Having a ball (or two) with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

I’m very excited to be a new contributor to Strong Language, after my two previous salacious guest posts on scandalous trademarks. I’ve been the author of Gilson on Trademarks, a treatise on U.S. trademark law, since 2006, and I’m delighted to make this foray into sweary territory.  Just don’t tell my parents.

Now, on to our story. Engine 15 Brewing Company applied to register the trademark NUT SACK DOUBLE BROWN ALE for beer. An attorney at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused registration on the ground that the mark was scandalous, meaning that it would offend “a substantial composite of the general public.” The applicant appealed, putting the ball in the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s court. Here’s the beer’s label, which the owner did not try to register:

nut sack ale logo

Before we see how the Board ruled, though, let’s start the ball rolling by looking at the USPTO’s record on testicles, scrotum and related slang terms.

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Dirty wine

Wine brands, especially in the upstart, insecure New World, used to strain to sound serious and Frenchy-fancy. You had your Domains, your Clos, your Chateaus (“Pure Sonoma”!). Even five-dollar plonk could seem classy if it had a ridge or a mountain or a gate in its name. As James Thurber’s wine snob put it in the famous 1944 New Yorker cartoon, we may have been drinking naïve domestic Burgundy, but at least we could be amused by its presumption.

If Thurber were cartooning today, he’d change that last word to presumptuousness. Because inappropriate language—from vulgarity to suggestiveness to scatology—is the hottest trend in wine branding.

Here’s a survey of rude wine names, in alphabetical rude-word order. (And, since you asked, I know a bunch of rude beer brands, too. I’m sticking to wine this time.) Continue reading

Sweary links #2

A smorgasbord of sweary bits for your weekend degustation:

All ADJ and shit

“As far as I can see, ‘all proper and shit’ is a syntactically, semantically, and pragmatically compositional combination of two constructions that have existed in English for hundreds of years.” Language Log’s Mark Liberman considers a shitty idiom.

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