May 27, 2004

More stories of the aptly named

We here at Heaneyland hate the phrases "aptly named" and "aptly titled" (although when I say "we" I could be overstating the interest of my cats in the subject). Mind you, I have no problem with the phrase when something is aptly named for an unexpected reason, but when, for instance, the name of a chicken and mushroom pie is "chicken and mushroom pie", surely this does not require special comment, as if it were a quite remarkable thing to have a dish so named. It's perhaps even more delectable when the phrase appears in the headline, as in this article, whose headline can be paraphrased as "Award is named after the person it was named after". Here are some more recent instances of reportage of the unsurprisingly apt:

A horse disease called "strangles" (predictable etymology here):

Strangles is aptly-named because it causes lumps in a horse's throat, which then spread, in the form of abscesses, to the local nymph nodes thereby impairing a horse's breathing.

People still can't stop talking about how freakin' apt the song "Horn Intro" is on the new Modest Mouse album (also see the customer reviews here):

[The new album] is amazing, from the horn blasts of the aptly titled "Horn Intro," to the last song, "The Good Times Are Killing Me."

But wait -- the name of this triathlon doesn't mention anything about the fact that it's the newest area triathlon series! You call that apt?

TriStar Health Systems, parent company of Summit Medical Center, River Park Hospital and Hendersonville Medical Center, which are located in each race community, joined Team Magic as title sponsor of the area's newest triathlon series, aptly titled the TriStar Health System Triathlon Series.

I may be willing to forgive this one:

Covered in Bolshevik red carpeting, the aptly titled Communist Fuzzy LovBot battles the black-clad Iron Fist.

With that title, wouldn't it be better as an audiobook?

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's memoir, to be aptly titled Speaker, will be published this August -- timed to catch a bounce off the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Is the upcoming "Friends" spin-off, "Joey", aptly titled? I wish reporters would help me decide.

When the finale started at 9 p.m., the room went silent and all heads snapped toward the television to see if the predictions would come true. Would Ross and Rachel end up together? Would Monica and Chandler have their baby? Would Joey be able to set the scene for his upcoming spinoff, aptly titled "Joey?"

Actually, I'm pretty sure there's no question mark in the title of his sitcom, you copyeditors at the Newark Advocate, although that might imply a more interesting show, one in which Joey is constantly questioning his identity and is forever going on deep spiritual quests from which wacky hijinks ensue. (That final episode was aptly titled "The Last One", incidentally.) Anyway.

Then there are the instances of a phrase I'm going to put in quotation marks to make it seem more authoritative, "dubious aptness". My opinion is that almost every album title in the world falls into this category. Unless your album is titled "Live at [place in which I performed live]" or "My New CD", any aptness can generally be considered peripheral at best, or nonexistent at worst. Sorry, reviewers of Ben Kweller ("On My Way"), 8Ball & MJG ("Living Legends"), Peter DiStefano ("Gratitude"), and Ben Kweller again ("Sha Sha"? Seriously, what the fuck?).

This is only a tiny, tiny sampling of the many aptly named things in the world. More are being discovered every day. If you think you are aptly titled, please seek treatment.

Posted by Francis at 07:59 AM

I used to be aptly titled, back when folks would call me "Rosie" (I have rosy-red cheeks), but I got over it.

Posted by: Rose at May 27, 2004 11:32 AM

Actually, in American English usage punctuation is *always* placed within the quotation marks, even when they are used to designate a title. British English usage is slightly more reasonable; they put punctuation outside quotation marks according to common sense (e.g. in this case it would be "Joey"?)

Posted by: jcbarret at May 27, 2004 12:32 PM

I favor British usage myself vis-a-vis punctutation and quotation marks, as anal readers of this site will already have noticed. A sensible editor would surely bend the rule for clarity in the case of "Joey".

Posted by: Francis at May 27, 2004 01:05 PM

JC Barret:

While I can't check all of the references I have at work (I'm home sick today), I can check my current copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. The CMS, in sections 6.8-6.9, says that only periods and commas almost always precede the closing quotation mark. Colons, semicolons, question marks, and exclamation points follow the closing quotation mark unless it belongs with the quoted matter. Section 6.8 also notes some instances when including the period or comma could cause problems and offers suggestions on avoiding them.

Posted by: Tablesaw at May 28, 2004 08:03 AM
It's perhaps even more delectable when the phrase appears in the headline, as in this article, whose headline can be paraphrased as "Award is named after the person it was named after".

I think I can forgive them, since the headline "Polly Award Aptly Named" actually paraphrases to something like "Naming the award after Polly was apt, as she embodies what the award stands for; naming the service excellence award after, say, anyone who works at U-Haul would have been much less appropriate." Especially since the article is not about the award, it's about how Polly embodies service excellence--that is, the article is not about the award, or the name, but about why the name is apt.

Also, insofar as Mark Liberman points out that "Authorized Personnel Only" has the same tautological-paraphrase problem, your paraphrase wouldn't bother me anyway.

Posted by: Tahnan at May 28, 2004 01:12 PM

One would rather hope she embodied what the award stood for, or why name it after her?

Posted by: Francis at May 28, 2004 01:27 PM

Oh, I don't know. Margaret Herrick's uncle Oscar hardly embodied everything the Academy Award stands for. It's my understanding that Hugo Gernsback didn't exactly embody good science fiction writing, so it's always been a mystery to me why the Hugo is named for him. And would you call the "Nobel Peace Prize" aptly named, given that Nobel's main achievement was dynomite? (For that matter, is the Nobel Prize in general "aptly named", insofar as Nobel only gave the money for it?)

Posted by: Lance at May 28, 2004 01:34 PM

Searching the OED for "aptly named" is not so much informative as it is interesting. Well, no, it's dull. I did find the lovely quote: "1966 Telegraph (Austral.) 12 Oct. 58/3 The teenybopper is aptly named because her two distinguishing features are her teeny size and her cool boppy with-it attitude to life."

Much more mysterious: "1890 W. E. AYRTON in Spectator 19 Apr., To electrically propel may be aptly named to 'telepher', or, say 'telpher' as an abbreviation."

On the other hand, seeing the things the people quoted in the OED thought were aptly named did remind me that there are a whole lot of things out there that aren't aptly named. (The "cherry-nose", which appropriately enough for the times is a kind of cicada in Australia, is apparently aptly named, which, when you consider the number of animals whose names are fairly random, is worth noting. Is the clownfish aptly named? Marlin, Nemo's father, wasn't very funny...)

Posted by: Lance at May 28, 2004 01:43 PM

And how much more interesting is it to read about something that's not aptly named?

Anyway, ponying up the money for an award seems like a reasonable criterion for having it named after you. Also, if I may use your typo as the source of a cheap joke: Nobel's main achievement was dynamite. Jimmie Walker's main achievement was dynomite.

Posted by: Francis at May 28, 2004 01:47 PM

"The teenybopper is aptly named because her two distinguishing features are her teeny size and her cool boppy with-it attitude to life."

That one's pretty good. The problem, of course, is not so much inherent to the phrase as the fact that the phrase has become a too-common piece of the critics' arsenal. I feel like people who become critics (or reporters in general) have so internalized the language that gets used in writing reviews that they just lift these figures of speech wholesale without any thought given to whether they improve or detract from their article as a piece of writing, or say anything worth saying.

Posted by: Francis at May 28, 2004 01:57 PM