[lg policy] Mot örhead, Häagen-Dazs, and Yöu

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 13 14:29:56 UTC 2013

Motörhead, Häagen-Dazs, and Yöu

November 13, 2013, 12:01 am

By William Germano<http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/author/wgermano/>

   - [image: comment]<http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2013/11/13/motorhead-haagen-dazs-and-you/#disqus_thread>

Like many Lingua Franca readers, I spend some of my life in airports, which
has undoubtedly given me a skewed view of language. Be that as it may, I’ve
been particularly struck this autumn by what seems to be the rise of the
reckless diacritical.

I’m not a linguist, as readers of this blog will know. I won’t delve into
the historical arcana of diacritical marks, except to say that they seem to
have been necessities of writing since antiquity, as if alphabetic language
itself were born in need of a little help.

Still, nothing I know about Greek or German prepared me for the airport
kiosk that sported products under the brand name Clöudz. The u is shaped
like a neck pillow; the people at Clöudz sell little travel blankets and
pillows and such, which are nice things to find in airports, though frankly
I’d be uncomfortable buying something with such a ridiculous name. I’m sure
I’d try to pronounce it kleu-udzh, which would be embarrassing for all
concerned. Still, somebody in marketing had the idea that a little
linguistic deformation would move the merch, a hunch that I assume has been
born out at the register.

Why do we think diacritical marks are cute? Funny? When did they become
part of hipster semiotics? Of course, real diacriticals can do real work.
That pair of dark spots over a vowel can function either as an umlaut,
which changes the vowel’s sound—as in *Ü**bermensch*—or a dieresis, which
instructs the reader to pronounce consecutive vowels separately—as in the
now infrequent coöperation. Few modern readers are likely to mistake the
word as having something to do with chickens—cooperation will do just fine.

Then in the 1970s, strange diacritical things started to happen. I don’t
blame the appearance of *diacritics* (though that journal did materialize
in 1971, only a few cultural moments before the wave broke). In 1975 Motö
rhead happened. A year later, the founders of an estimable ice-cream
company opened their first retail store, leaving the world to wonder
whether “Häagen-Dazs” was a greeting in some unknown language. Hüsker Dü came
along in 1979.Mötley Crüe  in 1980. The term röck döts was invented.

These diacriticals caught on as typographic eye candy (yes, “husker du?”
means something, though not with umlauts). In the examples I’ve cited
above, the little marks don’t help the reader and aren’t meant to. They’re
fun, at least sometimes, and memorable. And yes, all by itself Clouds might
be a boring brand name for a line of travel pillows.

This season the ante has been upped: The Tommy Hilfiger clothing line has
launched, with a linguistic swagger, a global marketing campaign entitled Cä
rpe-díem Mañana.

If you haven’t seen the phrase yet, you will, especially if you have family
or friends in the Hilfiger target demographic. I saw this slogan on an
airport shop window in Zürich (not Zurich) last month and followed up when
I landed at Newark.

Opening my iPad I read about the Hilfiger’s diacritical maneuvering at
something called *FIVE
 a website that describes itself as “the intersection of creativity and
commerce,” which I guess is sort of like Hollywood and Vine with a
circumflex. The people who write the *TH**ô**T *thoughts seem excited about
*C**ä**rpe-d**í**em Ma**ñ**ana, *and given the brand’s marketing muscle I
suppose a generation will be grabbing their diems slowly, and doing it in
Tommy’s clothing line.

But what are we language types to do with *C**ä**rpe-d**í**em Ma**ñ**ana?*The
umlaut, the hyphen, the accent, the whole crazy package? It feels like a
mashup of Spanish, Vietnamese, and something vaguely northeast of the
Alps. Somewhere in the ether Horace, Robert Herrick, Miss Peggy Lee
(remember “Mañana Is Soon  Enough For Me”?), and several comp-lit
professors  are having a little weep.

The only recourse for us earthlings may be some umlauted rock on Pandora
and enough chocolate ice cream to induce what should be called—inevitably—a
Häagen daze.

As for *C**ä**rpe-d**í**em Ma**ñ**ana, *like gather ye rösebudz while ye
may or whatever.



 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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