Happy Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us! When you’ve completed the traditional Feats of Strength you may feel like you deserve a celebratory quaff. There are several Festivus beers and ales; here’s one from Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland. They registered the trademark in October 2015.
There’s also a Festivus Maximus sparkling wine, but it’s only tangentially about the made-up December 23 holiday and “Seinfeld.” It’s actually a Baltimore Ravens story: “Festivus Maximus” was coach Brian Billick’s substitute phrase for “playoffs,” a word he superstitiously wouldn’t allow players to utter in the runup to the 2000 Super Bowl (which Baltimore would go on to win).
And now—drumroll, please—it’s time for the traditional Airing of Grievances. In order from serious to frivolous:
Grievance #1: U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, “Democrat” of West Virginia.
Grievance #2: Punitive abortion laws.
Grievance #3: Expensive, hard-to-find Covid test kits.
Grievance #4: People who still haven’t gotten Covid vaccinations.
Grievance #5: TFG. Enough already.
Grievance #6: Movies that run more than two hours. Looking at you, Nightmare Alley.
Grievance #7: Remakes. See #6.
Grievance #8: Sequels.
Grievance #9: Prequels.
Grievance #10: Holiday promotions that include the phrase “’Tis the Season.”
On a happier note, I have two books to recommend, one new, one published in 2011. The new one is Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America, by Scott Borchert.
It’s the thoroughly engaging story of the Federal Writers’ Project, which was part of the New Deal–era Works Progress Administration and which created, among many other publications, guides to all 48 states. The “broke writers” who found gainful employment at the FWP included some soon-to-be-famous names—Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren, Zora Neale Huston, John Cheever—and some more-obscure ones, including Henry Alsberg, the lawyer/journalist who became the FWP’s founding director; and Vardis Fisher, the cantankerous novelist/professor who wrote Idaho: A Guide in Words and Pictures nearly singlehandedly. (Bonus link: About 20 years ago I was part of a team attempting to create new versions of the FWP guidebooks. I wrote about the project last year.)
The older book is Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination, by Misha Berson.
The book is an excellent companion to the recently released Steven Spielberg remake (see Grievances, above) of the 1961 West Side Story movie—or to any version of West Side Story that made an impression on you. Berson, a former theater critic at the Seattle Times, traces the development of the 1957 Broadway musical and the stories of its primary creators—Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins—and then branches out into assorted sub-themes, from bigotry to juvenile delinquency to the rise of the dancer choreographer. For a mini-preview of the book, see Berson’s recent essay for Forward: “More Than 60 Years Later, ‘West Side Story’ Still Matters—Here’s Why.”
Words of the year:
Merriam-Webster chose vaccine. Collins Dictionary singled out NFT (which is on my list as well). Dictionary.com picked allyship. And the Emmett Lee Dickinson Museum (named for “Emily Dickinson’s third cousin, twice removed—at her request”) is counting down the month of December with a notable word each day. Words so far have included The Q’uad, Cancun Cruz, and Yardi Gras.
Austria’s WotY is Schattenkanzler, which translates to “Shadow Chancellor.”
Germany’s WotY is wellenbrecher (pandemic “wave breaker”).
Namerology’s name of the year is “Delta,” part of the new nomenclature for Covid-19 variants chosen in June by the World Health Organization: “The committee first took pains to explain why a naming system was necessary at all. They described various existing scientific nomenclatures, how they came to differ, and how these differences could lead to confusion. This confusion, they explained, could make communication harder. In short, they concluded that names are important because they help people talk to each other about things and tell them apart.”
Rob Meyerson of How Brands Are Built reviews the best and worst brand-name changes of 2021.
The Chinese fast-fashion juggernaut Shein is one of my brand names of the year, and this compelling long read in the Guardian explains why you should take notice even if you aren’t in the target audience: “In May, the company became the most popular shopping app in the US on Android and iOS, and, the same month, topped the iOS rankings in more than 50 other countries. It’s the second-most popular fashion website in the world after Macys.com.”
The new language of the office, from “al desko dining” to Zoombies. (Emma Goldberg for the New York Times)
I look forward every year to Drew Magary’s Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog. Here’s the 2021 edition. (Defector)
Pictured: cloisonné ’Twas the Night Napkin Rings, “hand-filled with vibrant enamel,” four for $99.95. Drew Magary’s comment: “A hundred goddamn dollars. I’ll tell you people something else that’s about to be hand-filled: your ass.”
Something else I look forward to: Erin McKean’s TinyLetter, “Things I Learned While Looking Up Other Things.” This month Erin shared eleven of the words she saved in 2021 using the hypothes.is annotation tool. July’s word was airglow: “blue luminescence given off by cosmic ray strikes and chemical reactions in the atmosphere itself."
“So you want to become a better writer? Be a better reader.” (Ace copy editor Benjamin Dreyer for USA Today.)
More good writing advice, this time from Susan Orlean on how to use quotes: “I’ve written stories that I thought were good that had almost no quotes at all, and I also once wrote a piece that was one long quote, so I definitely swing both ways.”
still hunting for museum gifts and honestly i'm at the point where i think this shirt from the national mustard museum is good pic.twitter.com/Bj7BS31bjh— rachel syme (@rachsyme) December 8, 2021
Wordnik’s guide to gifts for word lovers (and, by now, for procrastinators). I have a framed copy of that “Language Is the Dress of Thought” poster, and it’s a daily inspiration.
If you’re having a bad day, please remember this inspirational quote I got in a pack of stickers from China pic.twitter.com/ogO6U503Pj— ally (@TragicAllyHere) October 5, 2021
How do you punctuate “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”? (Thanks to everyone who forwarded this Ramses the Pigeon video to me.)
According to the Houston Chronicle, it was the 81st best music video of the year.
Is “fiction novel” the “pin number” of books? (James Harbeck for The Week)
After a backlash from people who have read, um, fiction novels, UK retailer John Lewis removed a child’s party dress called “Lollita” from sale. It’s not the first time a UK retailer has had a Lolita problem.
*Pantone’s color of the year for 2022 is “Very Peri,” which Pantone calls the "happiest and warmest of all the blue hues.” From the press release: “PANTONE 17-3938 Very Peri displays a spritely [sic], joyous attitude and dynamic presence that encourages courageous creativity and imaginative expression.”
“Peri” is a truncation of periwinkle, from Late Latin pervinca; the color takes its name from the periwinkle flower (Vinca minor). The Italian name for that flower is fiore di morte: flower of death. Writing in the Paris Review in August 2020, Katy Kelleher called periwinkle “the color of poison, modernism, and dusk.” Feeling happier and warmer yet?
The first French genderless pronoun was coined in 1765. (Dennis Baron, Dr. Grammar)
And here, in case you missed it earlier this month, is Geraldine DeRuiter’s review of Bros in Lecce, Italy, “the worst Michelin-starred restaurant, ever.” (Yes, “Bros” is English slang, not some Italian word you need to look up.) And here’s the cluelessly arrogant, or arrogantly clueless, response of the chef.
That’s -30- for me for 2021. See you in January!