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Letters of Note

“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.”
― T.S. EliotFour Quartets



In 1955, while attempting to find a name for their hugely anticipated new car, Ford decided to approach the most unlikely of people to assist in the matter: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Marianne Moore. Moore, who was known by the wife of one Robert Young, an employee in the car manufacturer's marketing research department, was soon contacted by letter; she agreed to help, and proceeded to supply them with a magnificent selection of words with which to brand their car. The entire chain of correspondence, from initial enquiry to baffling conclusion, can be read below.

As can be seen, all of Moore's delightful suggestions were ignored. The Ford "Edsel" was finally unveiled in 1957. It flopped spectacularly.

(Source: Letters from and to the Ford Motor Company; Images via here andhere.)
October 19, 1955

Dear Miss Moore,

This is a morning we find ourselves with a problem which, strangely enough, is more in the field of words and the fragile meaning of words than in car making. And we just wonder whether you might be intrigued with it sufficiently to lend us a hand. 

Our dilemma is a name for a rather important new series of cars. 

We should like this name to be more than a label. Specifically, we should like it to have a compelling quality in itself and by itself. To convey, through association or other conjuration, some visceral feeling of elegance, fleetness, advanced features and design. A name, in short, that flashes a dramatically desirable picture in people's minds. 

Over the past few weeks this office has confected a list of three hundred-odd candidates which, it pains me to relate, are characterized by an embarrassing pedestrianism. We are miles short of our ambition. And so we are seeking the help of one who knows more about this sort of magic than we. 

As to how we might go about this matter, I have no idea. One possibility is that you might care to visit with us and muse with the new Wonder which now is in clay in our Advance Styling Studios. But, in any event, all would depend on whether you find this overture of some challenge and interest. 

Should we be so fortunate as to have piqued your fancy, we will be pleased to write more fully. In summary, all we want is a colossal name (another "Thunderbird" would be fine). And, of course, it is expected that our relations will be on a fee basis of an impeccably dignified kind. 

Robert B. Young
Marketing Research Department

October 21, 1955

Let me take it under advisement, Mr. Young. I am complimented to be recruited in this high matter. 

I have seen and admired "Thunderbird" as a Ford designation. It would be hard to match, but let me, the coming week, talk with my brother who would bring ardor and imagination to bear on the quest.

Sincerely yours and your wife's, 
Marianne Moore
October 27, 1955

Dear Mr. Young,

My brother thought most of the names I had considered suggesting to you for your new series too learned or too labored, but thinks I might ask if any of the following approximate the requirements:

This plant, of which the flower is a silver sword, I believe grows only in Tibet, and on the Hawaiian Island, Maui on Mount Háleákelá (House of the Sun); found at an altitude of from 9,500 to 10,000 feet. (The leaves—silver-white—surrounding the individual blossoms—have a pebbled texture that feels like Italian-twist backstitch all-over embroidery.)

My first thought was of a bird series—the swallow species—Hirundo, or, phonetically, Aërundo. (A species that takes its dinner on the wing—"swifts".) Malvina Hoffman is designing a device for the radiator of a made-to-order Cadillac, and said in her opinion the only term surpassing Thunderbird would be hurricane; and I thought Hurricane Hirundo might be the first of a series such as Hurricane Aquila (eagle), Hurricane Accipiter (hawk), and so on. 

If these suggestions are not in character with the car, perhaps you could give me a sketch of its general appearance, or hint as to some of its exciting potentialities—though my brother reminds me that such information is highly confidential. 

Sincerely yours, 
Marianne Moore

November 4, 1955

Dear Miss Moore,

I'm delighted that your note implies that you are interested in helping us in our naming problem. 

This being so, procedures in this rigorous business world dictate that we on this end at least document a formal arrangement with provision for a suitable fee or honorarium before pursuing the problem further. 

One way might be for you to suggest a figure which could be considered for mutual acceptance. Once this is squared away, we will look forward to having you join us in the continuation of our fascinating search. 

Sincerely yours, 
Robert B. Young
Marketing Research Department

November 7, 1955

Dear Mr. Young,

It is handsome of you to consider renumeration for service merely enlisted. My fancy would be inhibited, however, by acknowledgement in advance of performance. If I could be of specific assistance, we could no doubt agree on some kind of honorarium for the service rendered. 

