Jan Freeman writes The Word column for Ideas.
Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, editor, and multimedia producer.
Christopher Shea writes the Critical Faculties column for Ideas.
Send the Brainiac bloggers a comment on a post.
See the latest Ideas stories that appeared in The Boston Globe.
Visit the Ideas section
Week of: November 11
Week of: November 4
Week of: October 28
Week of: October 21
Week of: October 14
Week of: October 7
Mind the gap
What he learned in the newsroom
Mr. Boffo lays an eggcorn
Curse of the mummy's tummy
More in Word Watch
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Defining 'manhood,' translating 'latte'
The History Channel's three-hour treatment of the Mayflower voyage, "Desperate Crossing" (which airs tonight and repeats all week) may turn out to be terrific. But the tagline for the print ads is a headscratcher:
It was a True Test of Manhood
Since the traits most in demand for Pilgrims seem to have been disease resistance, endurance, and luck – virtues not especially "manly" in anyone's dictionary -- "manhood" seems like an odd word to choose. And the verbal paradox -- manhood for women! -- adds an incongruously joky note to the otherwise solemn ad. What were they thinking? (Seriously: What were they thinking?)
The jokiness is entirely intentional, on the other hand, in the current Dunkin' Donuts ad mocking Starbucks' menu language. "Is it French? Or is it Italian?" sings the chorus of customers. "Maybe Fritalian?"
The punchline: "Delicious lattes from Dunkin' Donuts. You order them in English, not Fritalian."
Wait -- you order "lattes" in English?
OK, "latte" is English, in a sense; it's in our dictionaries, defined as the short form of Italian caffe latte. But it's not fully assimilated English, like "ghetto" and "casino." We cook fettuccine al dente, but we don't brush our "dente" with Colgate. And we order lattes, but we don't call the milk in the fridge "latte." So DD gets points for humor -- but it loses a few for its fuzzy linguistic logic.