December 28, 2010

You can't make this stuff up

For years, the Atlantic Monthly would run a back page column, "Word Fugitives," that solicited readers to invent clever terms for common phenomena for which there ought to be a word. And each month, brilliant suggestions would pour in and columnist Barbara Wallraff would then pick one as the best of the best. And then ... nothing would ever happen. As far as I could tell, none of these useful and self-explanatory terms would ever enter common use. 

Similarly, in 2003, while reviewing a Matrix sequel, I coined the term frauteur to refer to one of a pair of brothers who make films together, fraternal auteurs such as the Coens, Farrellys, Wachowskis, Wayans, and on and on. 

It's a genuine phenomenon of some interest that deserves explication: we need a frauteur theory, if you will. The emergence of frauteurs appears to have slowed down a little in recent years, probably because of the decline in the number of pairs of brothers due to the decline in family sizes after the Baby Boom, but 2010 did see the emergence of the Duplass brothers with Cyrus, starring John C. O'Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Maria Tomei. In contrast, I've never heard of a sisterly equivalent or a mixed sex pair of siblings who make movies together as a team, although I may be missing somebody.

With the Coen Brothers in the news for True Grit, I checked Google to see how far my convenient coinage had spread over the last seven years. 

As you might guess, it hasn't spread at all. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

In contrast, the wholly non-self-explanatory phrase "jump the shark" shows up on 376,000 webpages. That phrase requires the recounting of an incredibly boring backstory about some television episode, which suggests that the Atlantic got it all backward by looking for clever terms. The stupider and more abstruse the etymology, the more likely chance it has to flourish.

That seems to be true not just with neologisms. Etymology is perhaps the most intellectually frustrating field of study because, as a general rule, all clever theories about the origin of any word are wrong. The real explanation is always something boring and senseless, like "from a West Frisian word for turnip greens."

By the way, that reminds me of a question: how many well-known brother-sister partnerships are there outside of male-female entertainment fields such as singing (Donny & Marie Osmond), dancing (Fred & Adele Astaire), and figure skating (various)?

For example, the Versace designing family has had two flamboyant celebrities, the late Gianni and his sister Donatella, but I'm drawing a blank on other well-known brother-sister partnerships. I'm sure there are other ones, but I just can't think of any more.

90 comments:

AMcGuinn said...

The term "etymology" was formed from the Latin "etus" ("eaten"), the root "mal" ("bad"), and "logy" ("study of"). It meant "the study of things that are hard to swallow."

(P.J. O'Rourke, I think).

Anonymous said...

I think it's just that frateur sucks as a neologism and that you lack influence over the type of people that would use it in high visibility settings, cutting off the two easiest routes towards its popularization. Stephen Colbert had great and deserved success with "truthy".

Hopefully Anonymous
http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com

Anonymous said...

O God I wish I never learned what jump the shark means. I have to explain it to about a half dozen people a year whose eyes invariably glaze over into a glare that says "You are a pathological liar. There is no way that's why it means that if it does mean that."

Anonymous said...

I foolishly used the phrase "jump the shark" once on an internet forum. I was thoroughly lambasted for it too...

Anonymous said...

Karen and (brother) Carpenter.

Formerly.JP98 said...

I think the problem with "frauteur" is that it looks and sounds too much like "frotteur," which is not something you want to be calling people. (Not without good cause, at any rate.)

bud said...

Too close to 'frotteur'.

http://www.forensicpsychiatry.ca/paraphilia/frotteurism.htm

Anonymous said...

Best use of "jump the shark" was when Barry Zuckerkorn jumped it on the pier to go eat at Burger King.

Anonymous said...

Let me take a stab at this. The reason for creative partnerships between brothers requires a couple of things -- they are close in age so they are near social equals; they shared a room growing up (perhaps). A typical Wally and the Beaver will spend a lot of time hanging around together over the course of at least a decade, and if they happen to be creative, they will probably spend hundreds of hours pitching fantastic ideas to each other for shear amusement. Look at the bio pic of Robert Crumb -- it was the sad and twisted eldest brother, obsessed by Terry and the Pirates, who inspired Robert to become an underground comic artist. If Charles hadn't lost his marbles I suspect he and Robert would have formed a partnership. Maybe they would have even become frauteurs, creating animation masterpieces vastly exceeding in quality the profoundly crappy Fritz the Cat, which was just a dopey exercise in commercial exploitation by Jewish immigrant on the make, Ralph Bakshi.

