December 10, 2005

News flash: "dyke" not (necessarily?) disparaging

The USPTO has reversed itself, and taken initial steps to allow the San Francisco Women's Motorcycle Contingent, a.k.a. "Dykes on Bikes", to register their nickname as a trademark. As we explained here and here, the application was previously refused because the Lanham Act forbids the registration of marks that are "disparaging". According to Lynne Beresford, a U.S. commissioner for trademarks quoted in the S.F. Examiner story, "The applicant came in at the last moment with a lot of evidence to show that the community did not consider it disparaging".

You can find those "last minute" declarations by linguists, lexicographers, sociologists, psychologists and others in the case file here, including submissions from Jesse Sheidlower and Ron Butters.

According to the TARR record for the Dykes on Bikes application

Current Status: Approved by the examining attorney for publication for opposition. This is NOT the beginning of the Opposition period. In approximately two months, please visit the web site to learn the actual date of publication for opposition in the Trademark Official Gazette. Date of Status: 2005-12-05

The TARR record for the abandoned attempt to register a "Dykes on Bikes" clothing trademark is here. Other abandoned registration attempts include DYKE WEAR ("clothing and headgear, namely, hats, shirts, neck ties, belts, suspenders, vests, sweaters, coats, pants, dresses, robes, aprons, socks, blazers, beachwear, overalls, gloves, jumpers, suits, pajamas, underclothes and lingerie, scarves and shorts", filed 1997-06-20), DYKE DISH ("printed magazines and computer on-line magazines/web-cites on all aspects of cultural and social events, restaurants, dance clubs, bars, shops, groups, advertisements and resources", filed 1996-06-11), and SUPERDYKE ("clothing; namely, T-shirts", filed 1992-10-26).

I wonder if the new "Dykes on Bikes" precedent will affect the fate of VELVETPARK DYKE CULTURE IN BLOOM ("Magazines Addressing Lesbian Issues", filed 2004-07-08), DYKESINTHECITY ("Clothing, namely, t-shirts, tanks, long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, baseball caps, visors, beanie hats, wristbands, underwear, dog tees for dogs, stickers and temporary tattoos, belts and necklaces", filed 2005-01-12), DYKE TV (Television broadcasting services; cable television transmission, namely the transmission of audio and video via cable television; satellite transmission, namely the transmission of audio and video via satellite; digital transmission of audio and video; communication services, namely transmission of streamed sound and audio-visual recordings via a global computer network", filed 2002-07-24) and DYKE DOLLS ("Dolls and accessories therefor", filed 2004-10-9), whose applications are still alive and in process, though beleaguered. The last one in particular has a logo that demonstrates considerable typographical creativity.

And what about COMPO-DYKE, which was filed 1980-06-2 by Utica Tool Co. as a brand name for a "Hand Operated Cutting Tool-Namely, Compound Action Plier", and as of 1982-07-17 was "Abandoned after an inter partes decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board"? Was the "opposition" that was "sustained for Proceeding" on 5/17/1982 due to the disparaging character of the dyke morpheme? Or was Utica Tool persuaded that their proposed brand name would cause too much giggling in shop class? Whatever the reason, there's nothing now on the web about "compo-dykes" or "compodykes" -- Helpful Google asks Did you mean: "compadres"?

We followed up on the original "Dykes on Bikes" story with a investigation into the curious failure of English-language dictionaries to record the use of dyke (or dike) as term for "diagonal cutting pliers" (here and here). Note that the 1980 registration attempt for Compo-Dyke is not the first attested use of the spelling "dyke" for a kind of pliers, but it's not much later than the 1977 hardware-store ad that Ben Zimmer found.

This reminds me of a puzzling gap in tool nomenclature. There's a kind of shears with compound-action handles that (as far as I know) is generally known by the unwieldy name of "compound snips" or "aircraft snips". It gets worse, because there are three kinds: left-handed, for cutting to the left; right-handed, for cutting to the right; and straight-cut. These are definitely snips, not dykes, but for people who work with sheet metal, they are among the commonest of tools. Just as "diagonal cutting pliers" turned into dykes, you'd think that "compound snips" would turn into comps or compos or pounds or something like that. But when I was working in airframe repair, I'd hear things all the time like "OK, who took my f-ing left-hand compound snips?" Where is Whorf when you need him?

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 10, 2005 07:53 AM