One more brokeback report
Here at Language Log Plaza, we've been recording the diffusion of the
movie title Brokeback Mountain
in variations on and allusions to the title (most recently, here
and in a extraordinary variety of uses of the word brokeback
and derivatives of it (my
last summary here
with a Western-wear addendum here
And now, for your entertainment, six recent additions to this genre,
moving from the original in six different directions -- a real tribute
to speakers' abilities to find meaning in and create meaning for the
linguistic materials available to them.
(I provide this list at the risk of becoming labeled The Brokeback Guy,
the keeper of all things brokeback in the linguistic realm. This
could drastically increase the already alarming amount of e-mail I get
from readers of Language Log. But on with the show...)
'wonderfully, lovingly gay'. I start with what is to my mind the
most idiosyncratic of the uses in my files so far, a thoroughly
positive and celebratory use of the word, to convey the best aspects of
being gay. This from someone who posts to soc.motss under the
handle "Bock" and (like a significant number of gay men) just ADORES
the movie, to the point of seeing the intensity of the men's love for
one another while de-emphasizing all the tough stuff. The thread
is titled "Used to be a gay moment now it is a brokeback moment".
Early on we get Bock's take on brokeback
as conveying 'gay', but without any negative nuances that might
accompany the word gay
To me gay may not sound all that great
but brokeback guy, brokeback moment, brokeback anything, could never
sound anything but great. (3/20/06)
In reply to criticism he amplified:
symbolizes love in every sense of the word. There is nothing
negative about the word brokeback. (3/23/06)
This elicited several responses from gay men who found the negative
associations of brokeback
impossible to avoid, in particular this thoughtful reply by Jack
I wonder if you
aren't looking at the use of Brokeback from one side only. Seems
to me that it also probably has a strong negative message for some
people, i.e. - deceitful, perverted, adulterous, etc. etc.
The name Brokeback itself suggests something crippled, and while we gay
people may see that as applying to the world enclosing the two
protagonists, I have no doubt that for some it is a description of the
men themselves - two broken men engaging in their folly in the shadow
of the emblematic mountain. (3/23/06)
As many people have pointed out, Brokeback
Mountain is not just a (gay) love story, it's also a terribly TRAGIC
(gay) love story. So it seems unlikely to me that Bock will find
many other passengers on the Ameliorated Brokeback Train with him.
2. Cashback Mountain.
In another country entirely is the report in Time magazine (4/3/06, p. 95):
Now that Brokeback
Mountain has been outed as a well-marketed, Oscar-winning love
story...--instead of a controversial, low-budget, art-house flick--one
of the film's supporting players says he wants his due.
This would be Randy Quaid, who's suing Focus Features for $10
million. Rebecca Winters Keegan's story
on the suit
was printed under the head
And Now, Cashback
This makes reference to the film, but not in any way to its
content. And it strains to fit into the "X-back Mountain"
template; the story is indeed about cash, but nobody's giving or
getting any cash BACK
'homoerotic, gay'. On 3/27/06, Ned Deily reported in soc.motss a
passing reference in Leah Garchik's San
Francisco Chronicle column
Watching one man hoist another man in
Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake'' the other night, Renee Gibbons says she
was thinking, "Oh my God! Brokeback Lake. What next?''
This is brokeback
some combination of 'gay' and 'homoerotic'. Also, to my ear, with
a somewhat negative take on the whole thing.
and in a same-sex sexual relationship'. Like #3, this one makes
reference to the content of the film. But now extended from men
to women. The reference comes in an appeal (relayed to soc.motss
on 3/28/06 by Jess Anderson) by Celina R. De Leon for women willing to
be interviewed for a project of hers:
Just like the Down Low
phenomenon...--white gay, bi, or non-labeling men who have sex with men
while remaining married to their wives is all the talk now thanks
to the movie "Brokeback Mountain." But unlike the media's
coverage--this is not a male phenomena. Women have been doing this for
I would like to interview women who are, or were, involved on the Down
Low with same-sex relationships or same-sex sexual activities.
... So, if you know of a "Brokeback woman" who may be interested in
sharing her story with me, or know of someone who would be a great
resource for this story--any help would be GREATLY appreciated!
5. Intensifier brokebackingly
Arthur Plotnik, author of the new book Spunk & Bite: A Writer's Guide to
Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style
, wrote a
(which is in fact engaging) in the Los Angeles Times
on 3/27/06 about
the dearth of intensifiers in current English. (My thanks for
pointers to this site by Ron Macaulay, via Elizabeth Traugott, and by
Ben Zimmer.) People stick, Plotnik complains, to the "standby
American intensifiers: very, really, quite, awesomely, amazingly,
incredibly, totally, definitely, tremendously, extremely." It's
time to remedy the intensifier shortage, he maintains, concluding:
... hard times call for hard measures -- ballistically, backbreakingly,
brokebackingly, boy-is-this-intensified-now hard
It's not entirely clear what work brokebackingly
is doing in this inventory. Maybe it's just a rough synonym of backbreakingly
any negative affect or allusion to the movie.
homophobic slur. Finally, thanks to e-mail on 3/29/06 from Katie
Thomas, I've been able to read part of the
of an exchange between actor Alec Baldwin
and radio hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, during a 3/26/06 radio interview
with Baldwin by WABC's Brian Whitman. Hannity and Levin phone
in. First Baldwin and Hannity trade insults, then Levin joins in
and there's a general free-for-all, which resolves for a while into
Levin and Baldwin one-on-one, culminating in Levin's riposte:
And you know what you are? You're
I'm not sure what the prosody was -- whether "Alec" was a vocative (as
in "You're moronic, Alec") or a predicate noun (as in "You're Moronic
Alec"). The transcript punctuates it like the latter, but I
suspect it was the former.
In any case, I saw this first without the context, and entertained the
possibility that "Brokeback" here was just a generic insult. But
no, it's step 4 in an exchange of homophobic (and anally oriented)
slurs between Baldwin and Levin (following immediately on Levin's
insulting Baldwin's intelligence):
(1) BALDWIN [to Hannity]: And who's that - who's your little cabin boy
there with you.
(2) LEVIN: I'm not a cabin boy, butt-boy.
(3) BALDWIN: What are you doing there, cabin boy? ... I now dub you
Sean Hannity's cabin boy.
(4) LEVIN: And you know what you are? You're 'Brokeback' Alec.
They're just taking turns calling each other "fag(got)" (who takes it
up the ass), without using the direct vocabulary. An everyday
example of straight guys engaging in mutual name-calling by impugning
each other's sexuality (and hence masculinity and hence overall
worth). We're a long way from #1 here.
zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu
Posted by Arnold Zwicky at April 2, 2006 05:17 PM