Kurt Cobain & His Orchestra

Kurt Cobain & His Orchestra: Shifts in Naming Conventions of Popular Music Groups, 1923-2003

This is a paper that I presented at the annual meeting of the American Name Society in Albuquerque, NM, 8 January 2006.

Abstract:

The paper examines 1,820 names of popular music groups from the years 1955-2003 plus 34 names from before 1955 and identifies several morphological and semantic changes to naming conventions during this period.

The primary change is a sudden shift from plural names (e.g. The Supremes) to singular ones (e.g. Toad The Wet Sprocket) occurring in a two-year period from 1965-66. Other less sudden changes include a steady decline in the use of collective nouns in group names (e.g., band, trio) and a decline in the use of personal names in band names (e.g., The Greg Kihn Band).

Download:

The paper, in Adobe PDF format, is here (94 KB).

The data set used for analysis, in Microsoft Excel format, is here (457 KB).

ADS 2005 Word of the Year

Each year for the last 15 years the American Dialect Society selects its Word of the Year at its annual meeting. This year the meeting is being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the word was selected today. The selection is the word or phrase that the society members feel best reflects the language and preoccupations of the year gone by. The ADS vote is the longest-running “words of the year” vote and the only one conducted by an non-commercial entity.

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A Language Gift List

So what do you get that word lover for Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate)? Here are a few suggestions.

Of course, topping your gift list should be Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, by David Wilton, Oxford University Press, 2004, $21.95. Not only will you be giving a great gift, but you’ll be putting some ducats into my pocket.

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Latin Legacies

If you pay attention to the topics dealt with in this newsletter each week, you can get a glimpse into my life. Recently, I’ve been watching the excellent HBO series Rome, about Julius Caesar and playing the extremely addictive computer game Rome: Total War. These two sources are the inspiration for this week’s article.

We all know that many English words are derived from Latin roots. Most commonly, these words come to us from Old French as a result of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 or are modern scientific and technical terms created in modern times from Latin roots. But there are a few that come to us directly and mostly unaltered from the traditions and practices of ancient Rome. Here are some of those words.

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Trafalgar & The Language of the Age of Sail, Part I

Two hundred years ago today, on 21 October 1805, the Battle of Trafalgar was fought off the coast of Spain. A fleet of 27 Royal Navy ships under the command of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated a fleet of 33 French and Spanish ships under the command of Vice Admiral Pierre Charles Silvestre de Villeneuve. In the battle, 22 French and Spanish ships were captured or sunk. No British ships were lost.

Nelson was killed at the height of the battle as his flagship, HMS Victory, grappled with the French ships Bucentaure and Redoubtable. Villeneuve was captured and eventually paroled back to France. Upon his return he was found dead in his room at an inn, stabbed in the chest six times. The death was ruled a suicide.

Even though the Napoleonic wars continued for another ten years, the threat of Napoleon’s invading England was ended at Trafalagar that October. But more than this, Trafalgar cemented British control of seas for a hundred years and bestowed on the Royal Navy an aura of invincibility.

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Naming The Planets, Part II

A question to the Wordorigins.org discussion forum a week or so ago asked about the origins of the names of the planets. The "official" names of objects in the solar system are assigned by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a global association of astronomers. The IAU follows several conventions in naming planets and moons, the main ones being that planets are given names of Roman mythological beings and moons are given Greek mythological names associated with the Greek equivalent of the Roman god. Many of these names did not originate with the IAU, but have borne the names of these deities dating back into antiquity. There are exceptions to the IAU naming conventions. Shakespearean names are assigned to moons of Uranus and the occasional Norse or Inuit mythological name appears here and there.

Here is the second half of our examination of the names of the planets and moons.

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Naming The Planets, Part I

A question to the Wordorigins.org discussion forum this past week asked about the origins of the names of the planets. The "official" names of objects in the solar system are assigned by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a global association of astronomers.

The IAU follows several conventions in naming planets and moons, the main ones being that planets are given names of Roman mythological beings and moons are given Greek mythological names associated with the Greek equivalent of the Roman god. Moons tend be named after goddesses, while planets, with the exception of Venus, are all male gods. Many of these names did not originate with the IAU, but have borne the names of these deities dating back into antiquity. The naming conventions are not rigid and there are exceptions. For example, Shakespearean names are assigned to moons of Uranus and in recent years the occasional Norse or Inuit mythological name has been assigned to newly discovered objects.

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What Are You Looking Up?

Merriam Webster reports that the word most often looked up in its online dictionary during the month of September was refugee. Two other Katrina-related words made the top twenty, levee, coming in at number four and hurricane at eleven.

Other words in the top twenty indicate that school is back in session, with students looking up words for assignments. Numbers two and three were effect and affect. Metaphor and irony come in at five and six. Paradigm and rhetoric also make the list.

Scalito & Scooter

Two nicknames have been in the news as of late. The first is Scalito, a name given to Samuel Alito, President Bush’s latest nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. The nickname is a play on two names, Alito’s and that of Justice Antonin Scalia. Both judges are very conservative and the blending of their names emphasizes the similarities in their respective judicial philosophies.

Alito’s nickname is just about a year old, or at least that’s as far back as the blog search engine Technorati (http://www.technorati.com) can trace it. On 4 November 2004, the blog Serendipity contained this fragment, "With old Rehnquist’s health in decline, rumor has it that Samuel A. Alito Jr… been nicknamed Scalito because is just like Antonin Scalia." Unfortunately, that blog no longer exists and all that is left is this fragment returned by Technorati. But even without the entire context, it is clear that the blog’s author did not coin the term.

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Trafalgar & The Language of the Age of Sail, Part II

Two hundred years ago last week, on 21 October 1805, the Battle of Trafalgar was fought off the coast of Spain. A fleet of 27 Royal Navy ships under the command of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated a fleet of 33 French and Spanish ships under the command of Vice Admiral Pierre Charles Silvestre de Villeneuve. In the battle, 22 French and Spanish ships were captured or sunk. No British ships were lost. Villeneuve was captured and eventually paroled back to France. Upon his return he was found dead in his room at an inn, stabbed in the chest six times. The death was ruled a suicide.

Because of the decisive victory at Trafalgar, even though the Napoleonic wars continued for another ten years, the threat of Napoleon’s invading England was ended that October. But more than this, Trafalgar cemented British control of seas for a hundred years and bestowed on the Royal Navy an aura of invincibility.

Read the rest of the article...
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