yoda as a generic

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue May 4 20:43:26 UTC 2010

There is actually a reason I included a number of citations and
suggested there are more--they are not all of a kind. In fact, I
explicitly stated that there are different degrees of genericization.
And I don't buy capitalization or lack thereof as a compelling
argument--witness the appearance of "google" as a verb both in
capitalized and non-capitalized form. Trademark law will tell you that
verbing is a sure sign of genericization, but it says little of
capitalization. The reason why some people use capitalized versions
and others don't relies more on self-prescriptiveness than on the
degree of genericization. The reason you see yoda and Yoda, google and
Google side by side is because some people just use it in the generic
sense, while others use it in the generic sense while respecting the
fact that it was derived from a proper name. The reason why no one
uses Dumpster today is because no one today knows that it was once a
trademark, not because it has become so generic that there is no
reason to capitalize it. The same is true of quisling. (And how many
people would think that quisling is just some set of characters from
Harry Potter?)

If I were a structuralist, I would identify stages of genericization.
For example:

Stage I. Tribute. Example: What would Yoda say?
Stage IA. Emblem: What would a Yoda say?
Stage II. Acquisition: He is my Yoda. Everyone has a Yoda in his life.
Stage III. Categorization. He is the Yoda of stage productions.
Stage IIIA. Subjectification. He is the productivity yoda.
Stage IV. Verbing. When they are ready, you will yoda them in the
skill of verbing.

Now, don't quibble with specifics of each stage--I am using this as a
back-of-the-envelope example of what CAN be done, not what OUGHT to be
done. But even in this rough analysis, I would say that the distance
between similarly numbered stages (I and IA, III and IIIA) is less
than between dissimilarly numbered stages (I and II, II and III). And,
clearly, "yoda" has not been used as a verb except in Hebrew.

An alternative set might be:

O. This is Yahoo's answer to Google.
I. This is Yahoo's Google.
II. This is Yahoo Google.
III. This is Yahoo google.
IV. I will google it on Yahoo.

But there are things you can say about all these that will help to
identify why this is a genericization process and not some random
acquisition of a prototypical example (like, say, Einstein or Benedict
Arnold). But there are also morphological features that may interfere
with the formation--I doubt "quisling" will ever be used as a verb
because of -ing (although someone may well come up with the verb "to
quisle"). And Benedict Arnold will never become fully genericized
because it's too unwieldy and there are too many other Benedicts and
Arnolds to split it up.

Now, the question is, do dozens of "the yoda of" hits signify
something different from "the Sinatra of", "the Hamlet of", "the Bill
Clinton of"? Well, do we really have a similar number of hits for each
of these? Bill Clinton gets a lot of attention. It should not be too
surprising to find "the Bill Clinton of" to be quite
common--"Torricelli has become the Bill Clinton of New Jersey."
(Bergen County Record, August 21, 2002); "He was dubbed by some the
'Bill Clinton of Boalt Hall.' One source at the law school who
declined to be identified said that 'a lot of women are attracted to
him.' " (LATimes, December 9, 2002); "Nelly even refers to the
brouhaha on 'Nellyville,' declaring himself 'the Bill Clinton of the
Lou.' " (NYDN, June 23, 2002); "Jefferson in Paris (1995) - Our third
president comes off as the Bill Clinton of his time in this
speculative fiction about Jefferson." (St Petersburg Times, April 24,
2003). But this is only half the news hits--the other half are of "the
Bill Clinton of 1992" sort. Note that all these have different
meanings and rely on different aspects of "Bill Clinton" personality.
Not only is the multifaceted image of Bill Clinton still fresh (the
man is still alive, after all), but there is also the same problem as
with Benedict Arnold--a problem that Yoda does not have.

Hamlet, on the other hand, should be a lot more like Yoda. That is, it
would be a lot more like Yoda if usage was similar. But what we have
is quite different:

"Norman is the 'Hamlet' of horror roles," Perkins said. "You can never
quite get enough of playing Norman Bates. He's always interesting."
(Virginian-Pilot, Nov 10, 1990)
Mr Shultz said last year that America could not become "the Hamlet of
nations, worrying endlessly whether and when to respond". (Spokane
Chronicle, Oct 29, 1984) (The Sydney Morning Herald, Jun 19, 1985)
... the Hamlet who tosses off "To be or not to be" yet another; the
Hamlet of the overwrought confrontation with his mother yet a third.
... (Philadelphia Inquirer, May 3, 1995)
Mostly that's because of Mr. Dillane, the Hamlet of one's dreams. The
classical reading of the part - epitomized by Mr. Gielgud, in fact -
emphasized the ... (Dallas Morning News, Nov 27, 1994)

The last two actually point to the reason why we may never have the
Hamlet equivalent of Yoda--the acting reference of "the Hamlet of
[Actor X]" is still dominant. Plus there is another reason--"hamlet"
has another meaning already and that particular gloss is often used in
the context of "the hamlet of [village/neighborhood X]".

