Thursday, July 13, 2006

And Don't Get Me Started on 'Forward Slash'

In "Lapsing Into a Comma," I mocked my neighborhood coffee bar for using the unnecessary retronym "country muffin" to distinguish a muffin from an English muffin. After all, I pointed out, referring to an English muffin as a muffin would be like referring to table tennis as "tennis."

The sad thing, half a decade later, is that hearing table tennis referred to as tennis would no longer surprise me:

  • I've heard people say "custard" when they mean the form of ice cream known as frozen custard. Custard is a very real and extant substance that still needs a name of its own, people. Do you refer to ice cream as "cream"?

  • I heard a radio host introduce a coach from "the Olympics -- the Special Olympics!" The second part was presented as an amplifier, not a correction.

    On a lighter retronym note, I recently caught the "Simpsons" episode in which Kent Brockman refers to "sky stars" to distinguish the luminous celestial objects from the likes of "Matthew Modine and Charlene Tilton."

    Hey, let's have a contest! If stars need to be called sky stars, what modifier do we need to insert before "custard" to make it clear we mean custard? And how about "the [blank] Olympics"?

  • 30 comments:

    Adam Vandenberg said...

    "Goo Custard"

    Len said...

    The Not-So-Differently-Abled Olympics

    Slightly Jiggly Custard

    Stephen Holland said...

    "classic" custard

    Aaron said...

    legacy custard

    the International World Olympics(R)

    Aaron said...

    Uh, can I add one more?

    Custard 1.0

    unclewilly said...

    Old-Timey No Brain Freeze Custard

    The Illegally Doped-Up Olympics

    Shaun G said...

    In defense of "custard" being used instead of "frozen custard," my guess is that there's typically some context present. If I'm talking about going to get some custard at my local frozen confection shop, I think it's pretty well understood that I mean frozen custard -- same as if I were to say that I'm getting some cookie dough.

    Bill said...

    "Getting some cookie dough" is more like "getting some chocolate" -- yeah, in context, that makes sense. It's a flavor. But custard is custard. Even simply freezing it doesn't make it that kind of frozen custard. If I say "I'm getting some cream!" at Baskin-Robbins, that doesn't make cream = ice cream.

    Joe Clark said...

    You know you’re talking about backformation, right? And that “forward slash” became necessary to differentiate it from “backslash”? (For some people, at least. And some others cannot dictate an URL without mistaking slash for backslash.)

    Bill said...

    Back-formation is a different thing, though I guess you could call the process related. I understand that backslashes exist, but people who mean "backslash" say "backslash," just as people who say "table tennis" say "table tennis" -- a mention of "slash" should not prompt the question "You mean backslash?" If we're dealing with people who think URLs ever take backslashes, we need to start at a whole different stage of hand-holding anyway.

    Len said...

    The Extra Special Olympics

    Forward Slash Custard

    Does this mean that the former guitarist for Guns and Roses is now known as Forward Slash?

    Bill said...

    Good stuff. The Special -- no, really, we're not using it euphemistically here -- Olympics!

    Bill said...

    OK, fine: Webster's New World does list one meaning of "custard" as "short for frozen custard."

    Bah!

    MuPu said...

    Depending on the local custard-serving custom, I suppose one of these modifiers might work for the traditional variety: conventional, normal, regular, room-temperature, lukewarm.

    Then there's "custard custard." You've heard this use before: "Honey, could you pick up some butter butter [or 'real butter'] at the store?"

    I can think of one example of what might be called a retro-retronym (in American usage): "regular gasoline." We used to have gasoline, which happened to contain lead. Later, we had regular and unleaded gas. Then the leaded kind was outlawed, and unleaded became the new regular.

    How about the increasingly common "free gift"? I'm not quite sure that it's a "true retronym," but it's close. Also very much in use lately: "two-parent family."

    Let the Games begin. The International Olympic Committee doesn't even use the word "Olympics." They refer only to the Olympic Games, the Olympic Summer Games, the Olympic Winter Games, and the Games.

