Thursday, July 28, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (7/28/05)


Where did they get that name? In my generation everybody knew that HenryFord lent his name to the cars he built. The name of Ransom E. Olds was embodied in the name Oldsmobile--and the Reo, a marque that incorporated his initials. Today, strange new names identify dozens of products from automobiles to electronics. If you ever wondered about the origins of this new breed of names, here are their derivations:
Adidas. From the name of the founder, Adolf (ADI) DASsler.
Audi. Translation into Latin of the last name of the founder, August Horch, who left the Horch Company after five years and started another automobile company.
BMW. Initial letters of Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works).
Casio. From the name of the founder, Kashio Tadao.
Cingular. A nonstandard spelling of the word singular employed to gain attention.
Hitachi is an old place name meaning "sunrise.
Honda. From the name of its founder, Sochiro Honda.
Hotmail. Founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail messages from anywhere in the world and chose HoTMaiL because it included the letters HTML, the language used to write web pages.
Hyundai means "the present age" or "modernity" in Korean.
JVC. The initial letters of the Japan Victor Company.
Kawasaki. From the name of its founder, Shozo Kawasaki.
Kia. A combination of the character ki, "to arise out of" and the letter a, for Asia. This South Korean automaker began as a bicycle parts manufacturer.
Kinko's. From the college nickname of the founder, Paul Orfalea, called "Kinko" because he had curly red hair.
Mazda. The name is that of the Zoroastrian deity, Ahura Mazda, perhaps because of its closeness to the name of the head of the company, Tenuji Matsuda.
McDonald's. From the family name of two brothers who started the first McDonald's restaurant in 1940.
Mitsubishi. Coined by founder Yataro Iwasaki in 1870. It means three parallelepipeds (a six-sided geometric figure) in Japanese. The design figures in its logo.
Nike. From the name of the Greek goddess of victory.
Nikon. From Nippon Kogaku, "Japanese Optical."
Nintendo. Composed of the three Japanese kanji characters nin-ten-do. The first two translate to "Heaven blesses hard work; do is a common Japanese ending meaning store.
Nissan. A combination from the company name Nippon Sangyo, which means "Japanese industry."
SAAB. From the initial letters of Svenska Aeroplan AktiBolaget (Swedish Airplane Company).
Samsung means "three stars" in Korean.
Sansui. Founded in Tokyo in 1947, the name Sansui translates to "mountain" plus "water."
Sanyo. The characters form the words, "three oceans."
Sony. From the Latin sonus meaning "sound." Sony was chosen because it can be pronounced easily in any language.
Sprint. From its parent company, Southern Pacific Railroad INTernal Communications.
Subaru. From the Japanese name for the constellation known as the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. The company was formed in a merger of seven other companies.
Suzuki. From the name of its founder, Michio Suzuki.
Toshiba. Formed in a merger of TOkyo Denki (Tokyo Electric) and SHIBaurA Seisaku-sho (Shibaura Engineering Works).
Toyota. A variant of the founder's name, Sakichi Toyoda. Initially it was called Toyeda, but was next altered to what was felt to be better-sounding, Toyota.
Verizon. A portmanteau word blending VERitas, Latin for "truth," and horIZON
Volvo. From the Latin for "I roll." It was originally applied to a ball bearing.
Xerox. Inventor Chester Carlson chose this name for his dry-copying machine. The Greek root xer means "dry."
Yahoo. An acronym for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. The name yahoo was first used by Jonathan Swift in his Gulliver's Travels for a repulsive person who is barely human.

Word play. Ever hear of lost positives? These are words like sheveled and kempt, which some think formerly existed as positives of disheveled and unkempt. They are actually backformations produced by stripping common words of their prefixes. In the 1950s, this gave rise to word games that turned up many suggested lost positives, such as ane (inane), descript (nondescript), gruntled (disgruntled), digent (indigent), ruly (unruly) and pecunious (impecunious). NY Herald-Tribune columnist John Crosby even created "The Society for the Restoration of Lost Positives." Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, a leading retail advertising manager who coined the slogan, "It's smart to be thrifty" for Macy's and "Nobody but nobody undersells Gimbels" for its competitor. In an ad for teenage clothing, she admonished young women to be "Couth, Kempt and Sheveled."

As it turns out, however, couth is not a backformation from uncouth. Instead
It is an arcane word that appeared in Old English as cuth, meaning "known or familiar." During the Middle Ages the negative form uncouth appeared, with the sense of "unknown or unfamiliar." It later acquired the meaning it retains today: "outlandish, repellent and boorish." So couth deserves to be restored to full usage with its meanings of "suave, well-mannered and civilized."

Before their time. One cannot watch classic movies of the 30s and 40s without being struck by the amount of cigarette smoking that takes place in them. Cigarettes were useful props, helping actors to fill a pause between lines or make a scene more realistic.

Being a contract player in those days meant a far from glamorous life. Movies were shot in quick succession, even stars had to be on the set early and know their lines for that day's shooting. Many actors in swashbuckling roles performed their own derring-do stunts.

We have clues to the toll that working hard and playing hard must have taken. Consider the ages at which male movie stars of that period died and the causes. Accidental early deaths are excluded.)
Tyrone Power, 45 (heart attack)
Wayne Morris, 45 (heart attack)
Zachary Scott, 51, (lung cancer)
Humphrey Bogart, 57 (throat cancer)
Robert Taylor, 57 (lung cancer)
Clark Gable, 59 (heart attack)
Gary Cooper, 60 (lung cancer)
Errol Flynn, 60 (heart attack)
Franchot Tone, 63 (lung cancer)


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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (7/07/05)


All about oil. The Vietnam War was all about the domino theory and the need to stop communism. The reason advanced for the preemptive attack on Iraq was the threat posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. When these proved to be nonexistent, the mission suddenly became the democratization of Iraq.