I seem to exact participation; but if you could tell me how the suggestions submitted strayed—if obviously—from the ideal, I could then perhaps proceed more nearly in keeping with the Company's objective. 

Sincerely yours, 
Marianne Moore

November 11, 1955

Dear Miss Moore,

Our office philodendron has just benefitted from an extra measure of water as, pacing about, I have sought words to respond to your recent generous note. Let me state my quandary thus. It is unspeakably contrary to procedure to accept counsel—even needed counsel—without a firm prior agreement of conditions (and, indeed, to follow the letter of things, without a Purchase Notice in quadruplicate and three Competitive Bids). But then, seldom has the auto business had occasion to indulge in so ethereal a matter as this. So, if you will risk a mutually satisfactory outcome with us, we should like to honor your wish for a fancy unencumbered.

As to wherein your earlier suggestions may have "strayed," as you put it—they did not at all. Shipment No. 1 was fine, and we would like to luxuriate in more of the same—even thosle your brother regarded as overlearned or labored. For us to impose an ideal on your efforts would, I fear, merely defeat our purpose. We have sought your help to get an approach quite different from our own. In short, we should like suggestions that we ourselves would not have arrived at. And, in sober fact, have not.

Now we on this end must help you by sending some tangible representation of what we are talking about. Perhaps the enclosed sketches will serve the purpose. They are not it, but they convey the feeling. At the very least, they may give you a sense of participation should your friend, Malvina Hoffman, break into brisk conversation on radiator caps.

Sincerely yours, 
Robert B. Young
Marketing Research Department

November 13, 1955

Dear Mr. Young,

The sketches. They are indeed exciting; they have quality, and the toucan tones lend tremendous allure—confirmed by the wheels. Half the magic, sustaining effects of this kind. Looked at upside down, furthermore, there is a sense of fish buoyancy. Immediately your word "impeccable" sprang to mind. Might it be a possibility? The Impeccable. In any case, the baguette lapidary glamor you have achieved certainly spurs the imganation. Car innovation is like launching a ship—"drama."

I am by no means sure that I can help you do the right thing, but performance with elegance casts a spell. Let me do some thinking in the direction of impeccable, symmecromatic, thunder blender... (The exotics, if I can shape them a little.) Dearborn might come into one.

If the sketches should be returned at once, let me know. Otherwise, let me dwell on them for a time. I am, may I say, a trusty confidant.

I thank you for realizing that under contract esprit could not flower. You owe me nothing, specific or moral.

Sincerely yours,
Marianne Moore
November 19, 1955

Some other suggestions, Mr. Young, for the phenomenon:
or Intelligent Bullet
or Bullet Cloisoné or Bullet Lavolta

(I have always had a fancy for THE INTELLIGENT WHALE—the little first Navy submarine, shaped like a sweet potato; on view in our Brooklyn Yard.)
(That there is also a perfume Fabergé seems to me to do no harm, for here allusion is to the original silversmith.)
THE ARC-en-CIEL (the rainbow)

Please do not feel that memoranda from me need acknowledgement. I am not working day and night for you; I feel that etymological hits are partially accidental.

The bullet idea has possibilities, it seems to me, in connection with Mercury (with Hermes and Hermes Trismegistus) and magic (white magic).

Sincerely yours,
Marianne Moore
November 28, 1955

Dear Mr. Young,

REGNA RACER (couronne à couronne) sovereign to sovereign
Fée Rapide (Aerofée, Aero Faire, Fée Aiglette, Magi-Faire) Comme II Faire
Tonnèrre Alifère (winged thunder)
Aliforme Alifère (wing-slender, a-wing)
TURBOTORC (used as an adjective by Plymouth)
THUNDERBIRD allié (Cousin Thunderbird)

I shall be returning the sketches very soon.

December 6, 1955

Dear Mr. Young,

Taper Racer
Taper Acer
Varsity Stroke
Tir à l'arc (bull's eye)
Cresta Lark
Triskelion (three legs running)
Pluma Piluma (hairfine, feather foot)
Andante con Moto (description of a good motor?)

