Topic: Naming

New Clutch review by Zinzin client Éclair Naturals

A new Clutch review of Zinzin by our latest wonderful client, Éclair Naturals, has been posted to our Clutch profile page. Here is an excerpt:

“Overall, Zinzin was very easy to work with and collaborative, which I’ve found is not common in this space. … We were very pleased with the process and the result. We’re very happy with the name. I feel like I developed a friendship with Jay and the rest of his team. We definitely stay in touch, and we’re inviting them to our launch party.”
—CEO, Éclair Naturals (case study here)

In case you have not yet heard of it, Clutch, a company that we named (case study here), identifies leading software and professional services firms that deliver results for their clients, through the process of conducting extensive research interviews with the clients of said professional services firms.

Seven of our fantastic clients have been interviewed so far by Clutch researchers for reviews about their experience working with Zinzin, which you can read in full on our Clutch profile page, or download a nicely-formatted PDF of all our client Clutch reviews on our Resources page.

From Lead Belly to Pussy Riot: branding lessons and inspiration from over a century of band names

This project began with modest ambitions: a casual examination of some band names that have inspired us over the years and their origins or creation myths. As we dove into this treasure trove of nomenclature, however, the scope escalated into an deep investigation of over a hundred years’ worth of band name etymologies. The first dozen or so entries are not band names per se, but stage names, nicknames, and pseudonyms of seminal artists that have shaped the course of music and the manner in which bands and musicians are branded.

Our goal here is not to be exhaustive and include every famous band you’ve ever heard of, but rather to be definitive without being overly obvious, and keep the emphasis on interesting and intriguing band names, or bands with name origin stories that illuminate different aspects of the naming process. See the bottom of the article for a postscript identifying some of the trends in band naming over the years, along with a list of links to sources we consulted during this project.

So let us introduce to you, the acts you’ve never known for all these years…

1900s — Blind Lemon Jefferson: The stage name for bluesman Lemon Henry Jefferson.

1900 — Jelly Roll Morton: Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer. His composition “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first published jazz composition, in 1915. At the age of fourteen, Morton began working as a piano player in a brothel (or, as it was referred to then, a “sporting house”). While working there, he was living with his religious, church-going great-grandmother; he had her convinced that he worked as a night watchman in a barrel factory. In that atmosphere, he often sang smutty lyrics; and took the nickname “Jelly Roll,” which was slang for female genitalia.

1903 — Lead Belly: Born Huddie William Ledbetter, there are several conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired the nickname “Lead Belly,” though it was probably while in prison. Some claim his fellow inmates called him “Lead Belly” as a play on his family name and his physical toughness. Others say he earned the name after being wounded in the stomach with buckshot. Another theory is that the name refers to his ability to drink moonshine. Or it may be simply a corruption of his last name pronounced with a southern accent. Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing.

1918 — Fats Waller: Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was an American jazz pianist, organist, composer, and singer. Andy Razaf described his partner as “the soul of melody…a man who made the piano sing…both big in body and in mind…known for his generosity…a bubbling bundle of joy.”

1920s — Son House: Eddie James “Son” House, Jr. was a blues singer and guitarist.

1920s — Roosevelt Sykes: An American blues musician, also known as “The Honeydripper.”

1920s — Tampa Red: Born Hudson Woodbridge, he moved to Chicago and adopted the stage name from his childhood home and light colored skin.

1924 — Bix Beiderbecke: Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke was an American jazz cornetist, jazz pianist, and composer. His father was nicknamed “Bix,” as, for a time, was his older brother, Charles Burnette “Burnie” Beiderbecke. Burnie Beiderbecke claimed that the boy was named Leon Bix and subsequent biographers have reproduced birth certificates to that effect. However, more recent research—which takes into account church and school records in addition to the will of a relative—has suggested that he was originally named Leon Bismark. Regardless, his parents called him Bix, which seems to have been his preference.

1928 — Count Basie: The stage name for William James “Count” Basie.

1928 — Mississippi John Hurt: The great blues singer and guitarist was born John Smith Hurt in Teoc, Missisippi, and raised in Avalon, Mississippi. He learned to play guitar at age nine.

1928 — T-Bone Walker: Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker was a critically acclaimed American blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Walker made his recording debut with Columbia Records billed as Oak Cliff T-Bone, releasing the single “Wichita Falls Blues” / “Trinity River Blues.” Oak Cliff was the community he lived in at the time and T-Bone a corruption of his middle name.

1929 — Memphis Minnie: Lizzie Douglas, known as Memphis Minnie, was a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. In 1929 she and Kansas Joe McCoy, her second husband, began to perform together. They were discovered by a talent scout of Columbia Records in front of a barber shop where they were playing for dimes. When she and McCoy went to record in New York, they were given the names Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie by a Columbia A&R man.

1930s — Lightnin’ Hopkins: The stage name country blues singer Sam John Hopkins.

1931 — Skip James: Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James was an American Delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter.

1935 — Dizzy Gillespie: John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was a jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer and occasional singer. Dizzy was christened John Gillespie, earning his nickname later in life when he was known for his sense of humor and practical jokes.

1937 — Sonny Boy Williamson I & Sonny Boy Williamson II: The recordings made by John Lee Williamson between 1937 and his death in 1948, and those made later by “Rice” Miller, were all originally issued under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. It is believed that Miller adopted the name to suggest to audiences, and his first record label, that he was the “original” Sonny Boy. In order to differentiate between the two musicians, many later scholars and biographers now refer to Williamson (1914-1948) as “Sonny Boy Williamson I,” and Miller (c.1912-1965) as “Sonny Boy Williamson II”

1939 — The Squadronaires: A British Royal Air Force band which began and performed in during World War II.

1940s — Howlin’ Wolf: Chester Arthur Burnett was a great Chicago blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player, from Mississippi. He explained the origin of the name Howlin’ Wolf: “I got that from my grandfather,” who would often tell him stories about the wolves in that part of the country and warn him that if he misbehaved, the “howling wolves” would get him. Paul Oliver wrote that Burnett once claimed to have been given his nickname by his idol Jimmie Rodgers.

Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill Broonzy by Muddy Waters (1960, Chess)

Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill Broonzy by Muddy Waters (1960, Chess)

1940s — Muddy Waters: The stage name of Chicago bluesman McKinley Morganfield. Waters’ grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Della gave the boy the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. Waters later changed it to “Muddy Water” and finally “Muddy Waters.”


Bargins, rings, affairs, quiddicks, scandals and forty years of gatesuffixication

The NFL recently announced that it has suspended Tom Brady for four games for his “243-page, more probable than not” role in the Deflategate (AKA Ballghazi) scandal. The Patriots will also be fined $1 million and lose their first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft and their fourth round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. And so concludes yet another chapter in America’s long running love affair with gatesuffixing every scandal du jour, which originated in 1974 with two politically motivated burglaries at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, then located at the Watergate Hotel and Office Building. Ever since we have been awash in gates, or what sociologist John Thompson calls, “scandal syndrome.”