It would be very rare for a brother and sister to hang out together while growing up the way two brothers might. Unless---
the brother is a poof. Like Gianni Versace.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, William F. Buckley's sister was a bigwig at National Review.

Simon in London said...

Frateur is better than frauteur IMO. Frauteur looks too much like "fraud" and "hauteur", its connotations are too negative, which is not what you intended. Frateur has Frat as in Frat Party, I think it has a better balance.

dores said...

The Bobsey Twins.

hailtoyou said...

"Jump The Shark: A term to describe the moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity. Origin from a Happy Days episode where the Fonz jumped a shark on waterskis. This was labeled the lowest point of the show." Fonz Jumping the Shark.

This is not such a boring backstory, if true.

Dahinda said...

Actually there was a time before "Jump the Shark" when the term used was "Fondling the Arnold." It came about from the episode where Gordon Jump tries to molest Arnold and his friend on Diff'rent Strokes. For some reason though, "Jump the Shark" became more popular. Go figure!

anony-mouse said...

Michael and Janet Jackson worked together on 'Scream'.

Jeff said...

Wilbur and Orville Wright had a sister named Katharine. While they were at Kitty Hawk, according to Wikipedia, she "constantly wrote to them, keeping them abreast of family and hometown news."

Does that count?

slumber_j said...

It's "John C. Reilly."

slumber_j said...

Oh, yeah: and "Marisa Tomei."

Anonymous said...

To coin a word or phrase - and expect it to reach general usage is no easy matter, words and phrases simply don't 'emerge' that way.
They seem to emerge from some general ether, firstly as an underground semi-criminal argot that is seen as 'edgy and 'trendy' and it goes without saying well over 90% are sexual or scatological in character, the othes motly relating to money or racially derogatory - this probably reflects mankinds major preoccupations.
Anyhow, if etymology (especially the edgier kind) is your thing then the classic text is Eric Partridge's opus "Historical Slang", published by Penguin and now on its umpteenth reprint.
I don't know if this English classic has ever been published in America.
Also good - and very amusing - is "Roger's Profanisaurus", published by the "Viz" people (an English semi pornographic comic) that's literally a mine of elaborate, ingenious modern British slang (mostly sexual in nature). I doubt if it's ever been published in America or is even known in the USA.

Joel said...

Perhaps it's not how clever or self-explanatory the neologism is, but how _useful_.

Many conversations involve "things that have outlived their usefulness and gotten stupid," while very few involve "brothers who make movies."

Bantam said...

Some promising siblings?

Anonymous said...

Pat and Bay Buchanan?

Fernandinande said...

In contrast, the wholly non-self-explanatory phrase "jump the shark" shows up on 376,000 webpages.

The initial count that google returns is NOT ACCURATE! It's pure advertising.

When I googled "jump the shark" (w/quotes), it said something about 3xxx,xxx results. Then I went to the next page of results - it changed to 423,00 results...which was even more wrong.

On page 77 of the results, I got this:

"In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 763 already displayed.
If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included."

So there's less than 1,000 results, NOT several hundred thousand. (omitted results are almost always duplicates - the same phrase twice in one page, etc.)

Anyway, don't trust the google's inital count - it's usually generous by 2 orders of magnitude.

Thursday said...

When I first heard it, I thought that "frauteur" meant fraudulent author/director.

Thursday said...

"Jump the shark" is a vivid phrase that does not depend on knowledge of its origins to make an impact.

Anonymous said...

"Wachowskis"

I've been hearing for years that Larry is going to be transsexual, but it hasn't happened. Publicity? I wouldn't put anything past those two.

Lucinda said...

Yep, Frauteur is a homonym of frotteur, which means masturbator.

Anonymous said...

O God I wish I never learned what jump the shark means. I have to explain it to about a half dozen people a year whose eyes invariably glaze over into a glare that says "You are a pathological liar. There is no way that's why it means that if it does mean that."