In Sidney Pollack's exciting 1975 spy film Three Days of the Condor, a group of CIA employees are murdered by a CIA hit squad for knowing too much. At the end of the movie, an angry Robert Redford (code-named "Condor") confronts an agency official and exclaims, "This whole damn thing was about oil. Wasn't it?"

Let's talk about oil. The deteriorating security situation in Iraq has diverted attention from the importance of Iraq's vast oil reserves to the economy of America, especially since the flow of oil from Venezuela and Nigeria may be threatened by local unrest. In the face of a growing, almost insatiable worldwide demand for petroleum, Iraq's reserves--the second largest in the world--are the reason the U.S. must dominate the Persian Gulf and control this valuable resource. Iraq's oil fields, located in the north and south of the country, will require the continuation of the so-called "war against terror" and the retention of American forces in Iraq for a longer period than the administration is willing to admit.

Some experts believe that what has been called "Plan B" will soon be put into effect. This calls for the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Iraq's urban areas and their concentration in heavily fortified bases located away from unruly centers of population, yet giving convenient proximity to Iraq's northern and southern oil fields and pipelines

At this moment, Halliburton's KBR subsidiary is quietly building 14 permanent U.S. installations in Iraq. "Enduring bases" is the revealing term the Army uses for them. But what is their purpose if not for a protracted stay? Under Plan B, urban security would be the responsibility of Iraqi forces. If they should not be up to the task, the U.S. would still be in control of what the war has been about all along--Iraq's oil. Readers who doubt the reality of this scenario can do me a big favor by giving my regards to the tooth fairy the next time they see her.

Build it and they will come. The suggestion that Croton economically exploit its unique water resources seems to have fallen on deaf municipal ears. Here's another idea whose time may have come: Since Croton's station parking lot has turned out to be a wise investment and a veritable cash cow, why doesn't the village explore the idea of increasing its capacity by erecting a second level and parking many more cars.

This idea will undoubtedly set off howls of protest about additional traffic. But station traffic moves easily in and out of the village now. Others will complain that such a structure will destroy "the view," a sacred yet indefinable something always invoked in such situations. Similar objections were raised in the foolish shamozzle over the Exxon canopy that ended in a futile and expensive court defeat. Anyway, there's little view to preserve now other than the view of an acre of cars. A properly designed utilitarian structure could actually improve the view.

For the birds. In the past 25 years the number of retail stores selling live poultry in New York City has grown explosively from six to 80. Westchester County now has seven such stores. One explanation for the surge is that mushrooming immigrant groups have retained their traditions of buying and killing fresh poultry. Nevertheless, urban and suburban America isn't rural Vietnam, and unregulated bird populations in cramped and unsanitary conditions could pose a public health problem by serving as a potential reservoir of the bird flu virus.

Bitter memories of last autumn's influenza vaccine crisis linger, reminding us that millions of citizens were denied protection because of the government's foolish reliance on a small number of vaccine producers. The World Health Organization (WHO) is especially concerned about the avian flu virus, H5N1, which, it warns, could become capable of killing two-thirds of the world's population in a matter of months. Right now, a WHO team is in Vietnam studying whether the H5N1 bird flu virus may be evolving into a form that could trigger a global pandemic.

Since it sprang up in southeast Asia late in 2003, the virus has killed 38 people in Vietnam, a dozen in Thailand and four in Cambodia. Humans have no natural immunity against it. In the recent past, flu outbreaks have killed as many as 40,000 in one year in the United States. They also hospitalize as many as 200,000 Americans annually at a cost to the national economy of $10 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses.

More than a half-million Americans could die and another 2.3 million could be hospitalized if a more contagious strain of avian flu mutates and reaches our shores, according to Trust for America's Health. This nonprofit health advocacy group has called on lawmakers to increase the $58 million already budgeted for stockpiling influenza vaccines and prescription medicines, such as Roche Laboratories' oral flu drug Tamiflu. The government has ordered only 5.3 million Tamiflu courses of treatment (one 75mg capsule taken twice daily for five days). According to the recommendations of the WHO, more than 70 million doses of Tamiflu would be needed to protect one-quarter of our population.

Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the heart surgeon who thoughtlessly weighed in with a neurological opinion about brain-dead Terri Schiavo based on a heavily edited video tape, recently offered an epidemiological opinion: "Unfortunately, the United States is woefully underprepared to respond in the event of a pandemic outbreak. We have a responsibility to focus much greater energy in preparing for avian influenza and similar public health threats, whether accidental or international in origin."

Congress went into its Independence Day recess July 1, and won't be back until July 11. It remains in session for 15 days and starts its summer recess on July 29, returning September 6. What's your guess that nothing will be done about avian flu?

Let's hear it for English. A wonderful quality of the English language, the finest tool for communication ever invented, is that it is ever changing, ever growing. Yet its integrity is often threatened by misuse, carelessness and loose standards. We have just reached the end of another school year, a time when the word graduate invariably gets misused as a transitive verb. Newspapers become replete with stories telling that "Ms. So-and-so graduated Vassar." This is an abomination; the only thing anyone can graduate is a thermometer. Even the addition of the word from doesn't rescue it ("She graduated from Vassar"). Need I point out that she didn't do the graduating? It was the faculty and the trustees that did it. Purists insist, and I am with them, the only proper use of the verb graduate is, "She was graduated from Vassar."


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