John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why this is Wordville

The regulars at Elizabeth Large’s restaurant blog, Dining @ Large, refer to themselves collectively as the Sandbox. Not everyone is happy with the term, and Ms. Large opened up a discussion of the subject today.

The responses so far overwhelmingly endorse the name, in part because it was first applied to the group by the late Robert (the Single One), whose memory the group honors in deep affection.

But the compelling reason to accept the name is that it is in the nature of nicknames to arise spontaneously and stick. Contrived names just don’t seem to work A couple of years ago, the expenditure of half a million dollars on a project to generate a new municipal slogan for Baltimore yielded this: Baltimore: Get in on it! (The public’s responses to current statistics about the murder rate and articles about muggings by bands of unruly youths suggest that a more resonant slogan would be Baltimore: Give up on It.) Like a previous slogan, The City that Reads, Baltimore: Get in on It! was subjected to widespread ridicule before dropping out of active memory.

Last year, when this blog was still as Baltimoresun.com, I shamelessly attempted to mimic Ms. Large’s blog by soliciting nicknames for You Don’t Say. Something shy of a flood of suggestions yielded a mild plurality in favor of the Parlor or Parlour, reflecting the refined (i.e., stuffy) discourse here. It never caught on. Then one day a Sandboxer mentioned having been over at Wordville, and the name seemed exactly right and has been current ever since.

You would be well advised to be suspicious of campaigns to name zoo animals or come up with slogans or anything of the sort.

A final note: As Sandboxers have comments Robert (the Single One)’s coinage came as a reminder to behave well in the sandbox. The word fits because the community of readers that has developed in Ms. Large’s blog is self-policing. People who are abusive or unpleasant are met immediately with gentle but firm reproof from the Sandboxers, and, finding the place inhospitable to venom, they go away and do not return. Names stick when they fit.