Posts Tagged ‘linguistics’

Fail’s epic win

Back in my day, “fail” was a verb.  We also had to walk to school in the snow, uphill both ways.  Oh, and the snow leopards…

But these are better times.  “Fail” is now a noun, and a ubiquitous one at thatSlate magazine’s Christopher Beam traces its entry into the online zeitgeist back to a Japanese video game:

“…online commenters suggest it started with a 1998 Neo Geo arcade game called Blazing Star. (References to the fail meme go as far back as 2003.) Of all the game’s obvious draws—among them fast-paced action, disco music, and anime-style cut scenes—its staying power comes from its wonderfully terrible Japanese-to-English translations. If you beat a level, the screen flashes with the words: “You beat it! Your skill is great!” If you lose, you are mocked: “You fail it! Your skill is not enough! See you next time! Bye bye!”

(Anyone whose seen the “All your base” video knows how these memes work.)  The May 2008 launch of Failblog brought the word to new heights — and world events drove it from there.  As Beam explains, web searches for “fail” surged in corrolation with the mortgage collapse and financial crisis.

Beam’s linguistic analysis is here.  One thing he misses though, another element that may help explain the rise of “fail,” is the American taste for degradation.  Look at our culture.  Much of the often-decried sex in the media really isn’t really about the sex itself; same goes for the violence. What is consistent, in reality television, “bum fights“, and the disgusting success of straight-up torture porn at the box office, is the public’s desire to see people in their most pitiful, destitute, “fail”-ish states.  Obviously this is all just conjecture, but I do wonder whether something like “Failblog” would do so well in any another culture.  (Oh and let me add that I enjoy a good “Blind Date” train-wreck as much as the next guy, so I’m not casting stones here…)

And so we leave the summary to Dylan:

“She knows there’s no success like failure; and that failure’s no success at all.”

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The following exchange occurred on a message board at www.mgoblog.com, an outstanding Michigan sports blog:

Posted on: September 18th, 2008 at 11:46 PM #17
Jim Harbaugh Scramble Joined: 2008-06-30
David Terrell’s nickname was “Bomb-ass Dick.”

Posted on: September 19th, 2008 at 12:19 AM #18
Tim Waymen Joined: 2008-06-30
I heard that story!!…

Posted on: September 19th, 2008 at 12:24 AM #19
PattyMax64 Joined: 2008-07-21
A Story?  I think that needs to be told…

Posted on: September 19th, 2008 at 12:39 AM #20
Tim Waymen Joined: 2008-06-30
I just googled “david terrell bomb ass dick.”  Well, not only did I get hits that would even make R Kelly cringe, but apparently it’s a famous part of Michigan lore and not one that only my friend would know.  The story is that David Terrell was overheard asking a young female co-ed to whom he was making love, “Who got da bomb-ass dick?”

Funny story from a haloscan convo I came across: “Rich Eisen heard about that story when he came back to campus one year. I was watching Sportscenter the next week and DT caught a long pass. Eisen goes, ‘Who’s got the bomb? David Terrell’s got the bomb.’ I about fell out of my chair.”

So why in the name of Trapped in the Closet did I tell you that story?

Mireille and I were discussing the use of “-ass” as a suffix.  As in, “grown-ass man,” “punk-ass bitch,” or, less commonly, uh, “bomb-ass dick.”  “-Ass” serves to provide emphasis for the word it modifies.  “Grown-ass man” is used to reaffirm one’s maturity, responsibility, masculinity.  (“Grown-ass woman” serves a comparable purpose.)  “Broke-ass” (noun) is a common / formation / as well, while Urban Dictionary presents us with at least three permutations of “honkey” with “cracka.”  “Bad-ass motharfucka” is vernacular enough for an abbreviated t-shirt.

So where’s this come from?  We thought about it for a long-ass time, but had no conclusions.  There’s really no way to Google the etymology.  Where does this originate?  Who coined the formation and when?  We have our hunches, but not a lick of evidence.

Credible, (sourced) theories please?

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