My findings thin, so I terminate them and am returning the sketches—two pastels, two photos: from Mr. M. H. Lieblich. 

Two principles I have not been able to capture: 1. The topknot of the peacock and topnotcher of speed. 2. The swivel-axis (emphasized elsewhere)—like the Captain's bed on the whale ship, Charles Morgan—balanced so that it leveled, whatever the slant of the ship.

If I stumble on a hit, you shall have it. Anything so far has been a pastime. Do not ponder appreciation, Mr. Wallace. That was embodied in the sketches.


I cannot resist the temptation to disobey my brother and submit:

TURCOTINGA (turquoise cotinga—the cotinga being a solid indigo South American finch or sparrow)

(I have a three-volume treatise on flowers that might produce something, but the impression given should certainly be unlabored.)

December 8, 1955

Mr. Young,

May I submit UTOPIAN TURTLETOP? Do not trouble to answer unless you like it.

Marianne Moore

[Message sent to Moore with a bouquet of roses, eucalyptus and white pine.]
December 23, 1955

Merry Christmas to our favorite Turtletopper.

December 26, 1955

Dear Mr. Young:

An aspiring turtle is certain to glory in spiral eucalyptus, white pine straight from the forest, and innumerable scarlet roses almost too tall for close inspection. Of a temperament susceptible to shock though one may be, to be treated like royalty could not but induce sensations unprecedented august.

Please know that a carfancyer's allegiance to the Ford automotive turtle—extending from the Model T Dynasty to the Young Utopian Dynasty—can never waver; impersonal gratitude surely becoming infinite when made personal. Gratitude to unmiserly Mr. Young and his idealistic associates.

Sincerely yours,
Marianne Moore

November 8, 1956

Dear Miss Moore,

Because you were so kind to us in our early and hopeful days of looking for a suitable name, I feel a deep obligation to report on events that have ensued.

And I feel I must do so before the public announcement of same come Monday, November 19.

We have chosen a name out of the more than six thousand-odd candidates that we gathered. It has a certain ring to it. An air of gaiety and zest. At least, that's what we keep saying. Our name, dear Miss Moore, is—Edsel.

I know you will share your sympathies with us.

David Wallace, Manager
Marketing Research

P.S. Our Mr. Robert Young, who corresponded with you earlier, is now and temporarily, we hope, in the services of our glorious U.S. Coast Guard. I know he would send his best.
The Letters of Note book is out October 2013; learn more here. 
Visit the Archives for hundreds more letters. 
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A Wordnado of Words in 2013

