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Name-calling: Describing a ginormous oil spill

Posted by Delia Cabe  June 1, 2010 06:56 PM

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Call it "Moby Slick."

That’s what Legal Planet blogger Cara Horowitz deemed the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in her post about its potential effect on sperm whales.

While BP and the White House wrestle with finding a way to stop the Big Leak, we've been inundated with new vocabulary and images. Who knew that our summer backyard barbecue chatter someday would be sprinkled with jargon such as "lower marine rise package," or its abbreviation, LMRP, and "containment dome" as if we were poolside oil industry execs? Who knew that we'd be studying diagrams of how to cap a well like hard-core engineers? On top of that, we're watching SpillCam, BP's live muddy feed from the depths of the ocean. Frustrated? Yes. Overwhelmed? Tell me about it. Angry? Of course. At the same time, the whole thing borders on absurdity, even in the face of a gizillion gallons of oil and gas spewing daily into the ocean. Snarky? You bet. We’re human.

Predictably, "-mageddon" and "-pocalypse," the trendy all-purpose suffixes for disasters, natural and otherwise, have been commandeered for the oil spill on the Twittersphere, blogosphere and else-o-sphere. (So far, "-gate" hasn't gained traction, but if US Attorney General Eric Holder’s criminal probe finds evidence of any wrongdoing on BP or anyone else's part, don't be surprised to see 'BP-gate" or some such bandied about.)

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin’s crie d’action "Drill, baby, drill," during the presidential campaign has been coopted: "Kill, baby, kill" and "Spill, baby, spill" have made it to the airwaves. In response to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindhal’s plan for building sand berms to protect his state’s coast, “Dredge, baby, dredge” has surfaced. At a protest earlier this month in New Orleans, one person held this sign:

regulate baby regulate.jpg

People are also having fun with BP’s name and logo. Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey said this weekend that BP stands for “Blind to Plumes.” Illinois Congressman Luis V. Guituirrez tweeted:


When one solution, Top Kill, became Top Fail, people offered several suggestions for fixing the mess. In all seriousness, Hollywood is offering to lend a hand. The Kevin Costner film that bombed years ago, "Waterworld,” may prove to have some redeeming value after all. The Los Angeles Times reported about a “Kevin Costner solution.” Costner has been working on an invention that involves $24-million giant stainless steel centrifugal oil separators, a project he began while filming that movie. Stephen Baldwin, who is making a documentary about the oil disaster and the device, told the newspaper:

It certainly is an odd thing to see a 'Kevin Costner' and a 'centrifugal oil separator' together in a place like the Gulf of Mexico. But, hey, some of the best ideas sometimes come from the strangest places.

After hearing that BP might try shoving golf balls, tires and other detritus into the well to plug it up—which seemed pretty farfetched—others had a few brainstorms of their own:

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One anonymous prankster, or group of pranksters, has set up a Twitter account, BPGlobalPR, that is a delicious spoof on corporate public relations tweets:

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BPGlobalPR also offered a crash course in crisis communication on The (U.K.) Guardian’s website , which reads like a humorous chapter in PR textbook case study. (All mocking aside, the people behind this account are raising money for the Gulf Restoration Network.)

Last of all, you can have your BP cake and eat it, too:

BP Cake.jpg

Photo by Skooksie
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About the author

Delia Cabe's work has appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, Self, Prevention, Scientific American Presents, and other publications. In between posts, you can read Cabe's tweets at!/DeliaCabe, More »

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