Philip Guston, "San Clemente" 1975, Oil on canvas, 68 x 73 1/4 inches

Philip Guston, “San Clemente” 1975, Oil on canvas, 68 x 73 1/4 inches

America, however, already enjoyed a deep and rich history of promoting, hawking and branding various forms of misconduct, long before Nixon’s bumbling henchmen had a chance to immeasurably disfigure the lexicon of scandal, going all the way back to our formative years as a country. Here is an abbreviated list of some of the more the noteworthy from a naming perspective:

1797 – The XYZ Affair: A confrontation between the United States and Republican France that led to an undeclared war called the Quasi-War. The name derives from the substitution of the letters X, Y and Z for the names of French diplomats in documents released by the Adams administration.

1801 – The Burr Conspiracy: U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr’s goal was to create an independent nation in the center of North America and parts of present-day Mexico.

1804 – The Pickering Affair: Federal Judge John Pickering was impeached and convicted in absentia by the U.S. Senate for drunkenness and use of profanity on the bench in spite of the fact neither act was a high crime or misdemeanor.

1831 – The Petticoat Affair: The husband of Margaret “Peggy” O’Neale was alleged to have been driven to suicide because of her affair with Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton.

1872 – Crédit Mobilier Scandal: The scandal involved the Union Pacific Railroad and the Crédit Mobilier of America construction company in the building of the eastern portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

1875 – Whiskey Ring: Massive corruption of Ulysses S. Grant’s administration involving whiskey taxes, bribery and kickbacks ending with 110 convictions.

1919 – Black Sox Scandal: The Chicago White Sox lost the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, and eight White Sox players were later accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers. The players were acquitted in court, but nevertheless, they were all banned for life from baseball.

1919 – Newport Sex Scandal: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated an investigation into allegations of “immoral conduct” (homosexuality) at the Naval base in Newport, Rhode Island. After the report, which revealed nothing, the investigators themselves were also accused of homosexuality.

1923 – The Makropulos Affair: The Makropulos Affair is a play written by Karel Čapek and first performed in 1922 at the Vinohrady Theatre in Prague.

1924 – Teapot Dome Scandal: A bribery incident that took place in the United States during the administration of President Warren G. Harding. Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall had leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and two other locations in California to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding.


5 Reasons A Name May Be Killing Your Brand

If your brand isn’t reaching the potential you think it should, perhaps it’s time for a brand audit. Specifically, take a long, hard look at the name of your brand, and see if it might be suffering from one or more of these fatal flaws:

  1. Your brand has a boring, generic, descriptive name. This is causing it to blend in with a crowded field of weakly-named competitor brands. If you want people to notice, pay attention to and care about your brand, you must not act out of fear. Be bold and unafraid, not ruled by FOSO — Fear Of Standing Out.
  2. Your brand name is an invented mash-up with no meaning. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the semantic meaning of individual morphemes translates into real-world brand engagement. It doesn’t. Such names may technically (linguistically) have “meaning,” but, like snowflakes in a blizzard, they are not meaningful.
  3. You brand name came from a visit to the thesaurus. Nearly all companies who move beyond the boring, descriptive name and the incomprehensible mash-up go this route, so it’s another excellent way to get lost in the crowd. Get over the idea that finding the right experiential synonym for “advanced,” “intelligent” or “powerful” in a thesaurus will lead to the perfect name. It won’t, because those names have already been done to death. Ditch the thesaurus and go deep instead – a poetic metaphor that maps to your brand positioning will transform your brand identity from a liability to a powerful business asset. Let you competitors adopt boringly “appropriate” names from a thesaurus — they’ll be doing you a great favor.
  4. Your brand is shrouded in vacant, overused words like “solutions.” A quick web search will confirm that you can find a solution for nearly every problem, except perhaps for the problem of having too many “solutions.” Other empty vessels include “network,” “business,” “business solutions,” “leading provider” (“leading” anything, for that matter), or the ultimate, “a leading provider of business solutions.” Search that last phrase in Google, in quotes, and you will see that millions of results are found. Don’t toss your beautiful needle into that haystack.
  5. Your brand name is different only for the sake of being different or extreme in any way just for the sake of being extreme. The most powerful names are those that best support their brand’s positioning, no matter what, and depending on the circumstances, a name might be “extreme” or it might not. If your name is trying too hard to be different just in order to stand out, it won’t — it will blend in with all the other names that are also trying too hard, and failing, to stand out. This is a mistake frequently made by technology startups.

The most important thing is that you should never “settle” for a mediocre name for your brand, when a great name can be such a powerful force for business success. Find a lot more tips in our Naming & Branding Manifesto, or download our free Naming Guide, which includes the Manifesto and much more.

A Brief History of X (1895-2014)

A group of U.S. experimental aircraft (X-Planes). In the center, the Douglas X-3 Stiletto; around it, clockwise from bottom left: Bell X-1A, Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak, Convair XF-92A, Bell X-5, Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, Northrop X-4 Bantam.

A group of U.S. experimental aircraft (X-Planes). In the center, the Douglas X-3 Stiletto; around it, clockwise from bottom left: Bell X-1A, Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak, Convair XF-92A, Bell X-5, Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, Northrop X-4 Bantam.

Patient X

I first encountered the X modifier in my youth. As an aviation enthusiast I was introduced to the radical X-3 Stiletto. The X-3 Stiletto was an experimental jet aircraft designed and manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the U.S. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The NACA was the precursor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The X-3 looks like a personification of the beaked-nose white spy from Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy, with its a slender fuselage, a long tapered nose, and ultra-modern white-on-white paint scheme. The X-3 was part of a series of experimental United States airplanes, helicopters and rockets used to test and evaluate new technologies and aerodynamic concepts, referred to as “X-Planes”:

The majority of X-Plane testing has occurred at Edwards Air Force Base. Some of the X-planes have been well publicized, while others, such as the X-16, have been developed in secrecy. The first, the Bell X-1, became well known after it became, in 1947, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight. Later X-planes supported important research in a multitude of aerodynamic and technical fields, but only the North American X-15 rocket plane of the early 1960s achieved comparable fame to that of the X-1. X-planes 7 through 12 were actually missiles(used to test new types of engines), and some other vehicles were un-piloted (some were remotely flown, some were full-on drones). (Wikipedia: X-Plane)

X has many other uses in addition to designating an experimental aircraft: it is a common variable for unknown or changing concepts in mathematics; in astronomy, X stands for a comet of unknown origin; X is a symbol on a treasure map to mark the spot where the treasure is buried; in bowling X signifies a strike; and X is a placeholder for the legal signature of an illiterate person. On a more romantic note, Xs symbolize the kisses paired with the Os of hugs in warmhearted salutations.