So in both cases, there are reasons for blocking full genericization.
What about Sinatra?

The most interesting one I found was

Who is the Sinatra of the 1980s? Michael Jackson? Boy George? Weird Al
Yankovic? No, it's none of the above. Frank Sinatra is still the
Sinatra of the '80s. (Morning Call, Apr 21, 1984)

Shockingly, it's not the only example:

Was he the Sinatra of 30 or 40 years ago? Of course not. No more than
the Miles Davis of 1985 was the Miles Davis of 1955. (Los Angeles
Times, Sep 14, 1993)

This is interesting because there are actually two different meanings
of the same phrase combined in a single passage. And one is blocking
the other from genericization. But there is a third.

THAT, in Tin Pan Alley jabberT wocky, explains the sensational rise to
fame of Bobby Permane, the Sinatra of the Saddle. (Milwaukee Sentinel,
May 21, 1944)
He's been called the “Sinatra of the East” and “the golden voice of
Prague.” (RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty - Jun 11, 2009)
Jay-Z, 38, has called himself "the Sinatra of my day" in his lyrics;
Ne-Yo, 25, is a "big fan." (USA Today, May 11, 2008)
Steve Bagarus is the Sinatra of the grid iron, a Sinatra with muscles.
... "Sinatra of the grid iron?" he chuckled. "Ain't that something?
I'll have to take a lot of kidding about that but I don't mind."
(Milwaukee Journal, Nov 20, 1945)
As for his arrogance, the tall, tattooed Mr. Anselmo is the Sinatra of
metal: a figure locked in a continuing private movie about his moods,
... (New York Times - May 24, 2003)
(Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb 6, 1992)
[Simon Taylor: Sinatra of Scottish rugby hopes his latest return is a
happy one] It is not the first time that the two-times British and
Irish Lion has been on the comeback trail. The terrain has become
almost as familiar to him as it has to the Sinatra of the England team
he faces today. (Independent - Mar 8, 2008)

Again, the comparison is closer to Bill Clinton (an actual person, not
a literary character; multiple personality traits are being used for
comparison, etc.) than it is to Yoda. Yoda is not particularly
multidimentional. When someone says, "he's the Yoda of ...", everyone
is likely to know that the reference is to a guru who has a concise
yet puzzling expression for everything. If "Yoda" was replaced with
"guru" nothing in the reference would be lost. What would the
equivalent replacement be in the Bill Clinton, Hamlet and Sinatra

"regular Yoda" vs. "a quisling"
Is "he's a regular Einstein" similar to "he's a regular Yoda"? Sure.
And if I said, "he's a regular quisling", someone is likely to ask,
"Who is Quisling?" That particular juxtaposition is not fair. The
sentence itself implies that there is a singular Yoda. This is not how
Yoda is being used under other circumstances, including, of course,
the original post that prompted this thread. Instead, the question
should be more direct--"He's a yoda" vs. "He's a quisling". And I
would dare anyone to tell the difference between the two!

Still think I am making this up?

The therapist is a Yoda, a kind of trumped-up wisdom-delivery system.
(New York Times - May 19, 2006)


