08 December 2017

Blurbs and Bromides

Book jacket with blurbs

A "blurb" sounds like a nonsense word and its origin was a kind of joke. Nowadays, we associate the word with the short comments of praise used to promote a product. You find them on book jackets and ads, and on DVD boxes and movie posters, as well as some other products that use promotional words from celebrities or "real customers."

In 1906 humorist Gelett Burgess wrote a short book called Are You a Bromide. On the cover of his book, there was a promotional quote of "Yes, this a blurb" credited to a Miss Belinda Blurb. Burgess defined a "blurb" as "a flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial." The Miss Belinda Blurb gag caught on and became associated with that type of marketing content.

But Burgess did not invent the idea of putting a promotional quote on a book. Supposedly, it began with Walt Whitman's poetry collection, Leaves of Grass. In response to the publication of the first edition in 1855, Ralph Waldo Emerson had sent Whitman a congratulatory letter, including the phrase "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." So, in the following year when the second edition was published, Whitman had these words stamped in gold leaf on the spine of the books.

Movie poster that uses a number of blurbs

In that same book, Burgess also coined the usage of the word "bromide" as a personification of a sedate, dull person who said boring things, and now bromide means either the boring person itself or more commonly the trite statement of that person.

Actual silver bromide was a chemical used in early photographic printmaking and later bromine salts were used as a sedative. It was also the basis for Bromo-Seltzer, a popular remedy for headaches, upset stomachs and hangovers. That sedated person or hungover person probably inspired the boring person for Burgess' usage.

Examples of bromides he gave in the book included "I don't know much about Art, but I know what I like," "... she doesn't look a day over fifty," "It isn't so much the heat... as the humidity"
and "You're a sight for sore eyes."

27 November 2017

Scandals Ending in -gate

     The Watergate complex - via Wikimedia

The list of scandals or controversies whose names include a "-gate" suffix continues to grow. The suffix -gate in this usage derives from the Watergate scandal of the United States in the early 1970s, which resulted in the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon.

The scandal was named after the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., the site of a break-in that triggered journalists to investigate. The complex itself is named after the "Water Gate" area where symphony orchestra concerts were staged on the Potomac River between 1935 and 1965.

The suffix is added to a noun or name to suggest the existence of a scandal, particularly in politics and government, especially when there is the suggestion of Watergate-like unethical behavior and a cover-up.

William Safire, the conservative New York Times columnist and former Nixon administration speechwriter, promoted the usage of -gate. In September 1974 he wrote of "Vietgate" (a proposed pardon of the Watergate criminals and Vietnam War draft dodgers) and later used the terms Billygate, Briefingate, Contragate, Deavergate, Debategate, Doublebillingsgate, Frankiegate, Franklingate, Genschergate, Housegate, Iraqgate, Koreagate, Lancegate, Maggiegate, Nannygate, Raidergate, Scalpgate, Travelgate, Troopergate and Whitewatergate.

It all started in the political realm and continues to be used there. Irangate or Contragate (also referred to as the Iran–Contra affair) during the 1980s involved the Reagan Administration selling weapons to Iran and diverting the proceeds to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

More recently, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has had two -gates. Though neither one led to any legal repercussions for him, they probably were factors in him being passed over as a Vice-Presidential running mate for Donald Trump. First was Bridgegate in 2013 when allegations that Christie's administration ordered lane closures from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to the George Washington Bridge because the Fort Lee mayor did not endorse his reelection. Next was Beachgate in 2017 when the Governor was caught on camera lounging in the sun with his family at a state-owned beach house amid a statewide government shutdown that closed such beaches to the public.

Weinergate was a 2011 scandal involving U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner and his Twitter account. Weiner claimed that his account had been hacked, but later admitted he sent numerous lewd photographs to women. In 2013, he resigned from the House.

But the -gate suffix has gone beyond politics.

In the arts, examples include Celebgate when in 2014 almost 500 private pictures of various celebrities (including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, and Jessica Brown Findlay), many containing nudity, were leaked via iCloud and posted online at 4chan, and later disseminated by other users on websites and social networks.

This year was Envelopegate  which occurred at the Academy Awards. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced La La Land as the winner for Best Picture. A few minutes later, after the producers gave their acceptance speeches, it was announced that Moonlight was the actual winner. Beatty explained that the envelope that was handed to him showed Emma Stone as the winner for Best Actress, which she already won earlier. PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken the blame for the fiasco and has apologized.

An example from journalism is Rathergate (also known as "Memogate") from 2004 over a forged memo about George W. Bush's military record that ultimately led to the resignation of Dan Rather as anchor of CBS Evening News.

Sports has had two Spygates. One, also known as Stepneygate, involves a 2007 allegation of espionage in Formula One racing carried out by members of the McLaren team. Another Spygate scandal that year involved the New England Patriots' videotaping of the New York Jets defensive signals during an NFL game.

And those patriots had another -gate in 2015's Deflategate. The NFL investigated reports that game balls had been deflated by the team to enable firmer grips on passes. It was reported that 11 of 12 footballs provided by the Patriots were underinflated and on May 11, 2015, the NFL announced it had suspended Tom Brady without pay for 4 games of the upcoming season. The Patriots were fined $1 million and lost their first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and their fourth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. In September 2015 a federal judge overturned the suspension, allowing Brady to play the 2015 season. A federal appeals court overturned the lower court's ruling, reimposing the suspension for 2016.

In the tech world, Apple suffered Bendgate in 2014 when numerous people reported bent iPhone 6 Plus phones, which was later reported on by Consumer Reports. In 2015, Chipgate emerged when it was discovered that Apple used two different kinds of processors in the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, one made by Samsung and the other by TSMC, with the Samsung one running hotter and using more battery life.

You can read about many more on the Wikipedia list of scandals with the "-gate" suffix.

15 November 2017

Boomerang Generation

Boomerang Generation is a term that is applied to Western culture young adults graduating high school and college in the 21st century in Western culture. They are so named for the percentage of whom choose to share a home with their parents after previously living on their own—thus boomeranging back to their parents' residence.

The term can also be used to indicate only those members of this age-set that actually do return back home and not the whole generation. In as much as home-leaving practices differ by economic class, the term is most meaningfully applied to members of the middle class.

This idea was the premise of the film Failure to Launch (2006) about a thirty something slacker who suspects his parents of setting him up with his dream girl so he'll finally vacate their home. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Zooey Deschanel.