Timeliness, accuracy, relevance, effort, ethics, and stupid names

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At the end of a series of fascinating Bad Science columns and weblog posts about the £2,000 Dore “miracle cure” for dyslexia, Ben Goldacre wrote ("Blogs vs mainstream media", The Guardian, 5/31/2008):

I make no sweeping claims about blogs and mainstream media – both have their roles – but in this case it seems the bloggers win on timeliness, accuracy, relevance, effort, ethics, and stupid names. Gimpyblog broke the news … PodblackBrainduck …  Holfordwatch

That about sums it up, don't you think? Blogs are great, but those names! Oh wait, what about the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the Mansfield Chad, …

Actually,  we forget how weird most everyday newspaper names are: the Globe and Mail, the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian —  They're too familiar for their oddness to register, but shift them sideways a bit thesaurus-wise, and you have the Sphere and Message, the International Announcer Generalissimo, the Custodian, …


  1. Podblack said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 9:19 am

    *shrug* – I would have gone for 'Language Log' but it was taken… either that or 'Throat Wobbler Mangrove' or 'Raymond Luxury Yacht'…


    All I wanted was to be on television… *sniff*

  2. Ollock said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 9:20 am

    Sometimes I think looking at different languages can point out funny newspaper names — such as the "蘋果日報" (http://www1.appledaily.atnext.com/template/apple/sec_main.cfm? — Traditional Chinese) or some Spanish-language papers like "El Espectador" or "La Crónica de Hoy". (I'm sure someone with skills in more languages can find more examples other places.)

  3. Lester Piggot said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 9:30 am

    Language Log is a pretty weird name. The thesaurus says you could have called it The Intercourse Record, or The Native-Tongue Tally.

  4. Brainduck said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 9:39 am

    Explaining my name.

    Statistically I *am* a Duck: http://duckdensity.org.uk/, and a fondness for outdoor swimming confirms this. 'Oop north, all the old ladies call me Duck, so when I arrived here I decided maybe I really was a Duck, especially as my real name is Welsh & difficult for Yorkshire types.

    The description for the 'Psyduck' Pokemon fits me to a T: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psyduck#Psyduck
    'Psyduck is known for its never-ending headache; in the anime, its strongest attacks can be used only when its headache reaches extremely painful levels. It is slow-witted and clumsy by nature, and the vacant expression often unnerves its foes.'

    Alas, 'Psyduck' was taken when I was looking for a WordPress address. I picked 'Brainduck' since it only takes the slipping of one consonant to suggest something that seriously messes with your head.

    Hope this helps,

  5. Lester Piggot said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 9:44 am

    Language Hat could have been Discourse Beanie. This is a very good game, Mark.

  6. Podblack said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 9:46 am

    Or Dialectal Diary? Syntactical Scribbles? I should have brought the url for 'Transitive Twigs – Semantics Until You Snap!' :/

    By the way, might like to check out my friend the 'Skepbitch' at http://www.skepbitch.wordpress.com. With a PhD in Linguistics, she's not one to nanny about with names either! :)

  7. Jorge said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 9:56 am

    Surely it's the tribune < tribuna, not the tribune < tribunus?

  8. Mark Liberman said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 10:18 am

    Jorge: Surely it's the tribune < tribuna, not the tribune < tribunus?

    You mean that it should be the Chicago Raised Platform, or the Chicago Octagonal Saloon in the Galleria Degli Uffizi at Florence?

  9. Jorge said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 10:39 am

    I guess it could be either. "Diario La Tribuna" gets twice as many ghits as "Diario El Tribuno", but both get lots. Do native English speakers make any distinction in different Tribune newspapers? (I assume the founders of each newspaper had only one of the senses in mind?)

  10. Mateo Crawford said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 10:42 am

    the Sphere and Message, the International Announcer Generalissimo, the Custodian

    Language Log continues to be my preferred source for superhero names.

  11. fuyura said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 11:15 am

    I was taken aback when I first saw the Chattanooga News-Free Press. I had never previously thought that "News-Free" was a quality a paper would brag on.

  12. Sili said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 11:25 am

    Surely you mean "The Codustian".

  13. Lester Piggot said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 11:40 am

    Mark Liberman = Nick Freude-dude

  14. Mark Liberman said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

    I associate a similar pattern of re-naming with a certain kind of sports writing, though it's not all that common even there: the Chicago White Sox have been the "Pale Hose" for a century or so, and Gregg Easterbook calls the Washington Redskins the "Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons"; but that's all I can think of for now. Well, of course, the Philadelphia Eagles are "the Birds".

