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DNC beers and legislative acronyms
Wednesday, July 30, 2008   12:42 PM

A post today at Beer (& More) In Food pointed me to an interesting roundup of Democratic National Convention beers, including the well-named Obamanator Maibock ("German tradition has it that any beer named with an '-ator' suffix indicates bock extra strength beer") from Wynkoop.

There's also mention of a Political Ale from Rock Bottom. Lame. Personally, I think that would have been better as PoliticAle, in the manner of our local Surly CynicAle.

(Speaking of, I can't find anything on RNC beers for us Minnesotans. Town Hall will probably do something though. And Flat Earth will continue making Black Helicopter, as always. Oh, beer names.)

(The government's strange approach to beer labels is also worth pondering. There are rumors that this somehow explains why there's no Black Helicopter in bottles.)

Related: apparently the Tomnibus has stalled, which is completely fine with those of us who only liked it because it had the best nickname of any legislation ever. (Alternative candidates welcome.)

I've just discovered, however, that the Tomnibus just happened to contain the MOTHERS Act. Let's look at section 1 of the MOTHERS Act:

This Act may be cited as the 'Mom's Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression Act' or the 'MOTHERS Act'.

As several political commentators have already noted, there's no consistent rule you can apply that would give you MOTHERS from that name: the most logical acronym would have been MOAHERSPD.

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum has a post on poorly contrived legislative acronyms. It concludes with this excellent observation:

Still, at least their staffers made a half-assed attempt at a memorably demagogic name. Not so Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), whose REAL ID Act includes a completely bogus "acronym" that does not stand for anything except his desire to trick people into believing he came up with a ridiculously contrived name that generates an evocative acronym. REAL is a fake.

The NYT doesn't all-caps acronyms longer than four letters, so it managed to sidestep the whole MOTHERS issue... but I see that it went with Real ID in numerous articles, when of course the official name is written REAL ID.

A strange case of eschewing accuracy for the sake of... accuracy.

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I think Surly CynicAle is like the best beer name ever.

Then there's the Protecting Records, Optimizing Treatment, and Easing Communication through Healthcare Technology Act of 2008.... of course known as: the ‘PRO(TECH)T Act of 2008.

The IT geeks will be the death of us all.

posted by Anonymous Julie at July 31, 2008 4:31 PM  

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Geeking out with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names
Tuesday, April 22, 2008   12:20 AM

Thanks to a recent Mighty Red Pen post on Alaskan place names, I've just discovered the wonders of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names website. There's too much good stuff to excerpt in one post, so let's start with a brief BGN primer from their awesome FAQ:

The Board is responsible by law for standardizing geographic names throughout the Federal Government, and discourages name changes unless necessary. Further, the Board states that, "changing a name merely to correct or re-establish historical usage is not in and of itself a reason to change a name."

That last sentence really makes things interesting. More BGN geekery:

New name proposals
The Apostrophe Problem
Trivia roundup

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Argh. I hate the BGN. Their disdain for diacritics and the impossibility of recovering many originals thanks to their wacky transliteration systems is infuriating. I know they have a hard job, but they could show a little respect for the languages they deal with...

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BGN Geekery: New name proposals
Monday, April 21, 2008   11:46 PM

Another interesting feature of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names website is their collection of Quarterly Review Lists for domestic name changes. I spent about an hour today reading through the proposals for new official names. There were a surprising number of renaming proposals for place names that contained potentially offensive terms like squaw, sambo, and coon. For example:

This proposal is to change officially the name of Squaw Peak, the highest point inthe Phoenix Mountains, to Piestewa Peak. The change, submitted by the Governor of Arizona, is intended to eliminate a name considered by many to be derogatory, and also to honor U.S. Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa (b.1979), a Hopi Indian woman who died in the Iraqi conflict on March 23, 2003. Pfc. Piestewa is believed to be the first American Indian woman killed in combat.

For some states — I think it was Maine and Colorado — the proposal summary indicated that the renaming was mandated by a recent state law.

Since the government (in theory) won't change a name just to match the historical name or even to correct a misspelling, each renaming is accompanied by a lengthy proposal summary explaining the history of the old name and the reasoning behind the proposed change. These summaries were often quite charming.

Here are some of my favorite bits from the most recent quarterly review list:

This proposal, to name a 0.6 km (0.4 mi) long unnamed perennial spring-fed stream in Mobile County Turpentine Branch, would recall the early 1900's local history of turpentiners.

This proposal is to make official the name Sven Slab for a 91 m (300 ft) wide, 61m (200 ft) high cliff wall in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, at the north end of the McDowell Mountains. According to the proponent, the name is widely used within the hiking and rock climbing community; the name came into use because Sven power saws were used to cut a trail to the base of the wall.

This proposal is to make official the Dena'ina name Taq' Nust'in Mountain for a 722 m (2,370 ft) summit in Lake and Peninsula Borough, just west of the Newhalen River and approximately 16 km (10 mi) northwest of the village of Iliamna. The proponent, a Professor of Linguistics Emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, reports the name is of Dena'ina origin and means "the one that extends across the timbered lowlands."

