Archive for the 'Language' Category

How Perfect Is Perfect

I’m no fan of baseball. Even when Red Sox Nation cowboys up with the Idiots in the Fall (whatever that means), I just can’t get into it. That’s partly because I’ve got issues with relating the so-called “home team” (a corporation that contracts with individuals from all over the world to perform a job which involves significant travel, but is located about half of the time here) to my home town (a place where I’ve actually chosen to live). I find the concept of loving a player because he’s one of us and then despising him a year later because he signed a contract with another team completely ludicrous. He was one of us for the same reason he’s now one of them. If Boston’s teams were made up of Bostonians and New York’s teams were made up of New Yorkers, then maybe it would mean something to me when Boston’s team beat New York’s team.

Frankly, I’m not a sports fan in general, but baseball stands out for me as even more boring than the rest. About ten years ago, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated made the following semi-scientific observations during a playoff game between the Yankees and the A’s:

Time of this A’s-Yankees game: 3 hours, 15 minutes.

Time the baseball was actually in play, including pitches, batted balls, foul balls, pickoff attempts, relays, throws to bases and anything else even Bob Costas might consider actual sporting activity (and I was being generous with the stopwatch): 12 minutes, 22 seconds.

Percentage of time that the ball wasn’t in play: 94.

Percentage of time my cerebrum wasn’t in play: 94.

Number of baseball players crushed by unexpected fiery chunk of Planet Zorbig hurtling to earth: Not nearly enough.

Times I plan on watching baseball on TV ever again: 0.

Sounds about right to me. Even if I’m not rooting for a particular team, I can enjoy and appreciate basketball, hockey, or football (no, not the misnamed American kind), but baseball just bores me.

Armando Galarraga - AP imageSo consider all of that my admission that I’m no expert on America’s Pastime. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about this concept of a “perfect game” — and I mean that in the sense of Major League Baseball’s definition of a perfect game rather than my own, which I guess would be one that’s rained out before it starts. It’s been in the news for the past few days because of this guy having his perfect game taken away by a bad call.

Here’s how Major League Baseball officially defines a perfect game:

An official perfect game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) retires each batter on the opposing team during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings. In a perfect game, no batter reaches any base during the course of the game.

So a perfect game is a step beyond a no-hitter, because none of the players get on base. 27 players come up to bat, and 27 batters fail to make it to first base. A pitcher can still get a no-hitter even if there are errors or walks. A no-hitter is a rare thing. A perfect game is far more rare. But is it perfect?

“Perfect” is an absolute. It’s one of those words that get misused when people try to apply some level to it. You can’t be somewhat unique, a little bit pregnant, or kind of perfect. You either are, or you aren’t.

We’ll give the great and powerful Founders a break and assume that when they wrote about the goal of “a more perfect union” they meant a union that was closer to perfect than it might have otherwise been, but a union is either perfect or it isn’t, and the same is true for a baseball game.

If a game is perfect, it’s as good as it’s possible for that game to be. How many pitches did Armando Galarraga throw that night? Would the game have been somehow better if he’d thrown less pitches? If a perfect game is defined by the performance of the pitcher, then wouldn’t a perfect game be one in which every player is thrown only one pitch: 27 batters, 27 pitches, 27 outs? I suppose one could argue that in a perfect game, the infielders and outfielders don’t have to do a thing, so how about one pitch to each batter, each batter swings on that one pitch, pops it up, and it’s caught by the pitcher? No, that’s not perfect either, because every batter made contact with the ball, even if that contact led to a measly pop fly that failed to get past the pitcher’s mound.

How about a game in which each batter is struck out in three pitches? That’s three times the number of pitches in the previous suggestion, and the ball is now getting touched by both the pitcher and the catcher, but if we stipulate that the batter never makes contact with the ball — not even to hit a foul ball — that’s certainly a better performance than any pitcher has ever delivered.

And if that’s better, whether it’s perfect or not, then what we call perfect clearly isn’t.

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Choosing An Announcer

Obama coinSo, you’ve come up with the idea for a new product that you believe is going to tap right into the current zeitgeist and really excite the public. Congratulations. Obviously, you’re going to advertise online, since that’s such a cost-effective medium these days. Are you thinking about running spots on the eye of hell as well? That’s going to increase your costs, but it will guarantee a lot more eyes. And don’t forget that you don’t just have to pay for the time your ad spends on the air. You’ve also got to deal with the cost of production, which is likely to be a lot more than your web development budget.

A big part of that budget is going to go to getting a voice-over artist to read your copy. My advice is to spend the money to get this right. Listen closely to the people you audition. Obviously, you want them to convey the right mood. You want them to be able to get your audience excited about your product. But you also want them to sound like they know what they’re talking about. For example, if your product is powerful, and you want to make sure the public knows the product is powerful, be careful to hire an announcer who can say the word “powerful” without it coming out as “parful.”

Let’s say you’re selling a limited edition, uncirculated inaugural coin, layered in pure 24 karat gold. Sounds good? Well, that depends on how your announcer says those words. Don’t make the mistake these folks did.

