Tag Archives: The Week

Which one is Floyd?

My latest article for The Week is in honour of Walter Becker, guitarist for Steely Dan, who died recently. It’s about bands like Steely Dan: ones that have names that make you think they’re the name of one of the guys in the band.

11 band names that don’t mean what you think they do

 

And when you’re done reading that, here are four honourable mentions that didn’t make it into the final version:

Duran Duran
The hit electro-group from the ’80s (and on) probably haven’t ever had anyone ask, “Which one is Duran?” But they’re named after a fictional character: Doctor Durand Durand, from the movie Barbarella.

The Ramones
The Ramones, great punk pioneers of the 1970s and later, did not have any members whose real last name was Ramone, nor were any members related to each other. But they all took stage names with the last name Ramone, starting with founding member Douglas Colvin, who called himself Dee Dee Ramone, inspired by Paul McCartney’s one-time use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon.

Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper is now the name of the shock-rocker born as Vincent Damon Furnier. But it was first the name of a band he sang with. When the brand broke up, he kept the name. Their — and his — namesake was an 18th-century witch who was burned at the stake.

Anonymous 4
Anonymous 4 is one of the world’s great medieval and folk music quartets. Its members aren’t anonymous; the four women with the ethereal voices are Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Ruth Cunningham, and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (Johanna Maria Rose was an original member; Horner-Kwiatek joined later). But, like many classical music ensembles, the group is actually named after a real person: Anonymous IV was the author of an important medieval treatise on music — an author whose name is lost to the ages, so he was later designated Anonymous IV (because Anonymous I, II, and III were already in use).

 

Oh… and there’s this line in a Pink Floyd song (click on it and it will take you to the line):

Advertisements

Hulk smash puny podcast!

A while back, I did an article for The Week on the grammar of the Incredible Hulk. My producer at the week thought it would make a fun podcast, so she trimmed it a bit, I recorded it, she edited it with some other clips, and now you can listen to it:

A linguist’s guide to HULK SMASH

The donzerly spangles

I timed my latest article for The Week for July 4. I thought it might be nice to have something light and fun on an American theme to get away from the unpleasant stream of daily political news, at least briefly. (Oh, and if you’re raising an eyebrow at the first-person statements in the article, I am, after all, an American citizen – dual Canadian-American, in fact – and have lived in the US, though I’m happy in Toronto now.) How many of these did you know?

Impress your fellow Americans with the patriotic etymologies of these July 4 words

 

Beatboxing: the podcast

A couple of years ago, I did an article on beatboxing for The Week – how much of it is made of tweaked-up speech sounds. We’ve dug it up and turned it into a podcast now. If you have seven minutes and are curious, give it a listen:

A phonological description of beatbox noises

Hebrew and Yiddish words, we have them

My last article for The Week was on words we got from Arabic. This time it’s words we got from Hebrew and Yiddish. You’ll probably know about some of these. You’ll probably be surprised by some others.

15 English words you probably didn’t know came from Hebrew and Yiddish

 

You can’t get through the day (or night) without Arabic

My latest article for The Week is on words that English got from Arabic. We’ve taken more than you might think, but I look at just 15… including some that you probably can’t go very long without.

15 English words we stole from Arabic

(PS Let me remind you that the magazine writes the title after I’ve written the article and sent it to them.)

Not nice, not silly, actually rather awful

My latest article for The Week is about words with meanings that have travelled quite a bit over the centuries. It’s not that they’ve clouded or warped the senses, but their histories are likely to throw you, or at least leave you in doubt.

11 words whose meanings have completely changed over time