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Words (and one name) of the week
Brought to you by the letter D.
Happy September and happy informal (non-astronomical) end of summer. I’m back from a week in Los Angeles, where for three days the high temperature was over 100°F. Then on two nights it rained, an extremely rare September occurrence in L.A. It wasn’t exactly a vacation: I was helping my brother through back surgery, which meant spending a day inside a hospital building, which was air-conditioned (good) but also full of free-floating anxiety (bad). So it was an even weirder L.A. experience than usual, and I speak as a Los Angeles native who visits the Southland frequently.
Anyway! My brother is on the mend and I’m back in the Bay Area with a Word of the Week (WotW) bonanza: three words, plus a name, all of which begin with the letter D.
I haven’t yet read Naomi Klein’s just-published Doppelganger but I’ve been reading a lot about it. This is from the publisher’s summary:
Not long ago, the celebrated activist and public intellectual Naomi Klein … was confronted with a doppelganger whose views she found abhorrent but whose name and public persona were sufficiently similar to her own that many people got confused about who was who. Destabilized, she lost her bearings, until she began to understand the experience as one manifestation of a strangeness many of us have come to know but struggle to define: AI-generated text is blurring the line between genuine and spurious communication; New Age wellness entrepreneurs turned anti-vaxxers are scrambling familiar political allegiances of left and right; and liberal democracies are teetering on the edge of absurdist authoritarianism, even as the oceans rise. Under such conditions, reality itself seems to have become unmoored. Is there a cure for our moment of collective vertigo?
The New York Times Magazine published a profile of Klein. The Guardian published a long excerpt of the book in which Klein names her doppelganger—Naomi Wolf, erstwhile “standard-bearer for third-wave feminism” and current “full-time, industrial-scale disseminator of unproven conspiracy theories on everything from Islamic State beheadings to vaccines.”
I confess that I have frequently confused the two Naomis, Klein and Wolf, and like Klein I’ve been mystified and more than a little alarmed by how, as the Times’s Jennifer Szalai puts it, “a woo-woo fixation on individual wellness had combined with a cruel fixation on natural selection to make for a weird ‘fascist/New Age alliance.’” (For more about this, see Conspirituality—a website, a podcast, and a book.) So I’m looking forward to hearing Klein at a September 20 event here in Oakland (tickets still available).
Back to doppelganger. It was imported into English from German doppelgänger—literally “double-goer”—in the first half of the 19th century. Early on, it tended to mean “an apparition of a living person,” with otherworldly overtones. More recently it’s acquired the sense of “alter ego,” or “a person who has the same name as another.” I have so many “Nancy Friedman” doppelgangers that an early version of my website included a list of them on a Not About Me page.
I discovered this word in the August 28 issue of the New Yorker, in Sam Knight’s story “Is Beekeeping Wrong?” A dingulator has nothing to do with bees or beekeeping: It’s the name of a musical instrument (see photo, above) created out of car parts by Charles Martin Simon, aka Charlie Nothing (1941-2007). The connection: Simon, who lived near Santa Cruz, California, was also an organic farmer and contrarian beekeeper who published “a quasi-mystical tract” titled “The Principles of Beekeeping Backwards,” in 2001.
I haven’t discovered why Simon changed his name to Nothing or why he named his invention the dingulator—maybe because the car parts he used were dinged? I had expected that the word’s pronunciation would follow the pattern of “regulator,” with a “you” in the middle, but in fact it’s closer to “dingle-later.” Watch and listen here.
First of all, kudos to Tommy Chong, whose ubiquitous paid ads appear to be singlehandedly keeping Xitter afloat since the exodus of the big-name advertisers. Second: Thanks, Tommy, for introducing me to this sense of dispo—short, in this context, for dispensary. Translation of the tweet: No cannabis dispensary needed, we’ll ship these gummies direct to you.
The cannabis sense is only one of dispo’s meanings. Somewhat more intuitively, it has been shorthand for “disposable,” as in “disposable vape pen” or “disposable camera.” (According to Urban Dictionary, dispo has signified “disposable camera” since at least 2005.) A photo-sharing app called Dispo, which launched in 2019 as David’s Disposable and rebranded in 2021, mimics the developing process of a disposable camera. Dispo may also be an abbreviation of disposition or dispossessory warrant. Urban Dictionary’s earliest entry for dispo = dispensary is dated January 21, 2014: “a clinic provided by public or charitable funds. In marijuana friendly states a dispensary is where one goes to purchase one's medicine.”
The -o suffix is popular in slang word-creation, whether through truncation (journo, camo, klepto,, porno) or appendage (weirdo, pinko, kiddo, wino). It’s also been productive in brand naming: Brillo, Zippo, Detecto. For more on -o suffixes, see my 2018 blog post “Sicko.”
Some news stories about the muckfest that was Burning Man 2023 told of comedian Chris Rock “escaping” Black Rock City* with Diplo, a mononymed DJ. I was of course familiar with Chris Rock—if you haven’t seen his 2009 documentary Good Hair, check it out—but I’d never heard of Diplo, probably because DJ-verse-wise I am an ignoramus. If you’d quizzed me, I’d have guessed that Diplo was an abbreviation of “diplomat,” but nope: According to Songfacts and other sources I presume to be reliable, Thomas Wesley Pentz (b. 1978 in Tupelo, Mississippi) took the name Diplo because of “his childhood fascination with dinosaurs.” Diplo is short for Diplodocus, “a dinosaur similar to a Brontosaurus that lived in western North America during the Jurassic Period.” So, yes, another o-suffixed word formed through truncation and beginning with D!
*I know, right? A Black Rock in Black Rock. Kind of reminds me of the old SNL sketch “Black Vet,” created by Albert Brooks.
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