Besides these common uses, the X modifier is often deployed as branding shorthand to differentiate some person, product, or service as being advanced, audacious, bleeding-edge, bold, contemporary, daring, earth-shattering, forward-looking, fresh, game-changing, genuine, ground-breaking, gutsy, innovative, modern, newfangled, novel, original, pioneering, rejuvenated, sophisticated or unique. The use of X is everywhere, and seems to be the gift the keeps on giving. So I decided to look into the origins of the X that so often marks the spot. Here is a brief summary of my findings.

A Brief History of X (1895 -2014)

1895 | X-Rays: Physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers X-rays. Röntgen named it X-radiation to signify an unknown type of radiation. »»»

James Lipton is an Exaltation of Collective Nouns

Vincent Gallo & Christina Ricci form A Vintage Of Hipsters or possibly  A Festival Of Indie Filmmakers or perhaps  An Enigma Of Conceptual Artists.

Vincent Gallo & Christina Ricci form A Vintage Of Hipsters, A Ring of Opera Goers, A Rave of DJs, A Salutation of Yoga Instructors, A Festival Of Indie Filmmakers or perhaps just a run-of-the-mill Enigma Of Conceptual Artists.

Last week NPR’s Studio 360 announced the winners of its 2014 Collective Nouns contest. Host Kurt Andersen challenged listeners to create collective nouns for this group of people: Conceptual Artists, Critics, Djs, Hipsters, Indie Filmmakers, IT Guys, Opera Goers, Trekkies, Venture Capitalists, and Yoga Instructors. James Lipton, perhaps best known as the host of Inside the Actors Studio, served as the judge. Turns out James Lipton actually wrote the definitive book on the subject:

Generations of word lovers have been turned on by James Lipton’s An Exaltation of Larks. The book details the provenance of more than 1,100 “nouns of venery,” as they are were called in the 15th century, including a pride of lions, a smack of jellyfish, an ostentation of peacocks, and many more.

In his research for the book, Lipton discovered that linguists in 1486 delighted in making up names for people, as well: a superfluity of nuns, an eloquence of lawyers, an incredulity of cuckolds. “And that’s when I began to play the game,” he says. He would invite his friends over to invent new ones — the playwright Neil Simon suggested “a mews of cathouses.”

Here is the audio clip of the Studio 360 segment:

And here, dear reader, is the list of winners selected by Mr. Lipton:

  • An Enigma Of Conceptual Artists
  • A Deck Of Trekkies
  • A Rave Of Djs
  • A Hedge Of Venture Capitalists
  • An Altcommandcontrolshift Of IT Guys
  • A Pan Of Critics
  • A Festival Of Indie Filmmakers
  • A Vintage Of Hipsters
  • A Salutation Of Yoga Instructors
  • A Ring Of Opera Goers

Paul Tudor Jones, founder of The Robin Hood Foundation, on the power of a great name

In September, 2013, 60 Minutes aired a story, Modern-Day Robin Hood, about the billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. Tudor Jones’ charity, the Robin Hood Foundation, “fights poverty with the hard-nosed, business sense of Wall Street.”

At one point in the interview, Tudor Jones had this to say about the power of having a great brand name:

If you said to me what part of our success is due to our name, I’d say it’s a big part of it ’cause it’s a great name, right? It says everything.

It does indeed “say everything,” but not in the usual, descriptive way. Instead, the name tells a great story, tapping into the Robin Hood mythos of “robbing from the rich to give to the poor,” updated for the 21st century. The way The Robin Hood Foundation pulls off this feat is very smart, and well-told in the 60 Minutes piece.

It is refreshing to hear a successful business leader, let alone a billionaire, acknowledge that success in business is not merely the result of a great product, vision, or  founder’s genius. That having the right name can make all the difference in the world between achieving average results or phenomenal success.

#NoFOSO: Help end FOSO — Fear Of Standing Out

No FOSO - Fear Of Standing Out

You’re likely familiar with the buzzword FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. We even named an app, Gravy, that helps people avoid missing out on interesting things happening nearby.

Here’s a new buzzword I’d like to coin right here and now: FOSO — Fear Of Standing Out. This is a real phenomenon we have observed time and again in regard to company and product brand names. It is ironic because naming and branding is usually considered to be part of a company’s marketing efforts, and marketing is all about getting your brand to stand out from the crowd and be noticed, talked about, recommended and remembered. Yet for some reason, when it comes to naming, many companies become blinded by this irrational fear of standing out, and–consciously or subconsciously–elect to blend in with their competition rather than stand apart.

In our Manifesto entry number 18, Let Your Freak Flag Fly, we write: “It’s a very simple calculus: if your competitors are all doing the same thing, then you will stand out if you do something different. And the first and most visible point of differentiation is with your name.” We don’t mean being different just for the sake of being different (see manifesto entry #24, Difruhnt, But Not That Different), but by connecting the dots metaphorically and poetically to a unique, compelling brand positioning story, your brand will naturally stand apart from the crowd. But first your company must overcome its FOSO.

Zinzin can help. We have found that a rigorous and time-tested process such as ours helps everyone on the client naming team understand the reality of the marketplace, why great brand names succeed, and work through the internal divisions and concerns that are likely the root of their Fear of Standing Out.

Foso also just happens to be a Spanish word for a moat, ditch, pit or hole dug in the ground, a perfect metaphor for what can happen to your business if you allow your brand to be mired in the ditch that is Fear Of Standing Out. So let’s all open the window, or stand on our cubical desks, and shout to the world: No more FOSO!

How HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” got his name…and no, it’s not IBM minus one

HAL 9000The HAL 9000 computer is one of the stars of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction film masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the novel it is based on by Arthur C. Clarke. It has often been a legend that the name HAL was derived because each letter comes one place before IBM in the alphabet. Arthur C. Clarke has always denied this, and the true origin of HAL’s name is recounted on the HAL 9000 Wikipedia page:

Although it is often conjectured that the name HAL was based on a one-letter shift from the name IBM, this has been denied by both Clarke and 2001 director Stanley Kubrick. In 2010: Odyssey Two, Clarke speaks through the character of Dr. Chandra (he originally spoke through Dr. Floyd until Chandra was awoken), who characterized this idea as: “[u]tter nonsense! […] I thought that by now every intelligent person knew that H-A-L is derived from Heuristic ALgorithmic”.

Clarke more directly addressed this issue in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001:

As is clearly stated in the novel (Chapter 16), HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer. However, about once a week some character spots the fact that HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, and promptly assumes that Stanley and I were taking a crack at the estimable institution … As it happened, IBM had given us a good deal of help, so we were quite embarrassed by this, and would have changed the name had we spotted the coincidence.