Innoggeral? Uncirckalated? Those aren’t words. Laird is a word, albeit a somewhat archaic one, but I don’t think you want your potential customers to think they can buy a Scottish landowner who’s been dipped in gold — not from you, anyway. You’re going to have to deal with an awful lot of returns if you make that mistake.

Let this be a warning to you: if you’re going to advertise in a medium that requires voice-over talent, either choose an announcer who can say your words, or choose words your announcer can say. I don’t think that’s asking too much of you.

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Dumb Pun of the Day

Hank and Dean VentureIf you watch The Venture Bros. regularly, you know where the boys came from.

Now, I don’t know whether this silly little pun was intended by the show’s creators, but it occurred to me while watching an old episode tonight that the young Venture brothers could be seen as their father’s Hank-’n’-Dean monster.

Hankandean monster. Get it? Well, laugh it up, kiddo.

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What Kind of Commission?

Blurry John McCainSo Obama is mocking McCain’s recommendation that we need a commission to look at the causes of the current financial crisis, saying that we already know what caused it, and that a commission is just a way of putting off doing something about it. No argument there.

But I’m finding it odd that McCain keeps referring to this commission he wants as “a 9/11 commission.”

New York Times, 16 September:

“We need a 9/11 commission, and we need a commission to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it,’’ he said. “And I know we can do it and how to do it.”

AHN, 16 September:

Speaking from Florida, McCain said on CNN the nation had been “the victim of greed, excess and corruption on Wall Street” and that “we’re going to need a 9/11 Commission to find out what happened and what needs to be fixed.”

The Hill, 16 September:

“We’re going to need a 9/11 Commission to find out what happened and what needs to be fixed,” the Arizona senator said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

If he wants a commission, then fine — he wants a commission. But what does he mean when he says he wants a 9/11 commission? A commission is a commission. Was there something about the 9/11 commission that somehow set it apart from all other commissions (apart from the fact that it was about 9/11), thus creating a new genre of commission to be known as a 9/11 commission?

If Senator McCain bought a blue car, and referred to it as his blue car, and then bought a red car, would he then refer to the red car as his new blue car?

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Clinton’s Blessing

All the pundits over at MSNBC are debating themselves about whether tonight is going to be about Obama declaring himself the nominee, or Clinton celebrating her own campaign and stealing his thunder.

But maybe they’re missing something. Clinton is going to be speaking at Baruch College. Here’s the school’s release about it.

New York, NY – June 3, 2008 – Presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) will address throngs of supporters at a celebration marking the close of the Democratic Party’s primary election season this evening at Baruch College’s Athletics and Recreation Center (ARC).

The event is scheduled to begin at 7 PM. The ARC will be closed to students and the general public at 3 PM, and the 24th Street entrance to the Newman Vertical Campus will be open for ticketed guests at 6 PM. Students, faculty, and staff should use the 25th Street entrance for classes and other events after 6 PM.

The Clinton campaign website indicates that tickets are no longer available for the speech. The major news channels are expected to provide live coverage of the event.

Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign team chose Baruch College as the site of their primary election season finale.

They chose Baruch. I wonder why they chose Baruch over all the other places they could have held the address…

The word “baruch” is related to brucha, meaning a blessing in Hebrew. It’s also the equivalent of the Arabic and Swahili “barack.”

See where I’m going with this? Is Clinton going to give Obama her blessing tonight?

Updated, Three Hours Later

Yeah, maybe not.

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What’s in a Name

nametagI’ve never cared for my family name: Gladstein. When my grandfather came through Ellis Island, they didn’t change his surname — just the pronunciation. It was originally pronounced “GLOT-shtine” but they changed it to “GLAD-steen”. Oddly enough, I find that the original pronunciation just rolls off the tongue, but apparently, even after almost 45 years of practice, I don’t pronounce the current version of my name very clearly. If someone asks me my name and I tell them “Gladstein,” they almost invariably repeat back “Blansky?”

On top of that, when I briefly attempted to learn German, the professor in my class told me what my name means. I won’t mention it here, but it is not brave leader, or god’s gift, or even decent enough fellow.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about names and naming of late. There are people who make their living naming things: companies, products, etc. But naming people is another matter. My mother was given the name Edith Claire at birth, supposedly in honor of some dead relative named Edith. However, nobody liked the name Edith (and I don’t think they liked Edith herself, either), so before the ink on the birth certificate was dry, people started calling my mother Claire Edith. So there, Edith, whoever you were.

I’ve been putting together a little project in my copious free time, listing names that could be real, and have a certain something else that sets them apart. I’m sure you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. If you have any to add to the list, let me know.

  • Anne Teeter
  • Bela Kose
  • Claire Voyant
  • Ella Meneaux
  • Ellie Tate
  • Farrah Field
  • Helen Bach
  • Luke Askew
  • Paris Ochs
  • Paula Titian
  • Perry Farrell
  • Phyllis Stein
  • Herman Ütichs
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Give It To Me Straight

Remember this?

