I’m going to talk about names: beer names, food names, genre names. I’m going to talk about names, and I’m not going to mention that quote you’re thinking of right now . But I will talk about beer, food, and literature.
What are names supposed to do? They’re supposed to let us know what we’re talking about, in a broad sense . They’re arbitrary, as is any other word, and as with other words, names change with language and dialect and situation (though probably more slowly). People are more likely to have an emotional investment in a name than in a non-name word. . . names come to represent (rather than just indicating) a place or person or concept. Or drink. Sometimes, people get cranky about names. In most cases, people don’t seem to object to established names, but controversy sometimes arises with new or changed names . There are four broad categories into which those controversies fall: adequacy of names, accuracy of names, origin of names, and intent of names. Does the name do what it needs to do? Is it appropriate? Where’s it come from? Why is it?
(Here are my biases: I find names, their etymologies and histories and meanings, fascinating , but I find names themselves difficult to remember, unless I’ve known someone or something for a while.)
Let’s start with beer . I’ve been studying beer, lately. And not just hepatically. . . I’ve been reading about it and discussing it, too. Naming conventions keep coming up as a point of discussion , down to what beer â€“ beer in general â€“ should be called.
There’s a debate over what to call craft beer, and what to call beer in general. The idea in the community that appreciates and talks about beer is that what individuals and small companies are making â€“ what’s generally called craft beer â€“ is beer, real beer, just beer. The macrobreweries, the big international conglomerates, the ones with bikini teams and Clydesdales, shouldn’t be the ones holding the rights to the default term beer, the thinking goes . It’s not that what they make isn’t beer; it’s that the word beer shouldn’t have to be prefaced with some term that fundamentally means non-shitty , if one’s talk about non-mass produced beer. The objections here are to origin and intent: everybody should make and drink and enjoy good beer .
There’s been a more general agreement about laying to rest an earlier term: in the olden days, which is to say the middle 1980s, when it became more legal (in the US) to make and sell small batches of beer again, beers made by small companies were typically called microbrews. Beers made by large companies became known as macrobrews . The first term seems to have died out in the late 90s or early 2000s, replaced by craft beer (as discussed above). The objections here seemed to be in terms of accuracy, origin, and intent: some of the small companies are now big (OK, only Sam Adams); the term isn’t particularly compelling (no, I suppose not); and it implies that the people and companies who produce this kind of beer are not just small, but tiny, insignificant.
Damn. I’ve run out of room to talk about food and literature. Next week for sure.
1. You know, by the famous dead guy.
2. Really broad. Someone who knows what they’re talking about should comment, as long as they don’t object to my use of a singular they here in this sentence that I’m writing here.
3. Here for example are the translations of the last names of the guys I used to play poker with: Cavalier, Wolf, Silvernugget, Morning[star].
4. I draft these essays longhand, and I kept writing names as mames. I can’t tell if that’s profound or not.
5. My primary audience here in this short essay is writers, and writers typically or stereotypically like beer, because beer contains ethyl alcohol.
6. Beer Advocate is an excellent source of information. The community beer ratings are surprisingly helpful, given a subject as subjective as taste, and the magazine is plainspoken and anti-snobbery. (In studying beer, there’s always a danger that one might become the sort of douchebag who brings along his own specific glassware to go with the style of beer he’s bringing to someone else’s kegger.)
7. There’s another interesting related problem: budweiser is Czech for pilsner, and the trademarking of that term makes Czech producers of pilsner (and producers of Czech-style pilsner) rather unhappy. But I won’t talk about that.
8. Scholar’s note: I drink a lot of Natty Light.
9. See, it’s hard to dodge this sort of name problem. . . .
10. Two footnotes here:
a. This type of word is interesting. . . it’s called a retronym. Retronyms keep popping up in recent history. Mail used to be called mail; now it’s called snail mail to differentiate it from email. People now specify that they’re using a film camera if they’re using a film camera. Part of the concept the craft brewers (there’s not a better current term, dammit) are struggling with that the newer and less-used product or item or idea is the one that needs the distinguishing adjective, at first. We only refer to analog watches after digital watches have become more popular.
b. And a bit on macro- as a prefix. . . according to the OED, it was common in Latin because it had been common in Greek. Some loan words showed up early, but it looks from the citations as though there was an explosion of them in the 19th and 20th centuries, which makes sense, I suppose. The entry notes that it’s used often in opposition to micro-, as it seems to be here. Oh, shit!