"Prisencolinensinainciusol" is a song composed by Adriano Celentano, and performed by Celentano and Raffaella CarrĂ . It was first released as a single on November 3, 1972, later also on his album Nostalrock. The lyrics are pure gibberish, intended to sound like American English as heard by a non English-speaker. In an interview, Celentano explains that the song is about "incommunicability" because in modern times people are not able to communicate to each other anymore. He added the only word we need is "prisencolinensinainciusol" which is supposed to stand for "universal love." (from wikipedia)


I'm a Mac (Smug) / I'm a PC (Stuffy)

Given the recent attention that Cristi has given to the Great Apple / Microsoft Ad War of 2009, I thought I'd call some attention to some ads that have escaped our Yankee eyes. No doubt, anyone with access to a television is keenly aware of the Mac vs. PC ads, the ones where Justin Long heaps steaming piles of smug on that unfortunate looking and woefully out of touch PC guy. What you may not have seen is how these ads were imported for the viewing pleasure of our friends from across the pond.

For those who haven't had a chance to see or have never heard of Peep Show, That Mitchell and Webb Look, or That Mitchell and Webb Situation, you should change that posthaste. The first season of Peep Show can be streamed on Hulu, the first season of That Mitchell and Webb Look can be streamed on Netflix, and That Mitchell and Webb Situation can be found on YouTube (along with the remainder of the other two series). These shows are without a doubt some of the finest comedy programs I've ever watched, and a clarion reminder of why the Brits do it so much better than we do (I'm sorry, but the American version of The Office is a waste of time, imho.) Anyway, when Apple decided to import the Mac vs. PC ads to the Queen's Country, they enlisted the help of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, who--you've probably guessed--created and starred in the above programs.

Like Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, or Winston Churchill said: America and Great Britain are two nations separated by a common language, and these ads when viewn through this lens change the tone of the ads quite a bit. They heighten the smug Mac / stuffy PC conflict to the point of ridiculousness, which has the effect, at least in my eyes, of invalidating the aim of the advertisements in the first place. Whereas they are supposed to be 'out with the old and in the with new' ads, they affect the tone of the cool kid in school making fun of sorry old Poindexter who is too wrapped up in his schoolwork to stop and smell the iFlowers.

Now, this brings me back to what Cristi was writing about with the populism of the Microsoft ads. Their recent ad where they give someone a thousand dollars to buy a computer was the most effective. While Macs may be slick, cool, easy on the eyes, and--I'm told--immune to viruses, they're still prohibitively expensive and not without their own shortcomings. If I were Microsoft's Don Draper, I'd produce a commercial where a Mac user fidgets with those oddly-designed AC Adapters that Apple makes attempting to plug it in at just the right angle so their MacBook Air will charge, gives up when they cannot accomplish this, calls tech support to find out that their AppleCare Warranty has expired, and then has to buy a new AC Adapter for 100 dollars which they will be given the option to have engraved. If that doesn't shatter Apples pretense of cool, I don't know what will. In short: To heck with Apples fashionability; all hail the rugged PC, as rugged as the hands of the proletariat.

And now for something completely different:


Funnest. Usage. Ever.

In an interesting symmetry with my last post, the Montgomery Street BART station has been taken over by Mac ads. (Click pictures to enlarge.)

Specifically, they're iPod ads, and they are standard Mac white with bright images of the product being played with, and minimal text. In fact, the only text is either 'iPod Touch' or:

"The funnest iPod ever."

Maybe it's my pro-mac bias coming out, but I think this is a particularly pithy, appropriate and communicative Invented Usage.

Because it's the only text in all the ads throughout the station, we can't possibly think that 'funnest' is an error or is unconsidered. Further evidence that it is a conscious choice comes from the fact that it matches the content of the ads: 'funnest' is a fun word. At least, it's certainly more fun than 'most fun'.

I am generally a fan of language that does what it talks about, or imitates the experience it tries to convey. 'Funnest' is a nice clean example of this. Writing teachers are fond of saying, 'show; don't tell'. And 'funnest' does both in one word.