Also, IBM is explicitly mentioned in the film 2001, as are many other real companies. IBM is given fictional credit as being the manufacturer of the Pan Am Clipper’s computer, and the IBM logo can be seen in the center of the cockpit’s instrument panel. In addition, the IBM logo is shown on the lower arm keypad on Poole’s space suit in the scene where he space walks to replace the antenna unit, and may possibly be shown reflected on Bowman’s face when he is inside the pod on his way to retrieve the body of Poole (there is speculation as to whether or not the reflection is that of the letters “IBM” or the letters “MGM”, the film studio).

HAL has become such an icon of our culture that we are fortunate neither Clarke or Kubrick noticed the downshift from “IBM,” or this epic computer may have been named “Siri.” Or Dora. Or Obie. Or any one of these other names of fictional computers.

Seven Criteria For Evaluating A Naming Agency

Stephen King wrote, “The scariest moment in writing is just before you start.” For many companies, the prospect of hiring a naming agency is filled with nearly as much uncertainty as the process of naming itself. In order to feel more confident with your selection of a naming company, regardless of who you ultimately hire, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Check out the agency’s portfolio. Have they created any great names? Do they demonstrate the ability to create a range of names, or only a narrow niche? Do any of the names resonate with you?
  2. Does the agency have a well-developed process for creating names? Is it transparent and easy to understand, or is it missing in action, hidden behind a proprietary TM-branded “black box” or riddled with alienating biz-speak and obfuscating consultant diagrams?
  3. Does the agency have a clear philosophy of naming? Do you get the sense that they live and breathe naming? Does it seem like they enjoy their job?
  4. Can you get company principals on the phone to discuss your project, and are they helpful, or are you routed to “account rep” intermediaries?
  5. Is the agency a thought leader, or a follower? Are they talking about the same things in the same way as all other naming companies, or do they offer a fresh perspective? Do they have strong opinions that they are not afraid to share? Do they engage in conversations, or is it mostly just one-way marketing chatter that’s all about them and how awesome they are?
  6. Do you get the sense that working with this agency will be an enjoyable experience? Is their process interactive, encouraging your involvement and input? Are they good listeners?
  7. Is the agency’s own name any good? Does it tell a story? Does it rise above the goods and services being offered? Has the agency invested it with meaning and built a strong brand identity for themselves?

Get engaged

What is the essence, the core value, of your brand? What is the core value of any company you hire, for naming, graphic identity, or advertising? It is no longer enough for brands just to shout messages for “consumers” to digest — brands, companies must be engaged with their audience, society in general, and the world we all live in. So before you engage an agency to position you in the global village, make sure they understand the fundamental shift in how business is done that is going on right now, or they might just build you a glossy new pedestal to display your vision in a museum of dead brands.

Steve Jobs on understanding the essence of a brand

“Apple at the core, it’s core value, is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.”

‘Raising McCain’: Not Your Mother’s Talk Show


NPR’s Michel Martin interviewed Pivot’s “docu-talk” host Meghan McCain recently. Here is a brief excerpt and you can read or listen to the complete interview as well as watch a clip of the program at Tell Me More.

Meghan McCain comes by her maverick credentials honestly. As the daughter of Arizona Sen. John McCain, she is no stranger to the political limelight. But that doesn’t mean she always agrees with her dad or Republican political orthodoxy.

It’s that unique perspective that is at the center of her new television show, Raising McCain. The newly launched Pivot network describes the program as a hybrid “docu-talk” show. Each episode features a different co-host and is filmed in a documentary style. But don’t expect crying on couches or gift baskets under the seat. She’s tackling topics like feminism; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights; and young people in the military with an eye on her millennial target audience.

On her inspiration for Raising McCain

I’m such a child of the ’90s. I grew up watching MTV News and watching their “Choose or Lose” correspondents interview my dad. And I always thought they were such interesting, cool people. Tabitha Soren has had such a profound impact on my life. … I just wanted to do a talk show for young people that was discussing serious issues, but not doing it in a way that talks down to people that don’t have it all figured out.

On being an advocate for LGBT rights

You know I’ve never considered myself a journalist, ever. I’ve always considered myself a commentator. I mean I was born into a bias. … If someone wants to watch a more even opinion about coming out in America or gay rights, I’m not the girl for you. I have such a strong opinion. … What I’m always secretly trying to get is that young Republican kid in the middle of the country who is maybe struggling with how he feels about social issues and just knowing that there are other people out there that struggle with that.

On the government shutdown

The government shutdown right now — because we have this innate capability to compromise and work together — it makes me so sad. I don’t know when we’re going to this tipping point where hopefully things will come back around. But I was just talking to my father on the phone right before I came in here to do this interview and he’s saying that this is the worst time in Congress he’s ever seen in his entire career. I mean, what does that say?

On who is to blame for the current political climate

I blame cable news. I blame politicians as well. But at a certain point, I don’t understand some portion of the American public that supports radical personalities. I’ve never understood it. I always want to compromise, and I always want to find the other side of the opinion and see if I may be wrong. I’m open to my opinion being changed. I’m open to the idea that I could be wrong. And it’s just scary, crazy times that we’re living in. And Congress is a bunch of petulant children that can’t work together.

More: Read our Pivot Case Study.

Kids Today: Pivot, A New Channel For Millennials


Here is an excerpt from Emily Nussbaum’s review of the Pivot launch. You can read the entire article at The New Yorker.

Who are the Millennials? Narcissists, that’s who. Entitled types who actually expect to be paid for the work they do. A generation foolish enough to have graduated into a recession—”liking” rather than loving, stealing Wi-Fi, twerking molly (or whatever it is you do with molly). Takers of selfies!

This unfortunate demographic, which has become an easy target for anti-technology pundits, a peg for prurient essays on hookup culture, and a marvellous resource for op-ed columnists in a rush, is now in possession of its very own cable channel: Pivot, which débuted, very quietly, last month. Launched by the producer Evan Shapiro, whose résumé includes executive roles at Sundance and IFC, two of the more innovative small cable networks, the network has a sly slogan: “It’s Your Turn.” And so far, at least, you’d never recognize that mythical Millennial in Pivot’s schedule, which has an appealingly humble aura—it’s diverse, it’s global, it’s progressive, with a touch of early MTV (right down to its première broadcast, a montage of bands covering “Video Killed the Radio Star”). As long as you avert your eyes from the talk show hosted by Meghan McCain, Pivot suggests legitimate creative possibilities. The highlight is the sweetly melancholic half-hour comedy “Please Like Me,” a small charmer that is a bit like “Louie” or “Girls”—that is, if Louis CK were Australian or Lena Dunham gay.

