March 07, 2006

Brokeback generalizations

You've got to be quick in this business. A couple of days ago, Matthew Hutson wrote suggesting that "I believe we are witnessing the birth of a new snowclone: Brokeback X". I wrote back asking for examples, and Matthew responded yesterday with a few (see below), so I put it on my to-blog list. But today I see that we got scooped by Wonkette -- who else? -- in a post observing that Brokeback Mountain "may have lost at the Oscars, but it’s winning the battle of spawning irritating yet irresistible neologisms", and linking to today's NYT article by Katy Butler, "Many Couples Must Negotiate Terms of 'Brokeback' Marriages".

And there I was feeling so good about catching up on grading homework, writing a talk for next week's workshop in Tokyo, and setting up a bake-off of pitch trackers. That's the trouble with having a day job, in this competitive high-stakes field of lingua-blogging. Well, competitive, at least.

There's another reason that I didn't rush into blogging Matthew's examples. They're quite a bit more, um, offensive than the NYT neologism: "Brokeback Mohamed", "Brokeback Steelers" (from 1/31/2006), and "Brokeback Krypton" (from way back on 12/5/2005). The NYT coinage "Brokeback marriage" does some real linguistic work, since it evokes issues that were central to the movie. In the three examples that Matthew cited, the Brokeback reference basically just indexes "gay". And in all three cases, the motivations are apparently malicious if not positively defamatory.

Some of the many other recent cases where "brokeback" is used to mean "gay" include "Brokeback Guajiro", "Geek Fu Brokeback Edition", "Brokeback Bomber". But sometimes the connection is looser: "Brokeback Baptists" links to a post about the appearance of a "flamboyantly heterosexual Baptist theologian, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr." discussing B.M. on Larry King. And I can't figure out why the heck AlterNet and/or Danny Schechter decided to headline his 1/3/2006 columns "Brokeback Media" -- it's got nothing to do with sexual orientation and doesn't mention the B.M. movie -- maybe they mean to imply that the straw of citizen journalism has broken the media camel's back?

Posted by Mark Liberman at March 7, 2006 06:13 PM