March 20, 2004

St@rb*cks claims a whole chunk of the phonetosphere

Rex Bell, known as "Wrecks" to his buddies, is a bar owner in Galveston, Texas. His bar is a laid-back place called the Acoustic Cafe. One night last February a customer asked for a "Lone Star... uh... make that a Shiner Bock." And Bell said, for some reason, "I'll give you a Star Bock." And then he thought, hey, that's a good joke, and a good name. The Lone Star state with its own bock beer, Star Bock. So he set up an arrangement with Brenham Brewery to ship a version of its high-rated Brenham Bock to the Acoustic Cafe labeled as Star Bock.

And of course (this won't surprise readers of Language Log) Starbucks have instantly issued legal threats (as widely reported, e.g. here). Bell is being ordered to abandon his Federal trademark registration efforts and "immediately [their emphasis] cease any and all use of the Starbock Beer and/or Starbock mark" and that he "destroy any signage, menus or other materials bearing the Starbock Beer and/or Starbock."

But of course, linguists will note, the vocalism is different here: bock does not rhyme with buck. Starbucks surely can't lay claim not just to their own trade name but also to everything that begins with star and ends with anything that might remind anyone of bucks: star box, star pox, star fox, star backs, star blacks, star Macs... where's this commercial takeover of whole regions of the phonetosphere going to end? (You've seen this issue before on Language Log, of course, quite recently, here.)

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at March 20, 2004 09:43 PM