Pivot is barely a network yet—it’s more of a soft launch—but, at its best, it feels like a thoughtful attempt to reach young viewers without relying on pre-chewed assumptions about who they are. Traditionally, cable networks don’t find their identities until they create a hit: “The Sopranos” for HBO, “Buffy” for the WB, “Mad Men” for AMC. Yet there’s something to be said for watching an institution before it becomes a stable brand, when there’s still oddness and experimentation, and room for interesting mistakes. MTV was like that at first: although the v.j.s barely knew how to handle their microphones, if you were the right age you couldn’t stop watching. Pivot isn’t anywhere near that exciting yet, but it’s been around only a month. Give the kid a chance.

More: Read our Pivot Case Study.

The art of Tom Waits: Saved and “Named” Seeds (Heirloom Tomato)

Tom Waits -- Saved and Named Seeds (Heirloom Tomato)

Tom Waits, Saved and Named Seeds (Heirloom Tomato). From the book WAITS/CORBIJN ’77-’11, 2013.

WAITS/CORBIJN ’77-’11 is a new book of photographs by singer/ songwriter/ actor/ poet/ artist Tom Waits and photographer/ director Anton Corbijn taken over the course of a 35-year friendship and collaboration. Notes the publisher’s blurb:

Waits’ vibrant persona helped Corbijn define his narrative, cinematic style of still photography: images that felt as if you were coming in on the middle of some unfolding drama. In turn, Corbijn helped Waits evolve his visual style into a new theatrical self that synced beautifully with the experimental music he was making with Brennan. And lead him to his own photography, collected here for the first time under the title “Curiosities,” a visual handle to the artistic intelligence millions of fans know only through his music. Photographs of Tom Waits by Anton Corbijn, photographs by Tom Waits of the vivid quotidian, stretching down through the years, and presented for the first time in a beautiful clothbound book; side by side, these 226 images record one of the longest and most fruitful collaborations in the careers of both artists.

I love this artwork above, where Waits identifies the “seeds” of his artistic self with the literal seeds of a smashed tomato, that traditional symbol of fan revolt against artists, making this both a homage and an insurgency. You can see more of Waits’ visual work, replete with stains, poem fragments, desperados, shadows, jackrabbits and the detritus of abandoned dreams, in the photos section of his website.

For good measure, I’ve identified all of Waits’ Named Seeds: »»»

Pivot TV, named by Zinzin, launches today

Pivot logoWe are excited to announce the launch at 6pm ET today of the new television network from Participant Media, Pivot, named by Zinzin. Pivot is a social action and general entertainment TV network for millennials, and is all about thinking on your feet, adaptation and informed change. The old ways of thinking and relating to the world aren’t working. It’s time to Pivot. Read the Pivot Case Study.

Coincidentally, today is the 32nd anniversary of the launch of MTV, which debuted on August 1, 1981. Less coincidental is that Pivot will launch with a new version of the video that MTV launched with, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” by the Buggles. (Remember them? Of course you don’t — after all, they never became radio stars, and MTV stopped playing music videos long ago.) From an Entertainment Weekly story about the new version:

For its update, which celebrates a new generation’s creative power, Pivot recorded independent artists live all over Los Angeles, including Run River North, Goldspot, London Thor, Far and Away, Musical Mammal and Rainbow Jackson. Watch it below.

Here’s the new video:

The EW article continues with Pivot president Evan Shapiro, formerly of IFC TV and the Sundance Channel, discussing what’s to come on the network: the imported Australian comedy Please Like Me; Friday Night Lights; Little Mosque on the Prairie; TakePart Live; Raising McCain, hosted by Meghan McCain; Jersey Strong; and coming next year, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECord, and Will, an hourlong drama series imagining William Shakespeare in his early 20s. Check it all out, on Pivot.

And just for fun and sadistic reference, here is the original Buggles version of “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

The youth of today cannot compare with this — and that’s a good thing!

Follow this link to Find Pivot on TV in your area.

Zinzin news and updates

Here cometh April again, and as far as I can see the world hath more fools in it than ever.
~Charles Lamb

Happy April Fools Day! But no foolin’, here’s a roundup of recent Zinzin news and website updates:

pivot logo

New name: pivot (lowercase) is our name for a new social action and general entertainment TV network from Participant Media. Pivot is all about thinking on your feet, adaptation and informed change. The old ways of thinking and relating to the world aren’t working. It’s time to pivot.

Read the pivot Case Study.

Larky - perks rewards app

New name: Larky is our name for a company and mobile app that keeps track of all your perks and reward program memberships in one place. Larky plays off “lark” — a carefree or spirited adventure, harmless prank, or family of melodious songbirds — in fun, playful, singsong way, and also conjures up a “lucky” feeling.

Read the Larky Case Study.


New name: Gravy is our name for a hyperlocal event listings mobile app. Gravy is the good stuff, the “secret sauce,” a source for discovering all the juicy things going on around you. The brand embodies — and the new name demonstrates — a rich and flavorful experience.

Read the Gravy Case Study.

New CAN entries: We have added new entries to the Compendium of Amazing Names (CAN), with more to come soon. The CAN is where we highlight great company, product and services names, wherever in the world we find them.

Some recent articles:

Five steps to avoid defining an empty set in your brand positioning

Venn diagram - those who get it - those who do not get it

Image: Dave Walker, The Cartoon Blog.

When naming, it is often tempting to create a very well-defined, buttoned-down and thorough brand positioning, rigidly specific down to the smallest detail. Such a positioning stance is often the outgrowth of a process in which competing client factions allow too many cooks into the kitchen and draft an overwhelming number of positioning “requirements” meant to satisfy each of those factions. This is a dangerous practice, as it often leads to the outcome of an empty set being created, as conflicting “rules” cancel each other out and leave a hollow space in which no possible name can exist, as in this example, exaggerated to make a point:

Venn diagram - empty set brand positioning

A sure way to spot when this demon rears its ugly head is if you find yourself or members of your team muttering, in reference to the search for the perfect name, “I’ll know it when I see it.” This is the kiss of death for a naming project, because it is highly likely that the impossible outcome of an empty set has been described, or the wrong filters are in place, or both. In such a situation, you could consider every word in the English language (Officially 1,013,913 as of January 1, 2012) as a potential name for your new company or product, plus another million invented or compound names, and still never “know it when you see it,” for the simple reason that no name can satisfy a brand positioning framework that defines an empty set. Such a situation is the cause of most aborted naming attempts.