The hardest part is convincing them how anyone could have thought that Henry Winkler was ever "cool" in the first place.

But, thankfully, he jumped the shark, and reverted to type.

If I remember correctly, William F. Buckley's sister was a bigwig at National Review.

And Pat Buchanan was very close to his sister, Bay.

Indy said...

I once "pseudo-won" a word-fugitive, that is, I sent in a suggestion that was considered good enough, not to get published, but to give me a little letter back saying I had "won" and giving an offer for a year's subscription to The Atlantic for only a few bucks. I figured they just say that to everyone who submitted anything and I declined, but I had other friends who submitted clever neologisms who never got anything back. It's the little wins, I suppose...

Anyway, yhe question was typical mid 90's nascent internet-tech boom era change-driven one, "What do you call those annoying people in the office who send you an email, and then get up and walk over to you to make sure you got it?" This is especially funny / annoying if the thing they emailed was a one-line update that they could also just have shared with you while coming over to see you personally - totally negating the point of the email.

I dubbed them, "Router Doubters", which I thought was clever, but I should have realized would never take off for two technical reasons. The first is that the doubt stemmed from newness, and that, soon enough, email wouldn't be new anymore and no one would doubt the servers or remember the endless, mindless, bothersome hordes of those who once did.

The other was that people would access the internet at home and eventually set up their own home networks and buy their own actual routers - giving the term another interpretation entirely (and this is the context in which it gets its paltry 100 hits at google today).

Oh well. I "pseudo-won" another one about what you call the traffic phenomenon where a long line of cars in both lanes more in unison and stack up behind a police cruiser going the speed limit because no one is willing to pass him up. I called it something like "pace-car patrol", which must not have been very good, since even I can't remember it exactly.

holmegm said...

In contrast, the wholly non-self-explanatory phrase "jump the shark" shows up on 376,000 webpages. That phrase requires the recounting of an incredibly boring backstory about some television episode, which suggests that the Atlantic got it all backward by looking for clever terms.

It's not boring at all ... it's kind of funny.

And for those of us who lived through it, it allows us to be nostalgic and make fun of people. It's got everything! :)

Anonymous said...

The latest frauteur brothers are the Strauses, who run a special effects shop and recently laid that goose egg known as "Skyline".

Anonymous said...

I second the "frateur" suggestion, and in honor of Sailer's affordable family formation theory, and the new Congressional map, I suggest these new word possibilities (didn't make 'em up):

Micropolitan area
Transition town

Anonymous said...

What about Signy and Sigmund? They're famous for something.

Anonymous said...

Remarkably petty post.

Anonymous said...

Pat and Bay Buchanan.

DYork said...

Adam Carolla's NSFW rant about Sid & Marty Krofft

Anonymous said...

Just off the top of my head:

The Kinks' battling Davies brothers.

Bachman Turner Overdrive's Bachman brothers, Randy and Robbie.

Oasis' Noel and Liam Gallagher.

Brutus

Anonymous said...

I have invented several words, most of them actually a portmanteau rather than something really original.

"Grok" was original. "Frauteur" is a portmanteau, like some I have invented which have been seen elsewhere.

"Triventriliquation" for talking out both sides of one's mouth and one's nether region simultaneously, which is what politicians do.

"Plenumstration", a technical condition pertinent to two cycle Detroit Diesel engines.

"Stratogina", the output jack on a Fender Stratocaster guitar.

asdfasdfadsf said...

It depends on whether it's picked up by msm, academia, and hip people.
'Homophobia' became a popular term because MSM controlled by liberal Jews used it liberally, as did Hollywood and academia. Never mind that revulsion to homosexuality is hardly phobic.

asdfasdfasdf said...

Instead of Frateur, how about Frat Pack? Most brother teams in cinema are hardly original as auteurs. The Coens are more clever at recycling old material than coming up something that's uniquely their own.
I wonder what happened to the Taviani Brothers. Padre Padrone and Night of the Shooting Stars are wonderful movies.

Anonymous said...

The awful pop band "No Doubt" was founded by Gwen Stefani, her brother Eric and a third person (a guy) who was unrelated to them. Eric left the band before it became famous and later worked as an animator for The Simpsons.

