## Xy McXface

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.

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."

https://frinkiac.com/caption/S11E04/1109560

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.

wg

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.