Monday, July 7, 2008

What's in a Word?

My last post dealt with the marketing of word association regarding political candidates. As with most issues, I find myself torn on the validity of such an exercise. Reducing one's ideas of a candidate down to one concentrated word is both a trifling exercise and, potentially, a profound exercise in linguistics. As a student of language, I understand that the words we use are much more than a temporal utterance. Most of the words in our relatively young language have rich histories and bring with them, through time, a bounty of meaning. I would rather stay away from the nature of language from a philosophical standpoint (though would be happy to entertain any discussion on the matter), and instead look at the two words that emerged as the defining syllables for McCain and Obama. First, Obama:
On the surface, it appears that this word is due to the successful marketing of Obama's campaign team. They have trademarked change, in a way... made it the defining theme of the campaign. However, deeper than simply parroting what you hear in the commercials, read on the bumper stickers, or listening to pundits regurgitating the same prepackaged slogans and rhetoric, is a much more dynamic linkage of the word to the political climate and Barack Obama, himself. He represents a change in the type of person considered for office... young, black, liberal. He has raised an incredible amount of money through small donations. He is both the "anti-candidate" in that people will vote for him as being nearly the polar opposite of George Bush and he is an individual who represents things in the affirmative, not just a change of ideals.
Again, a cursory look at the word strikes us as trivial... a simple, and pejorative description of his physical, chronological age. However, it also describes McCain on a deeper level. He is a traditional candidate, representing a traditional demographic, and following a political arc that has been traversed many times before. He is, in effect, old... the old guard, the old way of doing things, familiar. It's not a negative... we have had a tremendous amount of success following that model... the old model.

So, ok, maybe the poll wasn't as useless as it seemed on the surface.

On a different note, I have had a lot of fun thus far throwing out stuff in Brant's absence. I realize that the fun is intrinsic to one of the basic allures of the internet: the ability to participate. Generating content for a blog is fun. Responding to people in forums and blogs is fun. It is interactive, to an extent... the ability to create dialogue from monologue. On that note, I'd like to play a nerdy word game, since we are on the topic of words. I am going to state a sentence... one that we have all heard countless times, and I would like you to take it apart. Deconstruct it. Strip it down to basic components so as to show how words, absent a certain context, are meaningless... or at least have a flawed meaning. I can identify 4 fundamental flaws in the sentence... and those flaws can be elaborated on further into a couple of faults each. Here you go:

Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492.



Blogger PRIguy said...

I'm not sure if I'm following correctly, but I'll give it a shot:

He discovered the New World. It wasn't named America until later (named after Amerigo Vespucci).

And to split some hairs, he didn't really "discover" America. It was already there; he just sailed into it.

Am I on the right track?

July 7, 2008 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

You are doing super awesome... you nailed two of the deficiencies.


July 7, 2008 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I'll have to ponder this one. Those two jumped out at me, but the others must be more obscure.

July 7, 2008 at 9:16 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

One is obvious when you think about it... the other one is much more nebulous...

Sooo, priguy... do you shop at Ukrops?


July 7, 2008 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

The person who "discovered" the land mass would have been the person in the crow's nest with the telescope, not Chris.

July 7, 2008 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

No, I refuse to shop at Ukrop's. I could go on a rant about the Ukrop chain and more particularly the family and the power they have in this city, but I won't. How do you know about Ukrop's?

July 7, 2008 at 9:24 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

My company does some work with a media outlet there... Ukrops always wants info about how their store is perceived (and the store's ownership)... for the most part, people love the place... It's a kind of brand-loyalty that I have only seen in one other store- that is Les Schwab Tires in Washington State. I am kinda surprised at two things... 1) there is a reason to despise Ukrops and 2) a "grocery" store would evoke such strong feelings...


July 7, 2008 at 9:27 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

Ukrop's grocery stores are grossly over-priced. While they have some beautiful produce, meat and seafood, I just don't want to pay the exorbitant prices they ask. Why would I pay $1.49 for a pound of spaghetti when I can get the same thing, although store brand, at Wal Mart for 88 cents or so? I mean, how much can the quality of dry pasta vary?

To be fair, Ukrop's does have stellar customer service. But having a high school kid push my overpriced groceries to my car just doesn't do it for me.

Ukrop's supposedly implemented those ubiquitous cards that are scanned to get the specials in particular stores. We all use them now. Heck, I have one for a damn plant store. They are very good at marketing. The thing with the population of Richmond is that they're very structured in what they do. When it comes to groceries, the old guard here shops at Ukrop's. There's a running joke here that in one way or another will compare the availability of bread and milk at Ukrop's and the amount of snow we may or may not receive.

Every year, a local periodical called Style Weekly ( runs an issue that lists the most influential and powerful Richmonders. Invariably the two Ukrop brothers who run the empire are in the top ten.

The power of the Ukrop family can be summed up with the tale of Howard Stern's radio program, pre-satellite radio, of course. His show aired on one of the local stations here, but the Ukrop family, hiding behind the veil of religiosity, decided that the content of the show was perverted, dirty and unredeeming. Thus, they mounted a boycott campaign that ultimately led to the cancellation of Mr. Stern's show in this area.

We have a minor leage baseball team here. The stadium in which they play is aging and in need of repair. Not only that, but the Atlanta Braves, the mother team of the AAA Richmond Braves, wanted a new stadium or they would pull the team and relocate. After more than a year of debate, letters, threats, possibilities and more, the team will leave after this season. Why? Because the Ukrop brothers and Mayor Doug Wilder couldn't agree on where to build a new stadium. And with the Ukrop money likely being the main source of funding, they had the ultimate power.

So you see, it's about more than groceries. It's about an extremely wealthy family using its clout to further its agenda under the guise of religiosity. Example: the stores sell tobacco, one of Virginia's biggest exports, yet they don't sell beer or wine because it's "bad," but we have a massive Budweiser bottling plant just 50 miles from here.

Sorry for the rant, but you asked for it. And what media outlet are you referring to, if you don't mind my asking?

July 7, 2008 at 9:56 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Wow... I should go into the grocery business :-) I am afraid that I am not permitted to reveal our client... if this were my job, I would tell you in a second... but alas, this is simply a form of recreation, and I really must respect our client's privacy.

Look on the bright side... "justice" is just one gay prostitute away :-)


July 7, 2008 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

I understand the privacy issue. I was curious only because I have a background in PR and a little bit of marketing and I thought I might know the outlet.

The Ukrop family are good corporate citizens, and they certainly don't hoard their money. But they're worth millions and millions of dollars, and nothing happens in this city without their stamp of approval.

Back to the "word" issue...what about the crow's nest guy?

July 8, 2008 at 4:39 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

"The Crow's Nest Guy" would be a branch off of the "discovery" issue... You are dissecting the middle of the phrase wonderfully... Smash up the bookends and we should have a tidy little pile of linguistic nonsense.


July 8, 2008 at 7:50 AM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

"Christopher" is an "Americanized" name.

Other explorers had to have landed on the same land mass prior to 1492.

July 8, 2008 at 7:09 PM  

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