At about 2:05 into the video, Cronkite says,

From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time — 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.

“President Kennedy died”

I bring this up because I got up this morning, fed the cats, made myself some coffee, booted up the old ‘puter and switched on the eye of hell to see if there was anything in the news. That’s when I heard Heidi Collins, her hair done all wrong today (hey CNN hair people — it doesn’t help to make her head look like a rectangular prism) announce that “Henry Hyde has passed.”

“Henry Hyde has passed”

The moment I heard that, I remembered Cronkite from 44 years ago. Actually, as I remembered it, Cronkite had simply said, “President Kennedy is dead.” (N.B.: I was four months old when Kennedy was assassinated. Obviously, I didn’t remember it from seeing it live. In fact, my mother tells me that when the news of Kennedy’s death was announced, I was in front of our apartment building in Brooklyn, playing on a patch of grass.) But my point remains the same: he gave it to us straight.

Whether that particular phrase was in Collins’ script or she said it of her own accord, it just makes me wonder why journalists on the eye of hell have decided it’s better to feed us euphemisms. Is it their place to soften the blow when they bring us bad news? Not only does “passed” sound softer than “died,” to my ultra-sensitive atheist ears, it’s tied in with passed on to something else — that is, it’s tantamount to Collins announcing, “Henry Hyde is in Heaven, sitting at the right hand of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”

Hyperbole? Well, duh. I’d like to think that an anchor on any channel other than CBN would be fired if they took things that far. But the point stands. It’s the news. Give me facts, and don’t dilute them with the kind of language you use around children to keep from upsetting them.

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Viva Commerce! (#13)

McDonaldDear McDonald’s,

I notice that in one of your recent advertisements for the double cheeseburger, you describe the sandwich as “melty” and “beefy”. I’m familiar with the latter word, which Webster’s defines as

1 a : heavily and powerfully built [a beefy thug] b : SUBSTANTIAL, STURDY [beefy shock absorbers]
2 a : of or suggesting beef [a beefy flavor] b : full of beef [a beefy steak]

Since I don’t eat beef, I’ll just give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that at least one of those definitions accurately describes your burger. It does seem fairly sturdy in the ad.

This brings us to that other adjective: melty. I looked, and it’s just not in there. It’s not really a word, folks.

Taco Bell logoI’m guessing you got it from Taco Bell, with their “melty, melty, melty” cheese. Well, I’m here to tell you that Taco Bell is wrong, and I would have thought you’d know better than to use a word just because they do. If Taco Bell jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?

I’m very disappointed in you.

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Viva Commerce! (#12)

Dear Universal Technical Institute,

Universal Technical InstituteThat name of yours is quite a mouthful — Universal Technical Institute. Ten syllables in those three words. Of course, if the institute really is universal (on top of being technical), it must be a pretty big place. But that’s neither here nor there… well, again, if it’s universal, then I suppose it really is both here and there. But I digress.

Considering the length of the name and the cost of time on the eye of hell, I can understand why you’d feel the need to come up with an abbreviated version. I wonder, however, if you considered possibilities like “UniTech,” “UTech,” “UT” or “Universal” before you decided to go with UTI, which in case you didn’t know, already has a pretty common usage for something other than technical institutes, universal or otherwise.

One other question: do your vending machines serve cranberry juice?

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All New – The All New Version

Ford 500I wrote a post last year about the use of the phrase “all new” in advertising, but I assure you, this post is all new.

Remember the Ford Taurus? It was pretty popular back in its time. In fact, I think it beat out the Accord as the most popular car in the US for a year or two. It was discontinued just a year or two back, and replaced with the all new Ford 500. The 500 wasn’t such a big hit, though.

Ford TaurusWell, Ford is going to make everyone happy now, as the 500 is to be replaced with the all new 2008 Taurus. That’s a picture of an ’08 Taurus to the right, and the picture above is an ’06 500. Do you see what I see?

I see two almost identical cars. The new model doesn’t have the chrome strip along the side, the taillights are different, and it looks like the front turning signals might be slightly different as well, but that’s about it. So basically, what those deep thinkers at Ford have done is to take a not new model, attach a not new name to it, and come up with what they refer to as an all new product.

While I’m on the subject, the old all new post mentioned the use of the term “hit” being used for any program on the eye of hell, whether it received a large audience or not. Well, I saw a promo for Fox’s new game show, “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” last night. I think the program has aired once or twice at this point. Did they refer to it as a hit? Actually, no, they didn’t. Instead, the promo spoke of the “Don’t Forget the Lyrics phenomenon.” At first, that kind of threw me. Is a phenomenon bigger than a hit? Then I realized they’re probably just using the dictionary definition of the word: an observable fact or event, or an object or aspect known through the senses rather than by thought or intuition. That’s fair. I mean, I haven’t seen the show, but I think it’s safe for me to assume that if I were to tune in, I would experience something through my senses.

I just prefer not to find out exactly what that experience might be.

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