April 02, 2006

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...)

1.  Brokeback '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:

... brokeback 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 Carroll:

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 Mountain

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.

3.  Brokeback 'homoerotic, gay'.  On 3/27/06, Ned Deily reported in soc.motss a passing reference in Leah Garchik's San Francisco Chronicle column that day:

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 conveying some combination of 'gay' and 'homoerotic'.  Also, to my ear, with a somewhat negative take on the whole thing.

4.  Brokeback 'married 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 years, too!

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 commentary piece (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 'extremely', without any negative affect or allusion to the movie.

6.  Brokeback the homophobic slur.  Finally, thanks to e-mail on 3/29/06 from Katie Thomas, I've been able to read part of the NewsMax.com transcript 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 'Brokeback' Alec.

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