To transcend the “empty set” conundrum the first thing you need to do is make sure you have no contradictions in the brand positioning. As the example above shows, no name can satisfy the requirements that it be an “invented abstraction with no prior meanings” and simultaneously “evoke our brand positioning, be memorable and help tell our unique story.” Another example of an empty set might be, “available for global trademark and exact match .com domain, be only one syllable, five letters max, easily understood and pronounceable in eastern as well as western languages, and yet be a common word that closely describes our brand position in our industry.” Time to order up a new dictionary, a new language, or a new parallel universe. So the first step toward recovery is to recognize that you have a problem, and make some changes in your approach.

Here are five steps to freeing yourself from the prison of an empty set brand positioning:

  1. Resist the urge to box your brand into a corner. Create a cloud of positioning attributes and know your fundamental story, but don’t try to describe every little detail of the positioning and then expect to find a name that will align with all of them. You won’t.
  2. Understand that while it’s true that a great name will map to and reinforce your brand positioning, such a name will also have the power to inform your brand positioning. It’s a two-way street: brand positioning leads to a name, but the perfect name also influences the brand positioning moving forward. For example, a very similar brand positioning could have led to the names Yahoo! and Excite, but the brand positioning that came after the names were chosen was necessarily very, very different; in the former, very powerful with great marketing legs for years to come; in the latter, well, a me-too derivative long since out of business.
  3. Open your minds. Rather then merely describe your brand positioning with a descriptive or experiential name, like your competitors do, consider creating a highly-memorable evocative name that strongly differentiates your brand from your competition by demonstrating your brand positioning rather than explaining it. The key is to move beyond the literal and into the metaphorical. Think Amazon, Virgin, Twitter, Coach, Caterpillar, Yahoo!, Oracle, Apple. That’s not to say that great invented or experiential names aren’t out there, they’re just few and far between, so you have to work extra hard to identify them.
  4. Evaluating names should be more like a Socratic dialog, not an exercise in democracy. Resist the urge to let everyone on your naming team, or your company, vote on the final name. Nobody’s first choice will survive. The “winning” name will be the one that is most people’s third choice, the one nobody loves but everyone can “live with.” Great brands are not created from such a shrug of the shoulders. A vigorous debate is not only beneficial, it is often a requirement for creating a powerful name. And if half the team loves a name and half the team hates it, you’re in a much better place than if you have immediate consensus one way or the other. When you adopt an amazing name, no matter how contentious the process may have been that got you there, the naysayers will eventually come around and embrace it–they always do. It just takes some people longer to understand the power of a truly different and memorable name that might at first be uncomfortable for them.
  5. Informed outside council can be beneficial, while uninformed outside opinion can be damaging. In other words, if you are truly stuck in your naming process, you will likely benefit by hiring a naming agency (shameless plug here) to come in with a fresh perspective and get everyone on the team to see name development and brand positioning in a new light. The flip side is taking a short list of names to a focus group or other uninformed outside agent to solicit their opinions about the names. Doing so will almost certainly guarantee that the most unique and powerful names will be killed off, and the weakest, most typical or conformist names will be celebrated. This is especially damning, of course, when you are attempting to position your brand as bold, adventurous, and fiercely independent, as it will lead you to a name that betrays all those fine aspirations.

During your naming project, as you generate –> iterate –> regenerate –> and reiterate the name development process, keep the above points in mind and continue to make sure at every step of the way that you have not defined an empty set. Because if you have, you’ll never find the perfect name, since you wouldn’t know it if you saw it.

Cautionary tale: Krafting a failed name: Mondelez, or how not to do corporate rebranding.

Academic research study shows the market appeal of unusual and evocative names

In 2005 a very interesting research paper by Barbara E. Kahn, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, and Elizabeth G. Miller, a marketing professor at Boston College, was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Titled, “Shades of Meaning: The Effect of Color and Flavor Names on Consumer Choice,” the study presents persuasive evidence that “consumers” (why we don’t like that word) react positively to evocative names that are not descriptive — news to the researchers, perhaps, but not news to us. There is a good article about the study published on the Wharton website, Florida Red or Moody Blue: Study Looks at Appeal of Off-beat Product Names, which I will summarize in this post.

Barbara Kahn says, “The research may have strong implications for Internet marketers whose customers cannot see a product first-hand and tend to rely more on written descriptions when making purchases.” What she means by this is that there is no physical context to products in the virtual world, and thus the emotional associations created by language have even more importance.

In studies of jellybeans and colored sweaters, the researchers found an overall positive reaction to names that gave little information about what a flavor or product color was really like, such as Millennium orange or Snuggly white. “People jumped to the conclusion that the marketer must be telling this information for some reason,” says Kahn. “They said, ‘Even though I don’t understand the reason, it has to be something good because marketers wouldn’t tell me something that isn’t good.’ When they stopped and spent time on the name the assumption was that it was positive.”

Kahn and Miller focus on the idea that people may attach “positive associations” to evocative words like “millennium” and “snuggly,” but we think what’s really going on here is that, in the context of jelly beans, those words are new, unusual, and unexpected, and thus spark an emotional connection. For a tech company, “Millennium Group” would be an expected name, and thus easily forgotten, and the same with the name “Snuggly Wash” for a detergent. But for jelly beans, they resonate, not because people feel that marketers “must be telling this information for some reason,” but simply because they are different, and the human mind craves difference.

Kahn was drawn to a study of unusual product names when she began to notice nail polish being sold under color names — such as Gunpowder — that gave no information about what the polish would actually look like. Another example: the line of Gatorade Frost flavors that are sold with hard-to-imagine flavor names such as Glacier Freeze, Riptide Rush and Cascade Crash. Perhaps the ultimate in ambiguity, says Kahn, has been achieved by Crayola which uses names such as Razzmatazz and Tropical Rain Forest to describe crayons, which are nothing else if not a color. “With the nail polish there was something edgy or revolutionary,” she says. “When Crayola comes out with names that don’t describe the color of crayons, that is just astonishing.”

It shouldn’t be that surprising. Colors are the ultimate “virtual” product, where individual units of the physical product being sold — crayons, markers, paint — are all exactly alike, with the only variation being the color. In such cases the name of the color becomes vital in distinguishing that product from a competitor’s product with the same or similar color. (See our post, Colorful naming done right, about a 2011 New York Times article all about the explosion of very creative, evocative color names in the house paint market.)

Here’s how the researchers conducted their experiment:

Gauging the effects of such names on consumer behavior is hard because so many other variables come in to play. So Kahn and Miller constructed controlled experiments of product names that were divided into four categories: Common, which are typical or unspecific, such as dark green or light yellow; Common Descriptive, which are typical and specific, such as pine green or lemon yellow; Unexpected Descriptive, which are atypical, but specific such as Kermit green or Rainslicker yellow; and Ambiguous, which are atypical and unspecific, such as Friendly green or Party yellow.

