Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Pet rocks and gonks


The new girl (ducking and covering here  )  on Woman‘s Hour  last Tuesday, interviewing the co-authors of The Hillary Doctrine...  discussing Hillary Clinton‘s success or otherwise in advancing the cause of women‘s rights in a context of international diplomacy, got  her wires crossed on the subject of pet rocks. At first she thought they were just rocks, and one  of her interviewees corrected her – "pet rocks" –  without noticing that the cultural reference had misfired. In  her summary after the interview she repeated the misunderstanding – easy  enough to do, given the almost unfathomable inexplicability of the phenomenon.

Pet rocks were the brain-child (which might be a bit of an over-statement  although the idea A fool and his money are soon parted has a certain weight –  of an American businessman:
Pet Rocks were a smooth stone from Mexico's Rosarito Beach.[3] They were marketed like live pets, in custom cardboard boxes,[3] complete with straw and breathing holes for the "animal."[1] The fad lasted about six months, ending after a short increase in sales during the Christmas season of December 1975. Although by February 1976 they were discounted due to lower sales, Dahl [HD: the man responsible]  sold 1.5 million Pet Rocks for $4,[3] and became a millionaire.[4][5][6]... 
So says Wikipedia 
A ‘pet rock' - like a Gonk, but less cuddly

It became fashionable in the late '70s to use this phenomenon as a way to disparage the efforts  of fellow-businessmen. If one Vice President felt that another Vice President  ...
<explanatory_note – theme="separated by a common language"> 
(in the world of US business there are almost as many VPs as there are professors in the Groves of US Academe)  
</explanatory_note>
...was spending unwarranted amounts of money on a project that had no intrinsic worth but attracted attention and resources away from real business opportunities with a reasonable prospect of justifying the investment in them,  they would call it a pet-rock project ...
<digression> 
Come to think of it they would almost certainly have omitted the hyphen, to judge from this – but I‘m old-fashioned  enough to think it‘s worth making a distinction between a compound noun and the attributive adjective formed from it.
</digression>
This usage  of course  leaked into business jargon throughout the world. I first heard it in the mid-'80s, in the mouth of (oh yes) a ‘VP‘, who flew over to  inspect the UK outpost once or twice a year. But the usage was new enough for the speaker to know that he had to explain it. In fact he probably knew that wacky concepts like this would always need explaining for a Transatlantic audience.

b

PS
<crossword_clue>
Fielder‘s cry of congratulation, with twice the energy, might become comfortable. (4-6)
</crossword_clue>
PPS
Two more observations of metathesis (use the word cloud in the right margin to get some background). This could have been an update to a very old piece, but these thoughts have only struck me recently.
  1. Along with Cavalleria Rusticana (which I mentioned in a recent  update to this) an interesting thing often happens to Bachianas Brasileiras. The ending  -eiro, common in Portuguese, is derived (by way of metathesis) from the Latin ending -ARIU(M) – there‘s that r again [one of the usual suspects  in the field of phonological  environments that encourage metathesis]. But often (I‘m tempted to say usually, but maybe I‘m being over-pessimistic) announcers of this Villa-Lobos piece try – all unbeknownst – to repair this evolution by saying brasilieras. But the i, which used to come after the r, only takes one step further away   – coming to rest before the vowel that precedes the r.
  2. Whenever I see a poplar tree (Latin name populus) I think of the Portuguese choupo (what an exciting life I lead.... You may wonder how I cope with all the excitement). I have observed before how a Portuguese ch often comes from a Latin PL But where‘s the PL in POPULUS? There‘s a p and an l all right, but . . .

    Well attentive readers will remember  what often happens to unstressed vowels between consonants: some_prefix-cope (apocope, I think,  or else syncope). The  vowel gets dropped  – leaving a pl (poplus), but in the wrong place for choupo. Then metathesis takes over, and moves the ch to the front of the word. [That's the letters; the phoneme is /ʃ/ rather than /ʧ/.]
Update: 2015.09.14.15:45 – Added clarification in red, and this solution to the PS.
OK, time's up: WELL-HEELED.

Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each e cvowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
Well over 49,300 views  and nearly 9,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,700 views and nearly 1,100 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.


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