  15. Alpeter said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

    For most of its history, the newspaper in Bloominton, IN was the Herald-Telephone…unfortunately renamed 10-15 years ago as the mundane Herald-Times. The paper, like many, was created from the merger of two previously independent papers – the Herald and the Telephone. Presumably, of course, the Telephone was so named to suggest that its news was particularly timely, perhaps through the use of advanced technology such as the aforementioned telephone.

    Which makes me wonder whether newspapers will again incorporate names taken from technology – perhaps to suggest that they are more accurate than conventional MSM. Giving titles such as "The New York Times-Blog", the "Chicago Tribune-Internet", or the "Wall Stree Journal-Computer."

  16. Lester Piggot said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

    Bill Poser = Beak Exhibitionist
    Victor Mair = Champion Horse

  17. Q. Pheevr said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

    Hmm… The Ottawa Resident? The Cleveland Dowdy Distributor?

    Of course, newspaper names and blog names are generally trying to accomplish rather different things; most blog names are more about asserting individuality, rather than probity. But there do seem to be a few words that are becoming conventional as parts of blog names (in the same way in which one knows, by convention, that something calling itself "Times" or "Post" or "Star" is probably a newspaper). There's "blog" itself, of course, and "log," and, more intriguingly, "conspiracy." This last one seems mostly to be used for group blogs, with at least one notable exception: Polyglot Conspiracy has only one conspirator.

  18. Rubrick said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

    or the Chicago Octagonal Saloon in the Galleria Degli Uffizi at Florence

    Locals prefer to just call it the COSGDUF.

  19. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    June 21, 2008 @ 1:17 am

    @Ollock: Good thinking. Major Israeli papers include "The Land", "Evening Prayer", and "Last Handles"; major French ones include "The Espresso" and "The Falstaff".

    Still, newspaper names tend to be less odd in that they tend to restrict themselves to actual words and place names, written as separate words. If Gimpyblog and Holfordwatch renamed themselves the Gimp City Blog and the Holford Watchman, no one would think twice.

  20. Joe said,

    June 21, 2008 @ 2:50 am

    > Language Log is a pretty weird name. The thesaurus says you could have called it The Intercourse Record, or The Native-Tongue Tally.

    I wanted to call it the Tongue Register, personally.

  21. Marc in Cape Coral said,

    June 21, 2008 @ 9:52 am

    The French use 'tribune' in the sense (< tribuna), an essay on the op-ed page; I wonder if US usage derives somehow from that?

  22. Garrett Wollman said,

    June 22, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

    On a long 2001 road-trip two-thirds of the way across the U.S., my (newspaper-collecting) companion and I were trying to come up with the oddest — or at least longest — extant newspaper name. The winner, as I recall, was the "Moberly (Mo.) Monitor-Index and Evening Democrat". Apparently it's now just the "Monitor-Index" now (judging by the Web site at http://www.moberlymonitor.com/). Unfortunately, Moberly is not on the way from Kansas City to St. Louis, soi we never got within the MMI&ED's distribution range. I'm still partial to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. (I have no idea how to parse that name: is it the (Free Lance)-Star or the Free (Lance-Star)? How can you tell?)

    Of course, if you slip just a few feet away in another dimension, you can get another set of (usually disparaging) names: the San Francisco Crocknicle, the San Jose Murky News, the Omaha Weird Herald, the Chicago Sometimes, the (Oklahoma City) Daily Disappointment, the Canton Suppository, the Boston Glob, and of course any number of "Snooze"s, "Flea Press"es, "Slimes"es, and "Pest"s.

    The ones with party names in them are a bit odd. We have the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, the Waterbury Republican-American, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and Foster's Daily Democrat, just to name a few. Of course, the political sympathies of the paper today — to the extent they bother to express any — may have nothing to do with the party label that is in their name. (Not even in Britain, where newspapers seem to be expected to have a political bias, do any of the major newspapers identify directly with the name of a particular political party.)

  23. Karen Stollznow said,

    June 23, 2008 @ 1:57 am

    For shame, fellow linguist! :p

    I sense a veiled prescriptivism here.

    Mark – what about the sociolinguistic implications of handles, names and titles?

    Focus on content, not names that have connotations of which you might be unaware.

  24. James Wimberley said,

    June 23, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

    Roman tribunes (tribuni) spoke from the Rostra, a platform in the Forum built from the ramming prows of captured galleys. It only became the singular rostrum in 1713 (dixit OED) at the hands of the prototypical language maven Addison, tut tut. Wouldn't it make a good name for a newspaper: The Chappaquiddick Rostrum-Intelligencer?

  25. Simon Cauchi said,

    June 23, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

    Parse it as an amalgamation of "Free Lance" and "Star". There used to be a weekly Wellington newspaper called the Free Lance, which ceased publication in 1961. The title, I imagine, was meant to evoke the idea of a medieval mercenary knight.

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