In an initial experiment testing flavor names, 100 undergraduates were asked to complete an unrelated questionnaire on a computer. After finishing the questionnaire at the computer, the students were told they could take some jellybeans. The jellybeans were in six cups each with a sign attached listing the flavor. Half the subjects saw jellybean names that were common descriptives: blueberry blue, cherry red, chocolate brown, marshmallow white, tangerine orange and watermelon green. The other half saw flavors with ambiguous names: Moody blue, Florida red, Mississippi brown, white Ireland, Passion orange and Monster green. Researchers observed that the less common names were more popular.

As part of the experiment, some subjects were distracted by questions about the computer survey as they selected their jellybeans. In those cases, there was no preference for the unusually named flavors. That suggested that the decision to go with the less common name is a cognitive response indicating a person puts at least some thought into the decision.

Aha! There is the key: the decision to go with the less common name is a cognitive response indicating a person puts at least some thought into the decision — unexpected evocative and metaphorical names require a person to put some thought into “decoding” them, and the result is that a strong new memory is formed. This is why evocative names are so much more memorable than descriptive names; why “Amazon” is memorable and “Book World” is not. This is called “incongruency theory,” and was also tested specifically by the researchers as part of this study. Incongruency theory posits that, “people make judgments by evaluating new encounters against existing expectations. When encounters are incongruent with prior expectations, individuals put in more effort to resolve the incongruency.” Again, we says a resounding “YES!” — a primary reason for the power of unexpected names is that the effort required to “resolve the incongruency” cements a name in memory.

…if the name is uninformative because it is atypical, consumers will search for the reason the particular adjective was selected as described by incongruency theory. The result of this additional elaboration is increased satisfaction with the product.” Kahn says some consumers seem to enjoy figuring out the names and feel smart when an obscure, but clever name clicks in their mind.

As the researchers note in their paper, “When consumers encounter an unfamiliar name which is counter to their expectation that the marketer would be providing a familiar name, they try to determine how the adjective describes the color/flavor. If they discover the connection, the consumer may congratulate himself for solving the problem, resulting in positive affect. The most positive affect should result when the name is mildly incongruent.”

Although she did not test for it, Kahn says there is probably a point where strong incongruency would backfire, leaving consumers frustrated with meaningless names and leading to negative product response.

Yes, there is such a point, and that point is when a name, no matter how potentially interesting and powerful in and of itself, is too far removed from the brand positioning of the product, company or service. To be effective, names have to map to and reinforce the brand positioning — if they “go rogue” and fail to do that, they are then just perceived as random. People, ultimately, enjoy and identify with stories, and mapping to a well-defined brand positioning is how to Tell A Good Story with a name.

This is a fascinating research study that we believe validates what we have observed anecdotally and have put into practice for years. The researchers, however, come up a little short in their conclusion:

Kahn says the use of odd names seems to work best in products that rely on the senses, such as food or fashion, and would probably not work in a high-stakes product category such as healthcare or financial services. And at some point, she says, the advantage of an odd or unexpected name will wear off. “Over time, people get used to it. I don’t think people have this reaction to Gatorade Frost anymore,” she says. “It isn’t an effect that’s going to last forever unless the company keeps coming up with new names.”

We beg to differ. Just look at the success we’ve had creating memorable, lasting brand names in the two sectors Kahn mentions, Healthcare/Medical/Pharma Names and B2B/Enterprise/Industrial Names which includes the financial sector. The strongest, most powerful names work over time not by conforming to a temporary trick of perception, but by tapping into the collective memory and imagination, and creating an emotional bond with individual people that remains long after the Millennium orange or Snuggly white has been used up.

See also:

Who was Arno Schmidt and what is Zettels Traum? Some evidentiary fragments…

Arno Schmidt -- Zettels Traum

Arno Schmidt, Zettels Traum, 1970.

Setting: The three visitors will begin in two days at Dan. The plot by four o’clock in the morning with showers entering the field. It is crossed, and they leave at the other end. At the bridge at the end…
~Arno Schmidt, Zettels Traum [Quoted/translated in Innovative Fiction Magazine]

(un)justly (un)read

No one reads Arno Schmidt (1914-1979), a little-known major German writer whose corpus ranges from (seemingly) straightforward stories to writing that assails the reader with a literary and linguistic density of the highest degree—he is Germany’s Joyce.

Parsing Schmidt’s trade=mark syntax will reveal, among much else: tremendous wit, metanarratives, caustic social commentary, and passages fully charged with melopoeia.

English readers will have to wait for the amazing John E. Woods to finish translating Schmidt’s magnum opus, Zettels Traum (Bottom’s Dream)—it’s twice as long as Finnegans Wake—but, for the meantime, Woods has already provided us with sublime translations of Schmidt’s works, and he recommends the Collected Novellas as the place to start. In addition, I would suggest beginning with the volume Nobodaddy’s Children, which contains Scenes from the Life of a Faun, Brand’s Heath, and Dark Mirrors. [(un)justly (un)read]

Orchestrating our forgetfulness

Arno Schmidt (1914-1979) is not a well-known figure in German media studies. For the most part, his writings have never enjoyed large audiences and his complex works seem destined to stay at the margins of critical inquiries. Although Schmidt has slowly gained recognition as a “giant of postwar German Literature,” academic criticism so far has produced only a paucity of serious scholarly inquiries. One of Schmidt’s primary concern was to outline the various forms of knowledge formation. The changing nature of these processes of knowledge formation through television and radio posed a special interest. The shift in the transfer of knowledge, from a written text as the storage room of information, to immaterial knowledge production, in the media of radio and television, finds its succinct expression in Schmidt’s literary text Zettels Traum. Embedded in a narrative that claims to preserve our cultural past and present and to serve as a dialogue partner between reader, writer, and text, Zettels Traum, I argue, brings to the forefront the problematic nature of the immaterialities of communication as exemplified in news broadcasting in postwar Germany. The immateriality of communication signals the dissolution of the complex configuration of closed narratives and simultaneously replaces the traditional form of memory with images that orchestrate our forgetfulness. [Watching TV with Arno Schmidt]

An elephantine monster in the service of a dream

Considering the enormous philological and historical erudition of Schmidt’s texts along with the abundance of references, allusions, and parodies of texts from the German, British, French, and classical literary traditions, it should not surprise us that Zettel’s Traum remains a neglected text…. From the outset, Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum is visually distinguished from other books by its sheer bulk — 1334 pages and dimensions of 12.8 x 12.3 inches (owing to the photomechanical reproduction of the original typescript). With its irregular formatted pages and its division into various columns, the text, as an unknown reviewer observed, gained the status of an “elephantine monster” among postwar German publications. A reader of Zettel’s Traum encounters enlarged letters, advertising materials, photographs, pictorial elements supplementing the verbal narration, alterations, additions, and many other devices revealing the text outside the strict purview of literature.