A Canadian group called Len had a hit called "Steal My Sunshine" about a decade ago. God, I love that song. Len consists of a brother and a sister, with no other members.

Steve, you're right, it's hard to think of anyone outside the entertainment industry. Egyptian pharaos used to occasionally MARRY their sisters, but that's not really very relevant here.

John Seiler said...

"Jump the shark" caught on because it was highly visual for "Happy Days" fans, of whom there are tens of millions. And it's three short words.

Wade Nichols said...

how many well-known brother-sister partnerships are there outside of male-female entertainment fields such as singing (Donny & Marie Osmond), dancing (Fred & Adele Astaire), and figure skating (various)?

Well, what about.....Spike Lee and his sister Joie!

And.......and......

Yeah, you're right, there really aren't any!!

Whiskey said...

Steve -- Word choice and language are driven by ... the people. Not elites. So, no matter how highbrow the New Yorker was (it's now a shadow of itself) it does not matter.

Popular usage determines phrases and language. Jump the Shark is obvious, and well, funny. It evokes the stupid, flailing failure of TV shows in their later years as writers run out of ideas and rely on idiot stunts that are out of character for the show and character(s) the stunts involve.

Mr. Anon said...

"bud said...

Too close to 'frotteur'.

http://www.forensicpsychiatry.ca/paraphilia/frotteurism.htm"

According to the Free Dictionary:

frotteur - someone who masturbates by rubbing against another person (as in a crowd).

This is actually not a bad definition, metaphorically, of what some movie directors do.

Jerry said...

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, the Zep-imitator 70's rock group. They didn't found the group, though.

Mel Torme said...

TOT, but Pat Buchanan mentions you and your work with that test score data in his column (also VDare by name).

I think that I wrote a note here that he mentioned you another time, some months ago, but I can't remember what that was about.

Congrats, you are somebody now! (though still probably not in the phone book /SteveMartin)

Jeff Singer said...

There are probably more athlete brother and sister partnerships: for example off the top of my head I can think of Reggie and Cheryl Miller.

Anonymous said...

The Carpenters were brother and sister.

At one point the McGarrigle Sisters included Rufus Wainwright, his sister, their mother and their aunt. But they were only really a big deal in Canada.

robert61 said...

In fairness, it's a crappy portmanteau, even if the concept needs a name. What's that "u" doing in there? Is the auteur a fraud? A German wife? Simon says "frateur" would have had a better chance (literally - see comment above).

Anonymous said...

Neologisms have a better chance of survival when they describe a new trend or new understanding. It helps if they are funny or endearingly awkward and can be easily conjugated. It must feel native to the target audience--Frauteur sounds like a German neologism for unmarried female auteur frankly. Finally one needs the influence to popularize anything. I get the feeling something like 'Broteurs' would have caught on in the right circle.

Bill said...

Pat and Bay Buchanan, of course.

Anonymous said...

Just as "SWPL" takes a lot more explaining than "whiterperson" or "Uncle Tim"....

I think people really like recounting goofy etymologies, even if they're abstruse and lacking in utility. Makes them feel knowledgeable. SWPL and Jumptheshark are the kind of "obscure knowledge" that everyone knows, like how Catherine the Great (allegedly) died.

In this way, I think a lot of urban legends have something in common with certain neologism (and there is a lot of overlap, like the alleged acronym for "ship high in transit"). "Darwin Awards" are the same way - people like stupid narratives that are easy to tell but not particularly short. That the stupidity may reflect on the teller of the story, rather than the subject, is beside the point. (Still, I think the "jump the shark" story is a pretty good tale.)

Emi said...

Hi Steve, I am really shocked to see you ranged Albania among the Muslim countries in the PISA article. First of all Albania is European and white country with Albanians being one of the most ancient European people.Second, the cnesus to take place soon will show you how much Albanians will be ofended by this. Almost 60% of them are Christian, others agnostic and muslim. You should not refer to the data of the pre Second World War.
I remain hopefull the chart will be corrected and Albania given the place it deserves!
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

You're right, not many famous brother-sister pairs but there are quite a few husband wife pairs like the Curies or Ferdinand and Isabella.

Folk wisdom has it that there is a woman behind every successful man. But that woman isn't likely to be your sister, probably because as Billy Crystal said in some movie, men want to sleep with women not be just friends.

