Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Fresh Kills"

A flock feeding at a garbage dumpImage via Wikipedia
Ah, good old New York City... so tell-it-like-it is... I'm so enchanted with the notion that calling the world's biggest garbage dump 'Fresh Kills' is a vivid reminder of just how gruesome a garbage dump is that I'm tempted not to care about the rather more innocent reality behind this striking name. You really do have to admit that 'Fresh Kills' is an awesome name for just about anything, really, but a double-plus-awesome name for a huge garbage dump. Like I say, the story might as well just end here.

As it is, however, the story carries on. Fresh Kills, decommissioned as a garbage dump and now apparently about to be turned into a park (thus showing the new New York, which artificially plasters over its authentic ugliness with astroturf) is named for the stream 'Fresh Kills'. And that comes from Dutch, where kille means 'waterbed'. So it's just a boring multilingual geographical description. Well pooh.

Oh, and Fresh Kills flows into Arthur Kill. Which, in other circumstances, would be a super-awesome name too. Here, though, its coolness dwarfs by comparion.
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Punky Brewster"

Punky BrewsterImage via Wikipedia
What I can tell you about "Punky Brewster": er... nothing.

It was a TV show. It was the main character in said TV show. It was on TV in the late eighties or early nineties and features a plucky young teen, or perhaps pre-teen. I should have been eating it up: I was of more or less the correct age. But for some reason, either I never saw it or I've subsequently wiped from my memory any record of having seen it.

But nomenclaturally, this is gold. This is more than gold. It's, like titanium.

I genuinely love the name 'Punky'. I have to assume that it's a nickname for the character, that her parents didn't say, "What a beautiful little girl; let's name her 'Punky'". I would guess that within the world of the TV show perhaps it's a nickname that indicates her character or personality. Shrug. But it rhymes with 'monkey', and is a-ok in my book.

In any case, it's trumped by the coolness of the name of the actor who played the role. As far as i know, it really is her real birth name: Soleil Moon Frye. I must admit that I don't know if that's "Frye, Soleil Moon" or "Moon Frye, Soleil", but I presume it's the former, and that Mr and Mrs Frye actually did name their daughter after two different heavenly bodies: day and night, French and English. Sounds nicer than "Sun Lune Frye".

Seriously, Soleil is a very pretty words and thus a very pretty name. "Moon" I'm not so keen on. But it worked for Frank Zappa, and I'm sure Moon Unit Zappa was pleased as punch when "Punky Brewster" came on TV to learn she wasn't the only moon in the night sky.
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Thursday, June 10, 2010


I took an anthropology class in high school, and we had to do a project about a certain tribe or culture from somewhere in the world. There was a list, and "!Kung San" just stuck out amongst the others, and I asked for it without knowing anything about the culture. It was that exclamation point.

Turns out, the exclamation point is a click, and to say their name properly, you have to click at the same time as saying the 'k' in their name. It's tricky, but I taught myself to do it. Hey, a name is a name. Plus, it's way better than the more prosaic 'Bushmen of the Kalahari'.

Their awesome click languages, of which there are many, are a wonder to behold. They've always struck me as sounding like two people at once: one who is speaking and one who is just making different clicking noises at the same time. Human speech is so cool. I love that in Chinese, tone affects meaning. I love that Arabic uses sounds deep in the throat. And I love languages that use clicks. Just their names are brilliant: here are some Namibian 'Khoisan' languages: Gǁana, ǂHõã, Juǀʼhoan, ǃXũũ, ǂKxʼauǁʼein, Nǀu, ǁXegwi. No clue how to pronounce them, but they just look to enticingly alien.

Ah, and N!xau? He's the star of The Gods Must be Crazy, an awesome movie with a cool title. It's obviously Namibia's most successful movie, and N!xau, otherwise a farmer, Namibia's most famous actor. You might know that they made a sequal nine years after the original, adventurously titled The Gods Must be Crazy II. What you might not know is that N!xau went to Hong Kong after that to make a few more episodes in the franchise, Hong Kong-made movies entirely steeped in Chinese culture and with next to nothing to do with Namibia, except the 'fish out of water' aspect of a Namibian in Hong Kong. They have great names too, and lots of a/k/a's as well.
  • While the first Cantonese movie is called The Gods Must be Crazy III, its main English name is Crazy Safari. It's also traded as Vampires Must be Crazy, and the direct translation of its Cantonese original, An African Buddhist Monk.
  • The Gods Must be Crazy IV is also called Crazy Hong Kong. There's another movie called The Gods Must be Crazy IV, but it doesn't feature N!xau and has nothing to do with the other movies.
  • The Gods Must be Crazy V also has the highly silly name The Gods Must be Funny, the way superior The Gods Must be Funny in China, or best of all, An African Superman.
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Thursday, June 3, 2010


1990-91 Topps card, left; 1990-1991 O-Pee-Chee...Image via Wikipedia

It's sometimes very strange being Canadian. When in the USA, kids of a certain inclination would get all obsessive about collecting playing cards featuring sports players on them, trading with friends, buying albums to keep them in, buying pack after pack to find elusive cards required to complete sets, eschewing the opposite sex entirely, they would do so in support of a company called "Topps". In Canada, however, while all of the above could well be true, it would be in support of a company with an altogether stranger name: "O-Pee-Chee".

Like summer camps and Boy Scout events from the 1960s,the O-Pee-Chee name feels like a vague English-friendly approximation of a native American word, and according to O-Pee-Chee themselves, it is: they claim it means "the Robin", and is an 'aboriginal word' (since there is, you know, only one Frist Nations language). Why a trading card company would name itself after a bird, I don't know. But they do also point out the more obvious fact: that it's a rough homophone for "Oh! Peachy!", which is what I presume they hoped prepubescent boys would squeal upon receiving a pack of these cards.

It now being a good forty years since anyone ever uttered the interjection 'peachy' with anything other than satirical intent, it's a name that evokes little more than (1) what a silly name, and (2) part of it is a word for urine. Yay!

Not that 'Topps' is that great a name, mind you. But at the same time, well, it's no 'O-Pee-Chee'.

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