Sunday, May 29, 2005

Slang, Paris Hilton, and the Economics of a Trademarked Lexicon

Catch that phrase! Another way for rich people to get richer.

People who know us, know we like words. We like to lick them, taste them, and play with them. We *LOVE* letters and sounds, and are super happy about any trend that involves language (new and old) and text. Monograms: yes. Text messaging: yes. T-shirts with tarty maxims: yes. Snoop dog inspired inflections: fo' shizzle.

One of the main reasons we like slang is that it is inherently subversive and innovative. It challenges the pre-existing, authoriatrian rules around speech and writing, and it invents new ways to say new things. It's incredibly imaginative and fun, and radical.

And since language has long been part of the "branding" process, it doesn't shock us at all that Paris has filed to trademark the phrase, "That's Hot." And whie we are willing to admit that P.H. has made this into a real catchphrase, we were a little annoyed when she tried to claim that it was part of her own "language." Despite the fact that the whole question around what makes a "language" is too big of a nut for us to crack in this little post, we do feel that we can challenge Paris on this claim. I mean, is really so different from You're Fired??

Increasing the popularity of a phrase (that has long been in use) is not the same thing as inventing a phrase or creating a language. "Off the chain" is an invention; " "You're fired" is not. Snoop's shizzolator generates a new language; saying "that's hot" ????? How is that even remotely like making up a language? "

"You're Fired" and "That's hot" are marketing and brand slogans, sort of like "good to the last drop" or "double your pleasure" or "trix are for kids." But even these are examples of slogans that were actually invented by someone. Donald and Paris are trying to brand slogans that people have been saying for quite awhile. And while it might make some people feel rich and glamorous simply by saying "that's hot," the money they spend on pencils and purses bearing this slogan will only make them poorer and Paris richer.

Interestingly, the catchphrase -- what both Paris and Donald are trying to "own" -- is the thing that can be "branded" and thus used to make more money(and you know, they need it) while phrases that non-marketers (re: regular folks) invent like "off the chain" seem to resist ownership -- or rather, their ownership is shared. Sure, we can trace a phrase or word's origins and etymology, monitor its rise and fall in popularity, but we usually don't treat these words or phrases as being "owned" as much as we treat them as being "used" or "shared." In fact language -- technically -- has to be shared because its value is vested in its ability to communicate. Sure, these phrases and words simultaneously operate to include and exclude, and to do all sorts of other things. Their dynamism is a key component of their desireability and consequential popularity. But this doesn't stop. And it isn't static (like a slogan). Slang constantly renews itself. And this is one of the reasons it's so good. And so fun.

Newspeak, however, is not fun. As far as we know, Bush hasn't filed to patent any of his confusing phrases, but you can check out why people are worried about euphenmisms like "War on Terror" here and here. Now that's NOT hot.

Check out , UrbanDictionary, for the real skinny on the freshest words and phrases. And while you're at it -- make some up!!!

*** for our most favoritest type of ne0logisms and phrases go here.
We also like this.


UPDATE (6/2): Trademark denied!!!


ren said...

So what are your thoughts on the whole " 'litespeak " phenomenon (read: "elite" but drop the "e")? I probably spelled it wrong. And maybe it has other names. and it's getting a little old by now, too. But, you know, the computer messaging slang that many people seem fluent in. (Not me.) And not just things like "BTW" and "WTF" but using "3" to replace "e" and such. I haven't formed an opinion, but I think it goes along with the anti-authoritative streak other forms of non-trademarked slang have been on. What's out there that examines it?

femme feral said...

I love all that stuff!!! It seems like text messaging has this tendency that's comparable to rebus abacus writing (when you replace a word with a symbol -- i.e. a picture of an eye for "I".) I love that stuff. It's like neo-Hieroglyphics.

Jenny said...

You know what really annoys me about "that's hot"? That I can't stop saying it in my everyday speech. I catch myself saying it ALL the time and everytime I do I feel like such a tool. "That's hot, that's hot, that's hot." ARGH! At least I haven't started going around saying, "You're fired."

You know what I love about how language is evolving right now? I think it's so cool how, because you want to be fast--fast on email, fast on text messages--certain conventions are dropped because there too cumbersome. Most punctuation, for instance, is too time consuming. Apostrophes, capitalization--I can't be bothered. It takes about four or five key strokes on my cell phone to put a period at the end of my sentences, so I rarely do it.

Screw u grammar rules!

femme feral said...

I know -- "That's hot" is fun to say, but I always imagine "hot" with two "t"s -- i.e., "That's hott." For some reason, I like it better with two ts.

And I think the whole dropping letters and punctuation phenom is rad. And there's a precedent for it in the poet's use of elision -- 'twas, 'tis, hap'ning . . . Both shortenings are functional; one keeps lines metrically neat and regular, and the other works as a sort of abbreviated code.

kids today are so smart!