July 25, 2006

PowerGenitalia and PenisLand

Concerning those ambiguously analyzable web site names mentioned this weekend on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" (and I know you were waiting for Language Log to comment on this clearly linguistic story), it does appear to be the case that there is an Italian battery company called Powergen Italia (no relation to the British company called Powergen), and it seems they really did once set up a website with the URL www.powergenitalia.com.

It was taken down some years ago (the company now uses www.batterychargerpowergen.it), but the WayBack Machine keeps an archived copy in this location (just click Cancel if it asks for a password). It's not just a hoax site, as claimed at this page (the commenter below seems to be correct). And they actually spell their name as "Powergenitalia s.r.l."

The story seems to be a thoroughly old one; the above snapshot of the days of PowerGenItalia.com is from 2001. No word yet on why it suddenly resurfaced this week on Wait Wait.

And the other case, Pen Island really is a company selling customized pens, and really does have a current web site called www.penisland.com. They claim to have had at least a certain amount of trouble with rude spam sent in their name, and with people setting up sites with similar names for rather more penis-related purposes. See this page for some further discussion.

Don't forget, concatenation of letter strings can get you into things you didn't want to get into: sometimes x(yz) and (xy)z are non-equivalent but both yield xyz when the spaces or brackets are erased. Always get your proposed URL analyzed for double entendres by fully qualified linguists before setting up your site. Just call the main switchboard at Language Log Plaza and ask for the Uniform Resource Locator Morphological Analysis Division.

Thanks to Brendan McGuigan and Stephen K. Benjamin for research assistance.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at July 25, 2006 01:25 AM