For over ten years, Schmidt filled 130,000 Zettel (index cards) with information. It took him four years to transform Zettel’s Traum into a narrative of twenty-five hours in the life of the main characters of the text, Daniel Pagenstecher, usually called Dan, Paul Jacobi and his wife Wilma, and their teenage daughter Franziska. All four participants engage in the various problems connected with a translation of Edgar Allen Poe and discuss the life and works of Poe. Throughout the text, the central narrator, Daniel Pagenstecher, to whom the critics often refer as the alter ego of Schmidt, complements the discussions by inserting historical events, psychological findings, geographic discoveries, and cosmological insights. Additional comments and quotations from sources such as literary and historical texts unveil the multilingual texture of Zettel’s Traum as a labyrinthine narration.

…The title and the epigraph of Zettel’s Traum hint at Schmidt’s method of writing in the service of a dream. In this instance, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of many allusions. “Zettel,” German for the “warp” of woven cloth, evokes Bottom the Weaver as translated in Friedrich Schlegel’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is essential to grasp Schmidt’s literary allusions to understand the structure and the signifying practices in Zettel’s Traum. [Arno Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum: An Analysis]

Arno Schmidt -- Zettels Traum index cards

Arno Schmidt’s collection of index card notations used in the writing of Zettels Traum.

Wading into the Shower Field

Zettels Traum (1970) by Arno Schmidt is an innovative novel written in three columns with comments in the margins in the style of a scholarly work. This novel which can be translated to mean Slip Dream, is written in the avant garde prose of the Abstract Expressionist style, with concepts such as the Shower Field, which is an erotic metaphor for the Color Field theory of painting. The subtle eroticism of Zettels Traum intrigues the mind, expressing events which otherwise would seem too obvious, and the group consciousness of those involved in a larger project forms two plot lines, which convey the novelistic metafiction to the reader, with the discussion of literary texts, such as Edgar Allen Poe and James Joyce. [Innovative Fiction Magazine]

Continuation of the answers to the meaning of the word “shower box.” Recalling Fouque story, “The rain field, tight summary of it.” Hint: Wilma Johanna Wolff from Lauban.
~Arno Schmidt, Zettels Traum [Quoted/translated in Innovative Fiction Magazine]

The atoms of words

[Schmidt’s] writing style is characterized by a unique and witty style of adapting colloquial language, which won him quite a few fervent admirers. Moreover, he developed an orthography by which he thought to reveal the true meaning of words and their connections amongst each other. One of the most cited examples is the use of “Roh=Mann=Tick” instead of “Romantik” (revealing romanticism as the craze of unsubtle men). The atoms of words holding the nuclei of original meaning he called Etyme (etyms).

His theory of etyms is developed in his magnum opus, Zettels Traum, in which an elderly writer comments on Edgar Allan Poe’s works in a stream of consciousness, while discussing a Poe translation with a couple of translators and flirting with their teenage daughter. Schmidt also accomplished a translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s works himself (1966–73, together with Hans Wollschläger). Some critics even dismissed Zettel’s Traum as non-art, or sheer nonsense, and Schmidt himself as a “psychopath.” but Schmidt’s reputation as esoteric, and that of his work as non-art, has faded and he is now seen as an important, if highly eccentric, German writer of the 20th century. [Wikipedia: Arno Schmidt]

A brief introduction to Zettels Traum and its central characters

Schmidt divides Zettels Traum into three columns, each of which corresponds to a particular theme. The center column reflects upon events which took place between 1965 and 1969, the time in which Zettels Traum (ZT) was actually written, and introduces to the reader the texts of Edgar Allan Poe. The center column of Zettels Traum foregrounds the various texts of Poe. Daniel Pagenstecher himself an author, as well as central narrator of the events in Zettels Traum, lives a scholar-hermit’s existence near a village in Northern Germany, and assists his friend Paul Jacobi, likewise a writer, in the translation of Poe’s works into German. The action is confined to the events of a single summer day. Present are Wilma, Paul Jacobi’s wife, and the Jacobi’s teenage daughter Franziska, who thinks she is in love with the much older Dan. Throughout the day, the five discuss Edgar Allan Poe’s writings and what they reveal of his life and ideas. During the discussions Dan offers his explanation of his theory of language, the etym-theory, to the left of the main column. While the figures discuss the works of Poe in the center column, in this left-hand column Dan tells stories about Poe’s life and inserts citations from Poe’s texts that illustrate his etym-theory of language. Serving as a type of footnote, the right-hand column contains citations and comments that supply additional information and references to other texts. [Watching TV with Arno Schmidt]

Arno Schmidt -- Zettels Traum detail

Arno Schmidt, Zettels Traum, 1970. Detail of page 1294.

A fusion of scientific thinking with modernist writing

“In Schmidt, then, we have a fusion of the striving for scientific thinking with a commitment to modernist writing; for him the founding father of his art is not Zola but Lewis Carroll.” – Keith Bullivant, “Arno Schmidt: The German Context”, in the Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring, 1988). [The Complete Review]

Between text and intertext

By playing on the dialectic between consciousness and the unconscious, Schmidt conveniently centers the use of citation on a lack of memory, a repression, or an inability to differentiate between text and intertext. Hence Zettels Traum breaks from the traditional understanding of citations by questioning their presuppositions. Most fundamentally, Zettels Traum is a text about texts, a discussion and dissemination of the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. [Arno Schmidt’s Zettels Traum: an analysis by Voker Max Langbehn, in Innovative Fiction Magazine]

Bottom’s up!

The German Book Office reports that compared to the more than 50,000 foreign titles published in Germany each year, only about 3,000 German books make it into translation worldwide. Of these, fewer than 40 works of fiction are translated into English each year, Woods estimated.

For three decades Woods’ award-winning work has often topped this short list, but not for much longer. He plans to retire within a year after finishing Arno Schmidt’s 1,330-page opus, Zettel’s Traum, which will be titled “Bottom’s Dream,” in English.

“When I’m done with ‘Bottom’s Dream,’ I’ve done my work,” he said. “I plan to enjoy Berlin. I love this city. It sparkles for me.” [John E. Woods: Bringing German literature to the world]

Readymade Nomenclature: The Household Cavalry


“The term Household Cavalry is used across the Commonwealth to describe the cavalry of the Household Divisions, a country’s most elite or historically senior military groupings or those military groupings that provide functions associated directly with the Head of state.” It should not be used to describe a Cavalry unit that has taken up residency within your home.

Source: Wikipedia & The Household Cavalry Museum.

Announcing our latest name: Gravy

We are proud to announce the launch of our latest name, Gravy, a hyperlocal event listings mobile app. Gravy is the good stuff, the “secret sauce,” a source for discovering all the juicy things going on around you. The brand embodies — and the new name demonstrates — a rich and flavorful experience.

Read the Gravy Case Study.