Henning Wagenbreth
Published: December 21, 2013
PRIVACY. Selfie. Geek. Science. Four dictionary publishers each selected one of those words as its word of the year for 2013. But it’s tough to catalog the preoccupations of the year in a single word. There were many flying around that seemed to capture a moment, an emotion, a thought, a new way of doing or describing things, or the larger zeitgeist. Some were new, some not so new, but they all seemed to say something about the times. Here are a few:
AG-GAG LAW n. Legislation that restricts the use of undercover video in places where food animals are raised or slaughtered. From agriculture + gag law.
AIR GAP n. The space surrounding a computing device that is disconnected from all networks, which can protect it from digital attacks. But one security researcher claims the air gap can be defeated by malware that transmits data encoded in high-frequency sounds out of computer speakers and into the microphones of nearby computers.
BAE n. Spelling representation of a dialect pronunciation of babe or baby. The catchphrase “bae caught me slippin” (meaning, “My baby caught me sleeping”) came into vogue as a caption to photographs taken by people pretending to be asleep.
BITCOIN n. An anonymous, decentralized, digital, encrypted currency and payment system.
BOSTON STRONG n. A catchphrase and slogan used to show solidarity after the Boston Marathon bombing in April.
CIS adj. Identifying the gender that one was born to and identifies with, as in cismale for “male with male gender identity.” Short for cisgender, an antonym of transgender. Pronounced as siss.
CRONUT n. A wonderful pastry that is part croissant, part doughnut and part hype.
DEEP STATE n. A hard-to-perceive level of government or super-control that exists regardless of elections and that may thwart popular movements or radical change. Some have said that Egypt is being manipulated by its deep state.
DOGE n. An intentional misspelling of dog. It’s part of a popular Internet meme featuring pictures of shiba inu dogs surrounded by not-quite-grammatical captions in Comic Sans font.
DOX v. To uncover and then publish someone’s personal information. An abbreviation of document. Sometimes spelled doxx.
DRONE n. A flying machine, either autonomous or remotely piloted, used for surveillance, military sorties and deliveries. As a verb, to send a drone to a location, especially to bomb it. “We droned most of the key militant leaders.”
FATBERG n. A 15-ton ball of fat, grease and solid sewage found in a London sewer.
FEELS n. pl. Feelings. Originated online, thrived as a meme in 2012, and now in 2013 shows signs of moving into more widespread English slang. It’s typically used in response to a moving story: “That got me right in the feels, bro.”
HARLEM SHAKE n. A song by the music producer Baauer that has been used in many videos of people dancing to its opening segment. In each, a helmeted or masked person dances alone while being ignored by others. Then, after a musical drop, the scene changes and is filled with lots of outlandish dancing.
ITAP An acronym for “I took a picture.”
LEAN IN v. A business philosophy intended to lead women to success in the workplace. From the title of the 2013 book by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook: “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”
MOLLY n. A supposedly pure form of the illegal drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy. The term is at least 10 years old.
NO FILTER A label for a photograph that has not been adjusted by software. Often used as a hashtag: #nofilter.
OBAMACARE n. The Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010. Since 2007, the word has been both wielded like a bludgeon and held up like a trophy, and has gone from a sneered pejorative to a matter-of-fact shorthand.
RESTING BITCH FACE, BITCHY RESTING FACE, BITCH FACE n. A face that, when at rest, looks angry, irritated or aggressive. Dating back at least 10 years as a described concept but popularized in 2013 by a video made by the group Broken People.
SELFIE n. A photo self-portrait.
SEQUESTRATION n. Automatic, mandated budget cuts to the federal budget. Also v., sequester.
SHARKNADO n. A B-movie featuring sharks being hurled about by a tornado.
SORRY, NOT SORRY adj. phr. A way of apologizing without apologizing, usually used as an interjection or an aside.
TWERK v. A mode of dance that involves vigorous shaking and thrusting of the rear end, usually with the feet planted. Although the term is about 20 years old, it received new attention when the singer Miley Cyrus performed a twerk-like routine onstage at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The word’s origin is uncertain, but may come from chanted repetitions of “work it, work it.”
VAPE v. To smoke electronic cigarettes, which use moisture to deliver nicotine without tobacco. Vape lounges are places where e-cigarette supplies can be bought and used.
VAX n. A vaccine. Also anti-vaxxer, a person who believes that vaccinations are harmful.
YOUNG INVINCIBLES n. pl. People between ages 18 and 34 who are typically in good health and may not see the need to sign up for health insurance but are critical to Obamacare to spread the cost of providing affordable insurance.
Grant Barrett is a lexicographer specializing in slang and new words, and a co-host of the public radio program “A Way With Words.”
A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 22, 2013, on page SR6 of the New York edition with the headline: A Wordnado of Words in 2013.

And now for something completely different:

See Eddie Vedder and Jeanne Tripplehorn Charmingly Cover the Rolling Stones

'Criminal Minds' star channels show-tunes icon Julie Andrews on "Shattered"
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Chris Martins
December 20 2013, 4:37 PM ET
Something you may not know about Criminal Minds star Jeanne Tripplehorn: In the words ofPearl Jam main man Eddie Vedder, "She has this incredible ability to sing any Rolling Stones song as Julie Andrews." It's true, and you can witness this feat above, as Vedder and Tripplehorn (Basic InstinctThe FirmBig Love) cover "Shattered," from 1978's Some Girls. Therein, he plays the Keith Richards to her Mick Jagger (as Andrews), and the results are as charming as they are fun. The footage comes from a fundraiser for Heal EB, a nonprofit dedicated to funding a cure/raising awareness for the life-threatening skin conditionepidermolysis bullosa. Pearl Jam, of course, are celebrating the release of Lightning Bolt.

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