Among many other things, Madeline Kripke was a collector of dictionaries and other language books. At her death, in April 2020, an early victim of the Covid-19 pandemic, she left behind more than 20,000 books, boxes full of manuscripts — from an early Merriam-Webster archive to her own purchasing records, essential to determining the provenance of her many acquisitions — and ephemera, so much that she could barely move in her Greenwich Village apartment. But impressive as they are, the numbers are less important than her curation: she wasn’t a hoarder, and she didn’t collect accidentally or on a whim, but purposefully and with great knowledge of the history of people’s interest in language. She was a formidable scholar who chose to exercise her intelligence, not by teaching in a university, but by curating a peerless private collection. Much of that collection is devoted to strong language or language adjacent to it.
Martha Gellhorn and all-American-lady-swearing
Sentimentally, we like to think that ladies of an earlier time — mostly our grandmothers and great-grandmothers — lived virtuous lives, without swearing. When Joseph Mitchell profiled A. S. Colborne, who spent much of his life trying to exterminate profanity, for The New Yorker in 1941, he captured the paradoxical view of women’s swearing, partly as a function of class, at that time. When Mitchell visited one day, Colborne explained, “I’m sort of sleepy … Sat up late last night studying over bar and grill profanity. Why, the women are worse than the men. And you can’t talk to them! Why, they’ll spit in your eye!” But then, he remembered that when he first started admonishing swearers on the street, he would insist, “‘Your dear old mother never taught you to talk like that. Think it over!” But maybe some mothers did, and some classy women of the mid-twentieth century apparently swore a lot, whatever our mythology.
I was reminded of this while reading Janet Somerville’s new selection of Martha Gellhorn’s letters, Yours, for probably always (Firefly Books, 2019) and then Caroline Morehead’s Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life (Henry Holt and Company, 2003). Gellhorn is a remarkable writer, perhaps most famous for her war reporting. The final edition of The Face of War (1988), collects dispatches from the Spanish Civil War, the wars in Finland and China, Word War II, wars in Java and Vietnam, the Six Day War, and Central American wars. She wrote fiction, too, perhaps most importantly The Trouble I’ve Seen (1936), four stories about the Great Depression. To my mind, Gellhorn is one of the best American writers of the twentieth century.
Plenty of cock to go around
Soon we may have all sorts of COCK-formative trademarks engorging the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database because the bar on registering scandalous trademarks is dying a slow death. But the current COCK-related trademark controversy is more complicated and, frankly, less fun than the pending application for COCK SUCKER for candy in the shape of a rooster.
Faleena Hopkins has written several self-published romance novels, among them the Cocker Brothers of Atlanta series, also called the Cocky series. These brothers, though they have cockiness and, apparently, horniness in common, have chosen diverse paths in life. Titles in the series thus include Cocky Marine, Cocky Cowboy, Cocky Genius and Cocky Senator.
After publishing a number of books in the series, Hopkins went on to obtain two federal trademark registrations for COCKY. She owns one for COCKY in no particular font for “a series of books in the field of romance” and “a series of downloadable e-books in the field of romance,” issued April 17, 2018. And another stylized mark for the same goods, issued May 1, 2018:
Armed with her registration, Hopkins appears to have used the Amazon Brand Registry to have Amazon take down several novels with “Cocky” in the title. (The ABR requires a trademark registration.) She has also sent out several cease and desist letters to individual authors with “Cocky” titles.
This has pissed the publishing community off royally. For the full shitstorm, check out #cockygate on Twitter. Just brace yourself for the vitriol. The Romance Writers of America trade association is consulting with legal counsel to figure out how to stop Hopkins, and a Moveon.org petition urging the USPTO to cancel Hopkins’ trademark registrations has almost 27,000 signatures as of this writing. Continue reading
‘A pee’ vs. ‘a wee’ and the subtleties of translation in Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar
I recently read Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar, translated into English from the original Swedish. It was a perfectly Scandinavian murder mystery, and for the majority of the book I did not notice it was a work in translation. There was one thing that kept tripping me up as I read:
Who fucks who, and why should we care?
This is a guest post by Alon Lischinsky, Senior Lecturer in Communication and Discourse at Oxford Brookes University, who — after working many years on materials like management books and corporate annual reports — is now studying the language of porn using corpus linguistics. He tweets at @alischinsky.
The British police drama Broadchurch can be gritty, uncompromising and bleak, but rarely sweary. Despite the grim events that rock the small coastal town, whole episodes pass without any strong language other than the occasional expletive shit or bloody hell. By the time that Cath Atwood gets coarse in S03E05, it’s because her husband and best friend’s affair has truly fucked her up: