Fritinancy

Names, brands, writing, and the language of commerce.

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Choosy

As if the pandemic hasn’t already tested all of us in countless ways, now even our entertainment comes in the form of a multiple-choice exam. Sometimes Always Never (2020), starring Bill Nighy as a Scrabble-playing tailor, debuted at the London Film Festival in 2018 and opened in virtual theaters in the US in June. It will be available on streaming...

Word of the week: Hypodescent

“I have rape-colored skin,” begins the powerful essay by Caroline Randall Williams, a poet, in the June 28 Sunday Review section of the New York Times. It’s headlined “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument.” Williams goes on to say: “I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were...

June linkfest

This month’s book recommendation, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, by Kathryn Schulz, is ten years old and as timely as ever. I wrote last month about Schulz’s excellent pieces for the New Yorker, and I’m here to tell you that Being Wrong is every bit as well researched, witty, and graceful. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that I’m fascinated...

On the Visual Thesaurus: Public-health slogans

My new column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at slogans for public-health campaigns. Their use (or misuse) has played an important in role during the COVID-19 pandemic (“Stay Home/Save Lives,” “We’re All in This Together,” “Six Feet Apart or Six Feet Under”), and, arguably, an event larger role in past public-health crises such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis....

Word of the week: Coddle

I’m finally getting around to reading The Coddling of the American Mind, the 2018 book by Gregory Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt that details how, as the subtitle puts it, “good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure.” The book, which expands on a 2015 essay in The Atlantic, got some snarky reviews when it was released (Pacific...

It's about time, Aunt Jemima

When Quaker Oats announced Wednesday that it would be changing the packaging and name of its 131-year-old Aunt Jemima brand, my immediate response was: What took them so long? Original pancake mix with the most recent Aunt Jemima update, circa 1989. I’ve been unable to learn the name of the woman whose image is used in the current packaging; she...

Word of the week: Obelisk

Tom Cotton, the junior US senator from Arkansas, is an army veteran, but these days his preferred incendiary devices are words. A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an op-ed he wrote urging the Trump administration to “Send in the Troops” to put down the protests taking place in many cities, which Cotton called “riots” perpetrated by...

Political advertising: "The Panic Room President"

Over the last month I’ve looked at political ads from two recently formed advocacy organizations: the anti-Trump Republican group The Lincoln Project (“Mourning in America”) and the progressive group Meidas Touch (“Looters”). Today I’m turning the spotlight on a third organization, Republican Voters Against Trump (RVAT), which launched in May 2020 with...

"Defund the police"?

Since the shocking, videotaped killing of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white Minneapolis policeman on May 25, tens of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in protest. In many places, demonstrations against police violence were met with callousness and more police violence, often military style. You can’t have a protest without...

Word of the week: Scrollytelling

There ought to be a word for “a familiar phenomenon you didn’t know had a name.” I’d been thinking about the concept for a few weeks, ever since two friends, on separate occasions, expressed puzzlement over the word paywall. Sure, they’d encountered subscriber-only websites or articles. But they hadn’t known there was a special word to describe the...

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