    Clare said...

    My parents have a milk languauge barrier problem:

    Full cream milk is called 'Fat Milk' by my mother (milk with lots of fat in it) and 'Thin Milk' by my father (milk for thin people)

    Skimmed milk (don't know what you call it in the States -- I mean milk with all the cream taken out) is called 'Thin Milk' by my mother (milk for people trying to become thin) and 'Fat Milk' by my father (milk for fat people).

    Bill said...

    "Skim milk" used to be the standard stateside term, but the industry has gone to "fat-free milk" of late.

    I love "fat milk," though of course we do have the term "whole milk."

    Supermarkets and such often used to write of their "homo milk" to distinguish it from chocolate milk. I bet the fogies who hmmph about "gay" once meaning "happy" aren't bemoaning that loss.

    Bill said...

    "Two-parent family" is a wonderful retronym example. Another great one I came across on a list of them: George H.W. Bush!

    With gasoline, "regular" is the opposite of "premium" (or, way back when, "ethyl"). I still hear "unleaded" a lot even though there is no "leaded" -- it's in the standard boilerplate of the price-reporting people.

    DCWhite said...

    Freedom custard, of course!

    mlivingston said...

    Re: "If we're dealing with people who think URLs ever take backslashes, we need to start at a whole different stage of hand-holding anyway."

    Those dark ages are indeed dawning. Not only do I hear references to a "/" as a "backslash" every week, but I'm also directed to "log on" to Web sites that have no login barrier or to "download" material that I'm actually just supposed to -- what's the word? oh yeah -- "read."

    Woman Speaks the Truth said...

    Actually, backslashes work just as well as "forward" slashes do when you're typing URLs. Whether you're visiting http://theslot.blogspot.com/ or http:\\theslot.blogspot.com\, you'll get to the same place.

    Bill said...

    Thanks, "woman"; that is news to me -- I hadn't thought to try. Still: While it's nice of the browser makers to auto-correct the error (and note that the backslashes do get changed to slashes when a page loads), it is indeed an error to use the word "backslash" in spelling out a Web address.

    Squirrel Boy said...

    Windows and DOS file paths (like C:\WINDOWS\directory) always require forward slashes, though. And yes, I've seen text that had backslashes instead.

    Retronyms and backformations really aren't that similar. Backformations involve reanalyzing a word and then breaking off a supposed morpheme (like taking burglar and creating burgle from it on analogy of words farmer and farm).

    MuPu said...

    Windows and DOS file paths (like C:\WINDOWS\directory) always require forward slashes, though. And yes, I've seen text that had backslashes instead.

    Um, I've seen that, too. Recently.

    Squirrel Boy said...

    Argh. That should be the other way around, of course.

    P. said...

    I haven't seen anything but frozen custard (you DO realize that they call it frozen custard because "Ice Cream" would imply that there is cream in the product, which there isn't?) called "custard" in years. "Custard" has become "pudding," unless you're at a fancy restaurant where they call it "flan."

    There are more painful examples, notably "single-family home," which used to be "house," and "one-year anniversary."

    Jack said...

    Creme anglais.

    Bill said...

    "Natural breasts"!

    Bingo Dobber said...

    I hear "real cheese" or "real eggs" used to differentiate from subsitutes.

    "Real custard"


    In the military, a common usage is "Whack" to describe any kind of slash used in URLs or drive paths.

    When you need to dictate a full URL to someone it sounds like, "http colon whackwhack url whack name"

    MuPu said...

    "Ground war"!

    "Free-range chickens"!

    "Natural birth"!

    And, if I may grandfather a retronym several thousand years prior to the birth of the English language: "Raw meat"!

    [Time to retire the exclamation point.]

    Oo, oo. How could we overlook "Old English"?

    mollie said...

    I never heard of frozen custard growing up in Maryland - but we ate baked custard routinely at home, and always called it baked custard. But maybe we were just weird. :-)