More recent research conducted by an archivist with the Colorado Mountain Club reveals that the 1878 Wheeler Survey referred to the "unnamed" peak by the descriptive name Frustum Peak. The word "frustum" refers to "a pyramid with the top chopped off," which the author notes could refer to Kit Carson Mountain but more likely to Humboldt Peak.

The proponent reports the name Corn Church Creek was chosen because the stream lies near St. John-Hill United Church of Christ (built in the mid-18th century and long known as the "Hill Church"); the church's roof, which projected over the sides, was used not only for storm protection but also for hanging seed corn to be dried. Many of the area's early German settlers referred to the church
as "Die Welshkorn Kerche" or "Corn Church."

Although the name Saline Branch Drainage Ditch has appeared on USGS topographic maps since 1957, the proponents report that the name is misleading and cumbersome and should be changed to West Salt Fork. They suggest the use of "Drainage Ditch" is particularly objectionable because the feature is predominantly a natural one, following the original course of the stream over most of its length, having been only straightened and deepened in a few places to facilitate drainage. They also believe the name "Saline" causes people to question the salinity and therefore the safety of the water for both recreational and drinking purposes.

The BGN seems to do a great job of contacting all interested parties before going ahead with a name change, but in many cases not everyone responds. Several of the proposal summaries contain the following (fantastic!) boilerplate: "No response was received, which is presumed to indicate a lack of an opinion on the issue."

For my other BGN posts, click here.

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BGN Geekery: The Apostrophe Problem
  11:32 PM

The U.S. government is stingy with apostrophes in its official names; the most notorious case is probably Pike's Peak, a.k.a. Pikes Peak. Pike's Peak is named after Zebulon Pike, and so Almighty Grammar would dictate an apostrophe... yet the official spelling is Pikes Peak. And yes, for all my descriptivist tendencies, this official misspelling really bugs me.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names FAQ defends this decision at length. I still disagree with them, but their response is so interesting that I've excerpted it in its entirety here:

Since its inception in 1890, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has discouraged the use of the possessive form — the genitive apostrophe and the "s". The possessive form using an "s" is allowed, but the apostrophe is almost always removed. The Board's archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy.

However, there are many names in the GNIS database that do carry the genitive apostrophe, because the Board chooses not to apply its policies to some types of features. Although the legal authority of the Board includes all named entities except Federal Buildings, certain categories — broadly determined to be "administrative" — are best left to the organization that administers them. Examples include schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, airports, shopping centers, etc. The Board promulgates the names, but leaves issues such as the use of the genitive or possessive apostrophe to the data owners.

Myths attempting to explain the policy include the idea that the apostrophe looks too much like a rock in water when printed on a map, and is therefore a hazard, or that in the days of "stick-up type" for maps, the apostrophe would become lost and create confusion. The probable explanation is that the Board does not want to show possession for natural features because, "ownership of a feature is not in and of itself a reason to name a feature or change its name."

Since 1890, only five Board decisions have allowed the genitive apostrophe for natural features. These are: Martha's Vineyard (1933) after an extensive local campaign; Ike's Point in New Jersey (1944) because "it would be unrecognizable otherwise"; John E's Pond in Rhode Island (1963) because otherwise it would be confused as John S Pond (note the lack of the use of a period, which is also discouraged); and Carlos Elmer's Joshua View (1995 at the specific request of the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names because, "otherwise three apparently given names in succession would dilute the meaning," that is, Joshua refers to a stand of trees. Clark's Mountain in Oregon (2002) was approved at the request of the Oregon Board to correspond with the personal references of Lewis and Clark.

For my other BGN posts, click here.

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I've always wondered about the aversion to apostrophes. My parents recently lived in a town called Scottsbluff, which is named after a nearby bluff named after a man named Scott.

Not only is the apostrophe missing, but so is the space, which makes me want to say it with primary stress on the first syllable and no stress on the second, when in fact it's pronounced with secondary stress on the first and primary stress on the second.

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BGN Geekery: Trivia roundup
  10:56 PM

According to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names FAQ, at last count Fairview was the most common community name in the U.S., with 288 occurrences. Midway, formerly the frontrunner, came in at 256.

Contrary to popular belief, only 34 states have a community named Springfield; however, Riverside appears in 46 different states, with "only Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Oklahoma not having a community so named."

The 3,141 counties and county equivalents in the 50 States (and D.C.) are categorized as follows:

3,007 entities named "County"
16 Boroughs in Alaska
11 Census Areas in Alaska (for areas not organized into Boroughs by the State)
64 Parishes in Louisiana
42 Independent Cities (1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nevada, and the remainder in Virginia)
1 District - the Federal District or District of Columbia.

("What are the only two U.S. states without counties?" would be a good trivia question. Likewise, "What are the four states officially known as commonwealths?")

If you count hyphens, then Winchester-on-the-Severn, in Maryland, has the longest official community name in the U.S. Another Maryland community takes second place: Linstead-on-the-Severn, with 22 characters.

For communities without hyphens, it's a tie between the 17-letter Mooselookmeguntic, in Maine, and Kleinfeltersville, in Pennsylvania. Elsewhere in the U.S., Chickasawhatchee, Chancellorsville, and Eichelbergertown are all one letter short of the record.

The longest name, period, in their database is University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute on Narragansett Bay Conference and Visitor Center, at 94 characters. But they count spaces.

For my other BGN posts, click here.

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