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May 01, 2020  |  Friday words #218  |  6493 hit(s)

We continue with our theme of mostly relevant words. Last week, an article in The Atlantic by Amanda Mull introduced us to the term disastertising. This is a portmanteau of disaster+advertising; it refers to the "pivot" by which companies adjusted their advertising to cope with the new realities of a quarantined world.

If you've seen any ads at all in the last month or two, you've probably seen a disastertisment. The ads (dis-ads?) describe ways in which the company are responding to the virus and how they're helping out their customers. For example, Mull says this about the pizza chain Domino's:

The pizza giant scrapped an ad campaign that showed customers standing close to one another, rolled out information about its hands-free food-packaging practices, and repurposed a Risky Business–themed ad to address social distancing. (Sliding around at home in your socks and underwear is all too relevant to many viewers now.)

I choose not to classify the earnest emails I get from, say, my car-insurance company about how they're "actively managing all aspects of the situation" as disastertising. I mean, they probably think that that's what they're doing—advertising—but those don't seem like ad campaigns that have been rethought so much as scrambles by the PR department to say something, anything. Then again, disastertising is such a new term, who knows how it will play out.

And speaking of new, as far as I can tell, this really is a new-new word. All the references I can find to the word are from a few days ago and point back at Mull's article. (Nancy Friedman also noted disastertising in her monthly link fest of new and interesting word stuff.) Let's hope that in the time to come, disastertising will just be a memory of a peculiar time, and that—wait, am I about to say this?—we go back to normal ol' ads.

For origins this week, I read a word history that I didn't believe until I was able to verify it in authoritative sources. The word is dunce, as in, a stupid person, as in, one who wears a dunce cap.

Surprise! Dunce is an eponym, a word based on someone's name. The person in question was John Duns Scotus (John Duns the Scot), a Franciscan philosopher from the 13th century. He was a heavy hitter, in the same league as Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham (of "Occam's razor" fame).

But in subsequent centuries John Duns Scotus's teachings fell on hard times. For one thing, his philosophy relied on a lot of complexities ("needless entities," as the OED says) and subtle distinctions. In addition to this, followers of his school were obstinate about the "new learning" of the 16th century. Thus the term Duns men, or just Dunses, became associated first with the hair-splitting (as some saw it) of their philosophy and later with general obtuseness. From there, dunce finally settled on its current meaning of someone who's incapable of learning. Fun, no?

How about a couple of word-origin shorties this week? If you squint hard enough, you can probably make these be topical.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

Carl von Baeyer   05 May 20 - 12:41 AM

I bet you'll like this brilliant compilation of COVID-19 video ads, which all seem to have the same themes: sombre piano music, unprecedented times, family, support, we are here for you, and then upbeat music at the end.

Sharing this as a way of saying THANK YOU for your video on how to make a paste text only shortcut in Word. So helpful!

- Carl
Winnipeg, Canada

mike   09 May 20 - 10:49 AM

omg, this is brilliant. I must share.

PS I'm happy that you liked the video!