On Tue, May 4, 2010 at 1:46 PM,  <ronbutters at aol.com> wrote:
> Of course there a dozens. This is a commonplace, run-of-the-mill figure of speech. How many would you find for "Sinatra" or "Hamlet" or "Bill Clinton"?
> Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Date:         Tue, 4 May 2010 12:38:51
> Subject:      Re: [ADS-L] yoda as a generic
> The earliest use of "a yoda" that I found was very close to the release
> of Empire Strikes Back. Once the search is limited to "the yoda of",
> there is a few hits in the 1980s (starting in 1983), then rapidly rising
> through the 1990s. Joe Torre referred to David Wells as "the Yoda of the
> staff" back in 1998, in 1999 the NYT has Don Zimmer pegged as "the Yoda
> of bench coaches", etc. In general, the metaphor appears to be quite
> common among sports writers.
> You can even get a whole string:
> Pay-Per-View - Hartford Courant - ProQuest Archiver - Oct 4, 1996
>> Meet the Zen master of slapstick, the Yoda of yucks, the great and
>> mighty Oz of the classic tradition of commedia dell'arte.
> There are literally dozens of these between 1990 and 2010. But I want to
> start in order.
> The pony in the washing machine
> Pay-Per-View - Chicago Tribune - ProQuest Archiver - Dec 17, 1981
> ...Goodness knows what a Yoda or a Princess Leia would do to the spin
> cycle. ...
> There might be earlier references of this kind, but that's the one I
> found. It somewhat genericized "Yoda", but not quite in the sense you
> are asking about--it's more like "Rumsfeld" in "Every administration has
> a Rumsfeld". It does not refer to the specific Yoda of Star Wars, but
> it's a similar Yoda nonetheless, someone Yoda-like. Generic, but not
> specifically a generic guru.
> It took another two years for Yoda to show up in the sense you're
> looking for:
> The Palm Beach Post - May 24, 1983
> Marcum Leaves Lake Worth a Diamond Legacy. By Steve Hummer. p. 22/1
>> "You have to be awfully lucky, or things don't work out like that."
>> says Marcum, the Yoda of Palm Beach County baseball.
> This is the earliest appearance in GNA. It's clearly the expression
> that's been used enough to make it into a local, not widely read
> newspaper, but I found no other record for it. As far as antedating is
> concerned, this is it, but I have a few more random notes below.
>  From the point of idle curiosity, this may be interesting.
>> From the summit of the Gap the party proceeded down the north face of
>> the range to the Yoda, a tributary of the Mambare. The stream was
>> crossed, but a retreat soon became necessary owing to the threatening
>> attitude of the natives, whose attach had finally to be repelled by
>> force. The Yoda bed was about 150 yards wide, but the river itself
>> only 20 yards, and knee-deep. A definite conclusion as to the best
>> route for a future road was prevented by the mountainous nature of the
>> country, but the Gap itself seemed hardly capable of being traversed
>> by pack-animals. From the Yoda to Tamaba station, on the Mambare, a
>> good track could probably be found. The report on gold-mining does not
>> show that any great results have been attained.
> When I first saw the hit, I thought it was an OCR error--for example, GB
> renders "Mambare" as "Mambaie". But, no, the Yoda is a river in "British
> New Guinea".
> http://books.google.com/books?id=R99OAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA107
> The Geographical Journal. July 1900. p. 107
> There an immediately attache "Yoda Valley" as well. And another Yoda
> River in Japan... Somehow, I don't expect a connection between Lucas and
> the Yoda Valley or Yoda River. But I would not exclude the possibility
> that Lucas used the name of a Japanese scientist. There is a
> "self-thinning rule" in forestry that is named after the lead author of
> a 1963 paper--the Yoda rule. I have a tertiary reference that identifies
> "Harper (1977)" as the coinage, but the bibliography is not included in
> the GB copy, so I can't identify the actual paper.
> http://books.google.com/books?id=7a68iGQ-AtUC&pg=PA176
> Advances in Ecological Research. Vol. 14. 1984. p. 176
> There are a number of Japanese scientists in different fields who are
> named Yoda (at least one is A. Yoda). But back to the real Yodas...
> http://books.google.com/books?id=vSsEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA100
> Texas Monthly. January 1982
> The Saint of Falfurrias. By Dick J/ Reavis. p. 100/1
>> Pedro Jaramillo, a thin, bearded man with the omniscient stare of a
>> Yoda or Meher Baba, died at Falfurrias in 1907. He was 77.
> Again, this is the already mentioned semi-generic sense--a Yoda who is
> not a Yoda, but is Yoda like. Not a guru.
> InfoWorld. August 9, 1982.
> Apple Prices Falling; Apples by Any Other Name Even Cheaper. Inside
> Track column by John C. Dvorak.
>> Another industry gossip recently told me that the real cheap Apple is
>> still being developed. It was originally called the Annie, then the
>> VLC (very low cost) and is now called the Yoda.
> Another intermediate stage is "Yoda-like", which is well attested. There
> is also "becoming a Yoda".
> VLSI Design. Volume 4. 1983
> A "Yoda" in the Making for Wafer-Scale Integration. p. 13
> p. 82
>> ... where you won't commit to anything you're not going to do, and
>> will do everything you commit to, you've got it made. "It's kind of
>> like becoming a Yoda...
> Only the preview is available in GB--the snippet adds no extra info.
> VS-)
> On 5/4/2010 10:18 AM, Amy West wrote:
>> (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
>> Prohibition."
>> --Sam Allis, Boston Globe, May 3, 2010, p. 23, G section
>> http://www.boston.com/ae/events/articles/2010/05/03/remembering_the_dark_days_during_the_nations_dry_times/
>> ---Amy West
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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