October 31, 2005

More Dowdese

Fascinating. The "orange croqueted halter dress" that originally appeared in Maureen Dowd's piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine has magically changed to "orange crocheted halter dress" in the online edition. (The Times can't hide from the Nexis, Proquest, and Factiva newspaper databases, however, all of which have archived the original version with croqueted.) The change was made without even a perfunctory correction note, typically found at the end of an online article. Perhaps this is how the Times usually deals with correcting typos that are not strictly errors of fact.

We'll need to see whether croqueted or crocheted appears in Dowd's soon-to-be-released book Are Men Necessary?, from which the Sunday Magazine essay was adapted. If croqueted is there, that means the goof slipped by the combined editorial forces of G.P. Putnam's Sons and the Times Magazine.

It's very possible, though, that Dowd's editors didn't initially correct the croqueted error because they simply assumed it was an example of the writer's usual playful take on the English language. Dowd's pop-culture-laden wordplay, which pleases some and annoys others, was evident throughout Sunday's essay. Here are a few annotated examples of the latest Dowdese.

After Googling and Bikramming to get ready for a first dinner date, a modern girl will end the evening with the Offering, an insincere bid to help pay the check.

Bikramming refers to Bikram Yoga, which involves vigorous exercises performed in a heated room. (The style of yoga was conceived by the entrepreneur Bikram Choudhury, who has trademarked the "Bikram" name.) Dowd first tried out Bikramming in an Aug. 29, 2001 column about "The Offering," where it appeared transitively: "A thoroughly modern young lady might be found Paxiling herself, Googling her date, Bikramming her body and pondering The Offering." Paxiling would refer to self-medication with the antidepressant Paxil. Clearly Dowd is a fan of creating verbal nouns from brand names, taking her cue from such recent neologisms as Googling and Botoxing.

Dowd continues with her reflections on women letting men pay for dates, and what men might expect in return (again cribbing from her Aug. 2001 column):

Jurassic feminists shudder at the retro implication of a quid profiterole.

"Quid profiterole" (which Chris Waigl describes via email as "eyebrow-raising") is a ham-handed pun, blending quid pro quo and profiterole. Not one of Dowd's best efforts — one can imagine her searching through the pro- entries in the dictionary hoping to find an appropriate food term.

The essay wraps up with this line, describing an imagined world twenty-five years from now:

With no power or money or independence, they'll be mere domestic robots, lasering their legs and waxing their floors — or vice versa — and desperately seeking a new Betty Friedan.

Here Dowd returns to the language of body care and its peculiar verbal nouns, such as lasering to refer to the process of laser hair removal. This is one of the better examples of Dowdian wordplay, as the throwaway "or vice versa" cleverly suggests an absurd chiasmus. And "desperately seeking" manages to evoke both Desperate Housewives and its cinematic predecessor in the bored-housewife genre, 1985's Desperately Seeking Susan. When Dowd isn't trying too hard, her mots can be quite bon.

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at October 31, 2005 04:40 PM