yoda as a generic

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue May 4 17:59:11 UTC 2010

At 1:42 PM -0400 5/4/10, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>Ron, are you auditioning for Grinch or for Scrooge? Or are you trying to
>genericize your own name?
>I know, I know--you're one of the happiest people you know. And I can
>outgrump you any day.
>Fine... you don't like genericization in this case. I don't see the
>problem, but I'll grant you the point. Would you settle for a
>"snowclonelet" of "the Yoda of X"? That does not solve the problem of
>"my Yoda", but it does address this particular usage, does it not?
>     VS-)

There's a family of uses of proper names as category labels,
including the construction of "epitomization" (described in work by
Gregory Ward) as exemplified in "An Einstein he's not", "She's no
Sarah Palin", etc., where the proper name is treated as a kind rather
than an individual, but retains its association with the original, as
it is in "s/he's my Yoda".  I agree with Ron that the retention of
capitalization (absent in "sandwich", "bowdlerize", etc.) is
relevant, but as we've seen usage varies on this and I'm not sure
this is really decisive as a marker of what's in the writer's
mind--'X is like Yoda' vs. 'X is a yoda'.  (Most cites seem to retain
the capital for Yoda)  While this isn't true
genericization/genericide as we get with brand names (band-aid,
xerox, ), it's certainly a closer relative.


>On 5/4/2010 1:02 PM, ronbutters at AOL.COM wrote:
>>It is (apparently) true that the quotation that Amy cites has one
>>of the legal markers of generics: it is not Capitalized. Even so, I
>>don't think it is really generic, the fundamental criterion for
>>which is that most people do not recognize a connection between the
>>word and its etymogical proper noun. Any name can be used the way
>>YODA is used here. Even "quixotic" is probably not truly generic
>>for most people who know the word.
>>------Original Message------
>>From: Dave Wilton
>>Sender: ADS-L
>>To: ADS-L
>>ReplyTo: ADS-L
>>Subject: Re: [ADS-L] yoda as a generic
>>Sent: May 4, 2010 5:14 PM
>>It's been around a while. From Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 3, "School
>>Hard," shooting script 7/30/1997, by David Greenwalt:
>>Spike talking to Angel: "You think you can fool me? You were my sire,
>>man...you were my Yoda!"
>>-----Original Message-----
>>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
>>Amy West
>>Sent: Tuesday, May 04, 2010 7:19 AM
>>Subject: yoda as a generic
>>(I did a quick search of the since-1999 ADS-L archive and the
>>before-April-2008 Language Log archive before posting this: I
>>apologize if I missed something.)
>>I spotted this use of "yoda" as generic -- equivalent to "guru" -- in
>>the Boston Globe yesterday:
>>I am drawn to Prohibition, as I am to all catastrophes, so I turn to
>>Prohibition yoda Dan Okrent for enlightenment. Okrent is author of
>>the forthcoming book "The Last Call: the Rise and Fall of
>>--Sam Allis, Boston Globe, May 3, 2010, p. 23, G section
>>---Amy West
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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