Albertosaurus

Baloo said...

Captain and Mary Marvel.

Anonymous said...

Were Jack and Jill siblings?

What about raggedy Ann and Andy?

Chief Seattle said...

OT: Steve, any comments over the press's vigorous publicity and defense of Khodorkovsky? Seems a little odd to turn a mafia kingpin into some sort of Ghandi figure - it's almost like he has something in common with other revitalized criminals like Michael Milken or Scooter Libby.

SGOTI said...

Well, there were the Andrews sisters (three actual sisters).

Then there was the Andrews Sisters-type group that was profiled in the local paper a few weeks back, with an actual, well, sister in the trio.

Seems they were performing at some kind of Pearl Harbor-themed nostalgic dance. Either that or the you have some 'splaining to do Lucy.

Saw the article in the paper and involuntarily guffawed on the airplane- swear the guy next to me looked over my shoulder, it registered, and he chuckled too.

asdfasdfasf said...

Steve should create a website with Stevean glossary.

asdadsfasf said...

"Magic Negro" is a good one.

Anonymous said...

I like 'Holocaustianity'.

Sara Lee cakes said...

How about 'idology' as opposed to 'ideology'? Ideology would be a system of ideas whereas idology would be a system of images or aesthetics. Communism was ideological, Nazism was idological.

Jewish tradition is ideological--obey God's laws and smash all false idols)--; pagan tradition has a strong idological element--worship of the perfect body, mythic beasts, man-like or animal-like gods, etc.

Hammer damn it. said...

How about 'cinemitis' as a condition where someone always experiences his life as if it's in movie or being made into a movie?

Guido in 8 1/2 had a serious case of cinemitis.

Anonymous said...

"Yep, Frauteur is a homonym of frotteur, which means masturbator."

That sort of sums--or cums--up the Coens.

Thursday said...

There were the Rossettis, Dante Gabriel and Christina, though they didn't really collaborate on anything.

Anonymous said...

"OT: Steve, any comments over the press's vigorous publicity and defense of Khodorkovsky?"

Khodorkovsky is much worse than Madoff, since he didn't just steal from the rich. Also, it was impossible to be a Russian oligarch during the period when Khodorkovsky became rich without engaging in lots of real-life violence. These guys were ordering hits on people right and left. The only injustice I see here is that Putin didn't punish more of them. But one is better than none.

Anonymous said...

Chief Seattle: OT: Steve, any comments over the press's vigorous publicity and defense of Khodorkovsky? Seems a little odd to turn a mafia kingpin into some sort of Ghandi figure - it's almost like he has something in common with other revitalized criminals like Michael Milken or Scooter Libby.

Anonymous: Khodorkovsky is much worse than Madoff, since he didn't just steal from the rich. Also, it was impossible to be a Russian oligarch during the period when Khodorkovsky became rich without engaging in lots of real-life violence. These guys were ordering hits on people right and left. The only injustice I see here is that Putin didn't punish more of them. But one is better than none.

Note that Steve has written about the role played in this scandal by the American wing of the family.

PS: And yes,

Rob said...

I've contributed about a hundred words to Viz Profanisaurus, including almost the very last word in the book: zerotica: n. masturbation material of the lowest possible potency, e.g. a thermal underwear catalogue or a picture of a nuns' hockey team. It hasn't made it into Oxford or Webster's yet, funnily enough.

Anonymous said...

-Dave and Ann Meyer, UCLA basketball players in the mid '70s

-Al Joyner and Jackie Joyner Kersee, Track and Field

-Carl and Carol Lewis, Track and Field

-Julia and Eric Roberts, actors

-Warren Beatty and Shirley McClaine, actors

-David and Patricia Arquette, actors

-Mary and Mitch Landrieu, demoscum politicians, Louisiana

-Eric and Beth Heiden, Olympians

A decent list but nothing spectacular, especially taking into account that my list stretches back 35 years. Movie brother-sister duos are more impressive. Michael and Connie Corleone, "Godfather 3", and Tony and Gina Montana, "Scarface" come to mind.

Harmonious Jim said...

How many notable sister-sister partnerships are there?

ironrailsironweights said...

