus MacAbre, who, Kelly said, represented pure evil (drawn as a vulture). And Simple J. Malarkey, who stood in for Senator Joe McCarthy. Occurs to me that the middle initial format hasn't yet been discussed here.

    Perhaps these are tools to allow less creative people to come up with names that tell you who the character is. Alliteration and rhyme contribute to the effect.

  35. Dov Murik said,

    May 20, 2016 @ 2:10 pm

    Related to the parser itself, I tried of course the classic "The policeman identified the suspect with the binoculars", and it prints only one tree in which [with the binoculars] modifies the verb.

    Then I tried "The detective found the girl with the dragon tattoo" and prints the same tree – where the phrase [with the dragon tattoo] modifies the verb. As I see it, that parsing has the the non-plausible meaning that the detective used the tattoo to find the girl, in the same way they would use a flashlight.

  36. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 20, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

    So a dragon tattoo is a chick magnet. Good to know.

  37. Dov Murik said,

    May 20, 2016 @ 3:15 pm

    Also, when parsing "John married a girl with red hair" the with-clause is a child of the root verb… I assume that in the training corpus "with" often modifies a verb and rarely (?) modifies a noun phrase.

RSS feed for comments on this post