All the Sudden, It's Windows 7

You've probably noticed that Microsoft is advertising Windows 7 very heavily -- posters from this campaign have taken over the Montgomery BART station in downtown San Francisco, where I go on the way to and from work every day. (Click pictures to enlarge.)

"I'm a PC" positions the PC as the computer of the people, and "Windows 7 was my idea" builds on that momentum. (Notice none of them have computers at all -- Windows is computers for non-computer people.) This whole campaign takes sort of 'everyman' approach it takes, which is reflected in the images and, of course, the language.

Which, to my mind, makes it even easier to forgive something like a less/fewer error:

"I told them it should require less steps. Now it requires less steps"

These are supposed to be everyday people, using spoken language -- I'm willing to call this a calculated decision by Microsoft's copywriters. (Even though the guy using 'require' doesn't seem to match with this level of casualness. But whatever.)

The same might go for these examples of hedging, which I find really funny:
"I said to make it effortless. They made it pretty effortless"

"I said, 'nice and simple.' And now? It's nicer. And simpler"

As I've written before, 'pretty' is just about as ambiguous as it gets, allowing readings from 'very effortless' to 'barely effortless'. And both of the above seem to generate a really strong implicature that Windows 7 is not completely nice and simple, and not totally effortless. If it really were totally nice and effortless, why would you not say so?

But the thing that really caught my attention was this Invented Usage:

Now, I'm fairly certain I've heard 'all the sudden' (as opposed to 'all of a sudden') before in spoken language, but it really struck me as odd here. For all the weirdness and informality of the campaign, it's certainly all in standard English.

It's not shown in the picture, but the person represented as the speaker of this quote is a middle-aged black man. I wondered if this was a nod toward African American Vernacular English, but haven't been able to find anything on line to support the idea that this is an AAVE idiom, or that it's associated with any other speech style in particular.

Of course, I did find the usual rants about how 'cringe-worthy' 'all the sudden' is:

Most of my friends had the intuition that this usage was unprofessional and probably hurt the image of the campaign, since it might show sloppiness or lack of consideration. (Not to mention that the crux of the campaign is that people hated windows before, and got so upset that it finally changed... sigh.)

I think either the writer thought this was on the same level of informality as the rest of the campaign, or the writer (and copy editors, graphics people, etc.) didn't know the 'correct' version of the idiom. Either way, this seems like evidence that 'all the sudden' has come farther into the norm than I thought.


invented usage and friends

first, i want to give a shout out to Jonathan and Lauren, who have been visiting San Francisco for a Linguistic Society of America conference this weekend. it's nice to be in the linguistics loop a bit, even if i'm not in the linguistics world.

Lauren works for a lab in Boston labeling noun phrases for a computer language-recognition project that sounds really interesting. (she's also the only current follower of invented usage!) Jonathan is in a joint PhD program at UCSD and San Diego state, where he specializes in sign language. He presented his first year paper at the conference this weekend. (On the schedule under 'Speech Planning and Signed Language Phonology')

second, Dave over at tubthump.blogspot.com has written about one of those everyday grammar foibles that we concern ourselves with here at invented usage:
I just saw a poster for Valkyrie, whose tagline is: "Many saw evil. They dared to stop it." I assume that the writers are using the common construction that typically goes "Many people talk about [some problem], but these people did something about it." The "but" and the emphasis on "these people" (or just "they") are critical because without them it's not obvious that the subject of the second clause is not the same as that of the first. Without this emphasis, one could read that the people who talked about the problem are also doing something about it, but the speaker is actually trying to contrast the two groups' responses. Moreover, I'd argue that this is the more common (and grammatically correct) reading.
Check out his full post here.

last, and probably least, i apologize for my long absence! i'm running a firefighter blog, The Kitchen Table, as part of my job now, which makes it hard to get motivated to blog when i get home. It's going pretty well and is worth a look-see!