"Jump the Shark" is an inaccurate term. Happy Days remained a highly rated show for several years after that particular episode.

Peter

Anonymous said...

Buckminster and Margaret Fuller, maybe not a team but highly accomplished.

Reg Cæsar said...

I dubbed them, "Router Doubters", which I thought was clever, but I should have realized would never take off for two technical reasons. --Indy

Make it three: you live where "route" and "doubt" rhyme (Indy, perhaps?), and thus experience a catchiness not heard by those at The Atlantic, which is published (surprise!) on the Atlantic, where the words don't.

On the other, more ironic hand, the Hudson Institute is in Indy. Try shopping it to them...

Anonymous said...

How many notable sister-sister partnerships are there?

Huma Abedin & Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Condoleezza Rice & Randy Bean.

Donna Shalala & Janet Reno.

Rahm Emanuel & Lindsey Grahamnesty.

James said...

The Weinsteins?

I like frateur (dare I say it's better in English as frateurs though) and I also like jump the shark. Have you not heard of Happy Days Steve?

Anonymous said...

Every now and then I come up with a phrase that seems clever, then use Google to find out how many others have already come up with the same term. Two I recall are "neofeudalism" and "Blairstrip One."

The former is a reference to Bush-style cheap labor/mass immigration/low-taxes-on-the-rich "conservatism", the latter to to Great Britain's name in Orwell's "1984" and Tony Blair's penchant for turning Britain into a police state. Both had already been invented by someone else.

Google has made it easier to field test your neologisms, and blogs have made it easier to deploy them.

Frauteur is a good term, but just not useful enough in normal conversation, unless you happen to be a movie reviewer.

agnostic said...

Trust levels have been plummeting since the late '80s / early '90s. Who's left to trust but family?

It's hard to think of brother-sister enterprises because the northern European cultures we're familiar with are high-trust. They're more likely to be found in more low-trust ones like Italy (the Versaces, as you mentioned), or the Middle East and South Asia. Japan, maybe.

agnostic said...

If a neologism is also used as a shibboleth (for a sub-culture, a birth cohort, etc.), then it's better if its logic is *not* transparent or easily explainable.

Reg Cæsar said...

Perhaps brother-sister pairs are more likely to achieve separately. Consider the Dafoes: Willem (acting), Donald (surgery), and Barbara (I needn't have to introduce her to iSteve readers.)

Even more fascinating, I would think, to HBDers (not to mention adopted Steves), are the Jandali sibs: Mona Simpson and Steve Jobs. They didn't even meet until adults.

Anonymous said...

Steve:

Your neologism "frauteur" doesn't work because it reads as "fraud" + "auteur." The "au" from "auteur" is so esoteric that the reader naturally attaches the "au" to "fr" to form the much more commonly used word "fraud." The commonness of "fraud" also overpowers any urge to read "fra" as the more esoteric "fraternal."

I suggest "frateur." It gets rid of the "u" which causes the problem, so there is no confusion with "fraud." Moreover, "frat" is naturally recognized as "fraternal" and so the reader naturally starts out thinking "fraternal" and then can recognize "auteur" since there is no other reasonable interpretatin of "teur."

David said...

Neologisms? You mean sniglets?
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sniglet

shawn said...

I just read frauteur on metacritic today and I had to look it up.

Anonymous said...

William and Caroline Hershel, astromers.

Hail said...

agnostic wrote:
If a neologism is also used as a shibboleth

Ironically(?), this short phrase itself is a shibboleth, which only IQ-110-plus-ers would understand. I'd bet.

Laban said...

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

Mark Caplan said...

Ava Gardner and Martin Gardner.

Reg Cæsar said...

The Ratzingers.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. For years I have been referring to "the banana problem" meaning the lack of an end point in an algorithm, but the public refuses to pick it up. Once you understand the banana problem you see examples of it everywhere.

Sigh.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

How is "jump the shark" hard to explain? It's the point in which a form of entertainment (from a specific show to an entire genre) loses any of it's specific relevance/ingenuity and degenerates to the lowest common denominator.

Yes, I decided to avoid the inevitable "Brother-Sister" wankfest that would (and through skimming, an can say) did occur later in the comments.